Tal Brody, is a true icon in the arena of Israeli-European basketball. The Israeli-American athlete has taken the spirit of the Maccabiah Games off the court and into his life. The recipient of the esteemed Israel Prize founded and is currently Honorary President of the "Spirit of Israel" philanthropic body established by The Jewish Agency.
Those of you who are still unfamiliar with Brody, should get to know his fascinating story; the summer of '65 was eventful…
"I was ranked among top 20 American basketball players that year, and placed 12th among the professionally-recruited players. That year, I received an offer from Maccabi USA to play at the Maccabiah games," recounts Brody with much pride.
"As a kid growing up in Trenton, New-Jersey, knowing nothing about Israel – this was a true challenge for me. I approached my coach at Baltimore Bullets, and asked him to let me play at the Maccabiah, and he agreed," he adds.
"We are on the map"
Upon his arrival at the Maccabiah he felt at once that it was "something great." At the Maccabiah his team won a gold medal, while they toured the beautiful country that Brody had just discovered. "Before coming here, I thought there were only donkeys and camels to see," said Brody timidly, "but I soon realized this country is advanced and modern and I fell in love with the challenges it posed for me, which made me want come back as soon as I left."
Soon after returning to the States, he received a tempting offer from the "Maccabi Tel-Aviv" Israeli basketball team: "I made Aliyah even before the offer - I just realized my life had changed and if it weren't for the Maccabiah, I surely wouldn't be where I am today." Brody played for Maccabi Tel-Aviv until his retirement from sports, at his peak.
Every Israeli is familiar with Brody's famous words upon taking the European Championship in Moscow in the height of the Cold War reality, against CSKA Moscow in 1977: "Anachnu al ha'mapa, v'anachnu nesharim al ha'mapa" ("We are on the map, and we will stay on the map").
Still sweating for the Jewish People
Brody still gets excited by the Maccabiah games and the masses of young athletes with burning passion for sport and Jewish identity.
"I watched the junior's Women Basketball games at the Wingate Institute a few days ago. I was extremely excited, I listened to their pep-talks and remembered how powerful and meaningful these games are," he tells.
Brody was always a social activist as well as an athlete, with a drive for 'tikkun olam,' Jewish social activism - to make society better.
"The Spirit of Israel (SOI), as established by The Jewish Agency, deals with fundraising from Israeli society for top priority issues like youth-at-risk," explains Brody, today Honorary President of SOI.
Brody has, since his arrival in Israel, been a true representative of the bridge between the world abroad and Israel, and in recent years has even been appointed by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as one of Israel's good-will ambassadors around the globe.
With his smile tinged with nostalgia, Brody adds: "I know that everyone who comes to the Maccabiah is profoundly impressed by Israel, its high level of sports, the warm Israelis - and going back home, they become Israel's greatest ambassadors of good-will."
More about Tal Brody's fascinating life story: