Maccabi Haifa Owner Creates Home for American Jewish Athletes In Israel
In July 2007, Jewish American businessman Jeffery Rosen purchased the Maccabi Haifa Israeli Basketball Club (known then as “The Heat”) and boldly pledged to return the struggling club to its former glory. Sure enough, in 2008-09 Maccabi Haifa’s squad was promoted to the Premier League, where it had not competed in almost 10 years. Prior to the winning campaign Rosen’s newly-acquired team signed some big-name players, creating a great deal of buzz around the league.
One such signing was the notable acquisition of Baltimore native Tamir Goodman – a onetime basketball prodigy – dubbed “The Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated. Goodman signed with Maccabi Haifa for his final year as a professional player after a turbulent and injury-plagued career. Also added to the squad was former USC star Davon Jefferson, who had gone undrafted by the NBA in that year’s Pro selections.
Thus, Rosen launched what was to become known as the “New Era” in Maccabi Haifa basketball. His team won its first three games by a hefty margin and went on to defeat seven of its next 9 opponents, finishing the season in third place, with a final record of 14-8. In the Israeli Cup Championship the ultimate crown eluded the team by a final one-point deficit when they fell to opponent Hapoel Holon in dramatic fashion. But that was only the beginning. The team has remained in the Premier League ever since, returning again to the playoffs the following year.
With the 2011 season now underway the expectations are higher than ever, as Israel’s “American Team” looks to bring over more skilled young athletes from the United States.
U.S. tryouts have been held in Florida for the past four seasons, and Jeffery Rosen has sent more than 15 Jewish players to Israel, including Haifa’s Canadian guard Simon Farine, and New Yorker, Sylven Landesberg. As both are Jewish, they can immediately apply for Israeli citizenship, bypassing the league’s rules on limiting foreign players per team. In addition, due in large part to the NBA 2011 season lockout, Israeli teams are seeing a general increased influx of American stars this year. One notable Jewish player is New Jersey Nets guard Jordan Farmar, who joined Maccabi Tel Aviv during the summer.
“For the Jewish American players, playing professional basketball in Israel is a unique way to connect to their heritage,” says Rosen, who wants to turn Maccabi Haifa into an even more feasible option for top Jewish American players.
Additionally, the Aliyah organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh, has recently launched a sports Aliyah program that encourages Jewish athletes to move to Israel.