April 28, 2011

Josh Gomes: My Eritrean brother can dunk; he just wanted a little help this time

Basketball pro Josh Gomes teams up with Johnno, age 7
 at Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv
Josh Gomes and I are family. Yup. Most of the kids buzzing around Josh arrived in Israel with their parents to escape genocide, war, and hunger. They are refugees, asylum seekers, or migrant workers — legal and the other kind. All the kids begged the gentle, towering American to notice, coach, and play with them as they passed, blocked, and aimed balls at the basket. "He's a real player! He's a real player! gasped 11-year-old Joseph, who recognized Josh from TV coverage.

The international team of players, with roots in Israel, Sudan, Darfur, the Philippines, Eritrea, and Russia all speak Hebrew plus two or more languages; within nanoseconds, they bonded with their instant hero. Their common language? Smiles, hugs, and, a rich patois stew of Hebrew and Arabic among the kids and, between them and Josh, bits of English they know and Hebrew phrases Josh learned during his three seasons playing professional basketball on Israeli teams.

Volunteer Maureen Milham hugs Johnno
flanked by Josh and me
Maureen supplied the basketballs from her U.S. Army surplus backpack, stamped in green letters, "Humanitarian Aid." A fitting name for this oasis in space and time of friendship, play, and joy.

My related posts

April 03, 2011

Purim in Kfar Tavor and Kaduri

Drora Karniel won a prize for her Purim cowgirl costume
at Gil Hagalil Senior Center in Israel's Lower Galilee
(Click the photo to read Zalman Shazar's
[Hebrew] homage to elders)

Purim celebrates a story in the biblical Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), in which Queen Esther saves the Jewish people from (Ahasuerus advisor) Haman's plot to destroy them.

At their Purim costume party, more than fifty seniors sang, danced, clapped, laughed, argued, shared their current events and memories of pre-State Israel, ate lunch, and listened to the Purim story, history, and messages. The lovely black-olive-eyed Shai, for her Bat Mitzva project, distributed to each elder Mishloach Manot  — a Purim gift basket that she had prepared. Other celebrants were three caregivers (two from Sri Lanka; one, from Nepal), a half dozen staff, and me (with my camera lens focused on the celebrants). It was a terrific morning.

Watch the video (9:49 minutes).

Who is Drora Karniel? 
Since 2005, when I first visited Drora and her husband, Mordechai, in their Kfar Tavor home at the base of Mount Tabor, we have become good buddies. Related by marriage (my late father and her late husband were first cousins), our free-wheeling conversations — in Israel or by phone when I'm in Atlanta, cover all manner of topics.

Mother to three, grandmother to ten, and great-grandmother to five (and counting), the Jerusalem-born matriarch grew up in Motza, at the capital city's edge, where her grandfather was a grape grower and vintner who traveled to Africa on business ventures several years. Following in the footsteps of her father, an elementary school principal, Drora opted to begin a teaching career at Kfar Tavor to join the pioneers living in simple bunks, using primitive outhouses, and bathing in shallow copper vats with water heated on a Primus (kerosene) stove, also used for cooking.

An educator always learning
Here, Drora met her future husband, a fellow pioneer ("he was like an encyclopedia"), and soon taught larger classes and higher grades at the nearby Kadouri Regional Elementary School (she retired after a forty-year career, at age 62). An avid reader of history, I.B. Singer, and other authors from around the world ("not just Jewish ones"), Drora continues a lifetime of taking piano lessons, playing the concertina, knitting sweaters for her family, and following her recipes for Hamantash —  three-cornered holiday pastries (that she served me in her home and packed for my journey back to Tel Aviv). A globetrotter (in the USA —twice, and in Thailand and Italy), Drora sings in the Gil Hagalil choir, exercises weekly at the Kfar Tavor senior club, and concludes —

Hakol b'seder [Everything is OK].
— Drora Karniel

My previous Purim posts