April 26, 2012
It has been over two months since my last blog entry and there really is no excuse for not updating sooner. A lot has happened since my last entry and I am going to try to summarize it all with a few blog entries instead of one big blog entry.
I will start first with basketball news. We just recently finished our regular season with a record of 12-12. That puts us into 7th place. The top 8 teams make the playoffs in the Israeli League, so we will be playing the #2 seed starting this coming Monday in a Best of 5 series. Playoffs are always exciting and it is the best time of the season. The adjustment from playing in Holland, to taking some time off, and getting back into the groove has been a pretty good transition. There have been ups and downs, but the team has been very welcoming and the guys have made the adjustment very comfortable.
I will give a quick description of how the basketball league here works. Games are usually every Sunday. In Israel, Saturday is the Sabbath (Shabbat) and in America it is Sunday. So, games are not played on Saturday and instead they are played on Sunday. There is usually only one game a week which makes for a lot of practice time. This is a very common theme in any European League. The season is very stretched out (8-10 months) with a lot of practice time in between. This is much different than the NBA where you play 3-5 nights a week. Within 8-10 months, the teams in Israel only play 24 regular season games, so that means a lot of days in between games. In the NBA, they play 82 Regular Season games within 7-8 months. All the games are broadcasst live on TV and then posted on the internet where anyone can watch the games anytime. This makes it nice for family and friends to keep in touch with what is going on. In the Israeli League, there must be one Israeli citizen on the court at all times and each team can only have 4 Americans on the game-day roster. You can have more than 4, but only 4 can suit up for a game. One of the big differences I have noticed in this league is the use of fouls. In Europe, there are four quarters and each quarter you are allowed 4 fouls and then on the fifth foul the team gets two free throws. There is no one-in-one. Fouls are used very strategically and smartly. Very rarely do you see a foul for no reason. Fouls are generally used to stop transition breaks or when the offensive team has some type of advantage in numbers or a breakdown. Guys are very smart in reaching-in and committing a foul on purpose to stop a potential fast break. I think in America fouls are not committined for a purpose, they are more committed from bad positioning. There is no meaning behind the foul, but here the majority of the fouls have a meaning behind it. If you were to get a steal and about to have a 3-on-1 advantage, usually someone will run over and bump you or reach in to stop the fast break. It is very smart and a great way to keep a team from getting an easy basket. Coaches want you to use your allowed fouls per quarter. You do not want a team to get into the penalty, but coaches want you to use your 4 fouls per quarter at smart times.
Now, I want to update everyone on some of the unique aspects of living and playing in Israel. In Israel, all men and women must serve in the Army. Boys must serve 3 years and Girls must serve 2 years. When you turn 18, that is the time you start your service, so Boys generally serve from 18-21 and girls serve from 18-20. After you finish service, that is ususally when you begin your studying. Most of the Israeli guys on my team have already served their army terms. A lot of the these guys are true tough guys. I like to talk with my teammates about their service so I can learn more. One of teammates said his 3 years was spent in the equivolant of the SWAT Team in America. It is interesting stuff. The Army decides what your role will be in the Army based on your physical and mentall assessment. There are two guys on my team who are younger, one has been in the army for a year and the other just turned 18 and started his army service . These guys are rarely at practice due to their army committment. But, once or twice a week they show up to the locker room in their Army Fatigues and carrying their AK-47's (Just kidding on the AK 47's). For my teammate who just turned 18, I got to experience my first Going-to-the-Army Pizza Party. We were all asked to chip in some Israeli Shekels (currency here) for Pizza and to throw him a going away party. He will be busy with his committment for the next 3 years although he usually has weekends off and a day here and there during the week.
The highlight or most interesting part of my time in Israel has been the Missle Conflict between the Gaza Strip and Israel. My city, Ashdod, is about 30 minuties north of the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is a terriorty where the Palestinians live. There has been conflict between Gaza and Israel for many years. There is a border separating the two territories. As I have learned, when the conflict gets tense, missle shooting seems to be the method of letting the other country know we are not on good terms. The following is my interpretation of how things work, may not be 100% accurate, but from talking to different people it is how I understand it.
Israel has a very strong army and the Gaza Strips Palestinians are not as advanced militarily as Israel. They do have missle capability and my understanding is that their missles are usually home-made and not top of the line missles, but they are still dangerous. When the conflict got tense about a month ago, Palestinians would begin shooting their missles over the border wall into Israel. Once again, my understanding is they have No idea where these missles are headed. Sometimes, these missles even blow up inside Gaza and not even make it over the wall. When they do make it over the wall, they are headed north, which is where my city Ashdod is located.
Israel has advanced military equipment and one piece of equipment they have is called the Iron Dome (check it out on youtube, and thank you United States for helping fund it). The Iron Dome is a Missle Defense System that shoots a missle at the incoming missle from Gaza to blow it up before it lands in Israel. Ashdod has an Iron Dome. Also, anytime there is a missle headed towards Ashdod, there is a city alarm that goes off to alert everyone to take cover and get into your safe room if you have one. My safe room is my guest bedroom (Thicker walls and stronger windows). The alarm sounds can be scary when you hear it for the first time. The first time the alarm went off, I had heard rumors that something may happen, I was not really expecting an alarm. I immediately turned into Usain Bolt for about 2 seconds and sprinted from my living room to the safe room and had the quickest hands in the world as I shut and locked my door. When the alarm goes off, you have about 30 seconds to get cover before the missle gets to the city. Majority of the time, The Iron Dome is able to shoot these missles down before landing, but the alarm always goes off.
There was a period of about 3-4 days where the alarm was going off about 5 times a day. It would go off as I was sleeping, cooking, at practice, and even on my way to practice. When I was driving to practice, I had my radio on and was cruising down the road when I saw people from the sidewalk sprinting across the road and taking cover behind buildings. I was thinking to myself this looks weird, so I lowered my window and I heard the alarm. I immediately swirved my car over (almost wrecking), and pulled it over on the side of the road and sprinted for cover. Like I said, most of the time the missles do not land, but you can hear the loud bang of the Iron Dome missle blowing up the incoming missle. It is a very unique experience. The alarm was going off so much, that the team decided to move the Americans to a hotel in Tel Aviv for a few nights until things cooled off. It was nice of them to do that. After talking with my teammates about what was going on, it is not a very big deal to them. It is normal to them. They said when the alarm would go off at night they would just continue to sleep and not worry to much about it. This missle tension led to the most interesting text message I have ever received. Our team manager always sends out texts about changes in practice and updates. I did not save the text, but this is pretty close to accurate as to what the text message said: "Due to the missles coming into Ashdod our game this week has been cancelled and we will practice instead". It is not everyday I receive a text like that.
Although the above story can sound bad, I never felt in serious danger. I always felt safe, but it was definately an interesting experience. I will update another post soon and thanks again for reading.