There is a certain tent a few feet from the border that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip and, if things have not changed very recently, at a table in the tent sits a young, blond-haired lieutenant named Jacob. Before him on the table lies one of the celebrated UZI submachine guns, an extremely light weapon developed and manufactured in Israel. In one corner of the tent, very likely, a young sergeant is calling the nearest command post on the radio to make a routine report.
In another corner of the tent there lies a soccer ball, and a little before sundown the lieutenant and the sergeant will take it outside and kick it around. Maybe (it has happened) a wild kick will send the ball across the border. But that won't be too serious. The Norwegian soldiers manning the outpost of the United Nations observer force a dozen yards away will obligingly kick it back.
The daily routine of Lieutenant Jacob and his sergeant reflects, in a way, how things go in Israel these days. Everyone is at his job, everyone is ever mindful of the potential dangers that lie dormant all along the 748-mile border of this Massachusetts-sized land of 2 million people, and everyone is eager to temper the work and the tension by playing or cheering the games of peacetime in the villages, the settlements, the cities, the kibbutzim, the schools and the universities.
There is time for sports now, and more and more symptoms of the sporting fever are beginning to appear. Hero worship, something that was unknown in the selfless dedication of the pioneering days, is spreading among the young people: Chodorov, the great soccer goalie, is mobbed by autograph seekers after the big games. Soccer referees are cordially hated by one side or the other and are as roundly denounced as baseball umpires used to be in Brooklyn. Outdoor basketball courts now dot the countryside, and many of the kibbutzim, the communal settlements, have swimming pools. The South Africans and the British have brought bowls and cricket to the country, and there are scores of minor sports nourishing, like handball and volleyball, tennis and softball, skin-diving and surfcasting along the Mediterranean. Israel's first golf course will be ready soon, and its first baseball diamond is planned for Wingate Institute for Physical Education outside Tel Aviv, the largest city. So avid is the population for news of sports that a sporting newspaper, started as a weekly, now is published three times a week.
May 24, 1959
One day, not long ago, I sat in the tent at the Gaza border and chatted across the table with Lieutenant Jacob. Visitors are rare at his lonely station and he was hungry for conversation. A sabra, a native of Israel, he spoke excellent English, and occasionally, as we talked, he would translate briefly for the sergeant in Hebrew, the ancient tongue that has been revived as the unifying language for the immigrants who have come to Israel from all parts of the world. The lieutenant wanted to know how I had happened to come all the way from New York, and he was eager to know what people I had met, what places I had visited, what impressions I had formed. So, lighting a cigarette, tilting my chair back from the table, I began to tell him.
Oddly Enough, I was now in Israel because I had previously been in Ireland. This is the way it happened: One day, an old friend named Milton Krents, a radio and television producer, called me for lunch in New York. He didn't say that he had anything special on his mind until we were having our coffee, and then he recalled that I had gone to Ireland with Ron Delany, the great miler, to report his hero's welcome after his victory in the Olympics.
"That is correct," I said, "and that Irish story led to another. Bernard McDonough of Parkersburg, W. Va., the shovel king, as he is known, called me and proposed a weekend visit to the Old Country with a view to saving it from economic disaster. There was some talk of starting a shovel factory over there. But that didn't work out. However, as a result of our weekend trip, Mr. McDonough contributed generously to the fund for Ireland's first cinder running track—and it was on that very track in Dublin that Herb Elliott of Australia set the new world's record."
Milton nodded. "I think," he said, "that some day you ought to go to Israel and see how things are going in sports over there."
"Do you mean," I asked, "that there is a connection?"
"Certainly," said Milton. "Ireland and Israel have a great deal in common. Both are small countries, both won their independence after a long struggle. Ireland is very sports-minded and Israel is beginning to be."
"There's one difference," I said. "I have a great many cousins in Ireland, being second generation myself. They helped give me the feel of the land. I have no cousins in Israel."
"Oh, you'd have plenty of contacts," said Milton, "don't worry. Let me introduce you to some members of the United States Committee for Sports in Israel and perhaps put you in touch with the Israel consulate in New York to see if a trip could be arranged. O.K.?"
"Milton," I said, "let me put it this way. With your permission, I shall adopt an attitude of passive nonresistance. I shall not seek, I shall not oppose this thing. If I am fated to go to Israel as a result of having gone to Ireland, let it happen."
Milton went right to work. There was a meeting with some members of the United States Committee for Sports in Israel, and then there was a call to the New York consulate for a briefing on general conditions over there. Not long after that, at 2 o'clock in the morning, I stepped off one of El Al's Britannia planes at Lydda airport outside Tel Aviv. There waiting to greet me was Colonel Harry Henshel of New York, chairman of the United States Committee for Sports in Israel. He has long been prominent in the AAU and was this year's recipient of its Gold Medal award. With the colonel (he was on General Omar Bradley's staff in World War II) was Chaim Glovinsky, labor leader, road builder, manager of the small team that Israel sent to the Olympics in 1956 and the liaison between the U.S. Committee and Israel sports organizations. I was to see a lot of Glovinsky and the colonel in the next two weeks. They complemented each other perfectly. The colonel, at 69, tall, with iron-gray hair, was bursting with energy and bounce and enormous affability. Chaim Glovinsky, black-haired, younger (a British officer and for four years a prisoner of the Germans in World War II), wore a bemused look in every situation and was as imperturbable as a well-fed cat.
After breakfast the next morning Chaim Glovinsky and Colonel Henshel and I went for a drive, and I got my first look at Tel Aviv by daylight. It is a city of 400,000 now, built on what was desolate sand dunes a half century ago. The housing is modern, and there are concert halls (Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist, was in town) and theaters, broad boulevards, bright lights and cafes along Dizengoff Street, vast government offices and elaborate headquarters for Histadrut, the labor organization.
We dropped in at the office of the three-times-a-week sporting newspaper. The editors (all of whom have regular jobs on the daily papers) showed us proudly around their new offices. I asked Nechemiah Ben-Avraham, one of the editors, to explain to me how sports were split up along political lines. I had heard that the Histadrut sports federation, known as Hapoel, was the strongest in the land, and next came the Maccabee, a middle-of-the-road organization politically. And then (I had been informed) there were smaller factions representing the extreme right and left. Ben-Avraham shook his head and put up his hands in protest. "No," he explained, "all that belongs to the day of the oldtimers like Glovinsky and the colonel here. There was bitter feeling among the various factions in the old days, but a new generation is coming up and it has no time for such nonsense. In the old days a team representing Israel might have been called the combined Hapoel-Maccabee. No more. Now a team that represents the country is proud to be called Israel's team. Why, in the old days, a Hapoel man from Haifa would cheer for a Tel Aviv Hapoel team playing his own city's Maccabee. No more. A Haifa man cheers for Haifa, no matter what political connection the team may have. Is it clear?"
I said it was. Ben-Avraham called to a girl in the next office and asked her to be so kind as to serve coffee. The coffee was served, and then I asked Ben-Avraham about the general pattern of sports in Israel. "Of course," he said, "football—soccer, as you would say—is the No. 1 game. Most of the young people have grown up with it. Basketball, comparatively new in the country, is tremendously popular. Some of us think that one day it may be even more popular than soccer. Its speed and excitement suit the country exactly. As you travel around, you will see how it is spreading everywhere. Softball has been introduced and is well liked. Swimming is a national sport because we can swim outdoors eight months a year and have the Mediterranean along the whole length of the country."
Colonel Henshel spoke up. "I want to see baseball introduced. Our committee is going to send equipment over. We will build a baseball diamond at Wingate Institute. It will be laid out over the soccer field."
Ben-Avraham shrugged his shoulders. "Good," he said. "I would like to see it. But I doubt that it will ever become as popular as football and basketball."
"I see the day," exclaimed the colonel, "when the St. Louis Cardinals will come over here on an exhibition tour."
Ben-Avraham nodded approvingly. "Good, good," he said. "The more sports the better."
I drained my coffee cup and leaned forward. "You know what would be a good game for Israel?" I said to Ben-Avraham. "One in character with a young, lusty, pioneering country. Fast and aggressive, full of action and thrills for the spectators?"
"What game is this?" asked Ben-Avraham.
"Hurling," I said. "The national game of Ireland."
Ben-Avraham looked at Glovinsky and the colonel. "How is it played?" he said.
"Visualize the sport of field hockey, only much faster. Add something of lacrosse. Hitting the ball like a baseball, running with the ball held on the stick, great body contact, cracking of heads and so forth. Hurling is the name."
"Yes, yes," said Ben-Avraham, dubiously.
"I think it could be adapted to the dimensions of a soccer field," I said. "Would you like more information?"
"Yes," said Ben-Avraham, rising and looking at his wristwatch. "Send me something on that."
We piled into Chaim Glovinsky's old car and started for Wingate Physical Education Institute, not far from Tel Aviv. The institute is named for the British general, Orde Wingate, who trained the Jewish underground forces in the late 1930s. On the way we stopped at a physical education school for students preparing to enter Wingate. We met Chaim Wein, the director, who toured a number of American universities to learn about U.S. methods. Soon his school will be moved to Wingate, and students living in Tel Aviv and the surrounding countryside will be transported to the institute on a bus that formerly served the citizens of St. Louis, Mo. It was a gift arranged by Al Fleischman, the public relations man for Gussie Busch of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Chaim Wein's students, boys and girls in their teens, were doing calisthenics as a piano player banged out Sentimental Journey. The exercises were interrupted by Mr. Wein, who introduced Colonel Henshel, who in turn made a little speech. Several girls were brought up to meet us and the best Olympic prospects were pointed out. One girl was a parachutist and had competed in Russia.
At Wingate (which eventually will satisfy Israel's desperate need for coaches and physical education instructors) we had lunch with Baruch Bagg, the director, a man of middle age who wears his hair like Ben-Gurion and is glowing with health and vigor. After lunch he proudly showed us around, pointing out the Nat Holman basketball courts (Holman introduced American-style basketball 13 years ago), the Edward Norman gymnasium (named for an American steel man) and then took us down to see the magnificent soccer field, which is enclosed by a cinder running track. At one end of the field there is a natural amphitheater, and Colonel Henshel, looking it all over, became greatly excited.
"Home plate," he said, "will have to go at the amphitheater end of the field. That's the only logical place. But wait a minute here. The sun is all wrong. The sun is in the wrong place. It will be in the batter's eyes."
"Put home plate at the other end, then," said Chaim Glovinsky.
"No, no," protested Colonel Henshel. "It must go at that end because of the natural amphitheater. But the sun is wrong."
"It wouldn't be wrong in the mornings," said Chaim Glovinsky. "Play the games in the mornings."
"You're right, Chaim!" exclaimed the colonel. "That's one solution. Play the games in the mornings; it's too hot for baseball in afternoons anyway." He turned to me. "Everybody stops work at noon for a siesta here in the summertime," he said. "The temperature goes to 110° and more."
"How about night games?" I asked.
"Good," said Colonel Henshel. "Night games would be fine."
"But," said Baruch Bagg, "we have no lights."
"You'll have to get them," said Colonel Henshel. "Our committee at home will let it be known that Win-gate needs a lighting system for baseball and soccer, as well as for track and field events. Somebody, I predict, will come forward and make that specific gift."
"That would be very wonderful," said Baruch Bagg.
Colonel Henshel rubbed his chin with the back of his hand, squinting in the brilliant sunshine as he surveyed the field.
"No!" he cried suddenly, smacking his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Left field is too short. The running track cuts it off."
"I've just been thinking here," I said, "that this field, with the natural amphitheater, would be ideal for hurling as well as baseball and soccer. I can visualize—"
Colonel Henshel interrupted me. "Something will have to be done about left field. It's got to be lengthened or otherwise we're going to be seeing a lot of Chinese home runs here. It's the same situation Walter O'Malley faced in Los Angeles."
"That's a long way from home plate to the running track, colonel," said Chaim Glovinsky.
"Nonsense," exclaimed Colonel Henshel. "Why, I could hit a ball past that running track." He pulled at my arm. "Come on," he said, "let's pace it off."
We paced from the imaginary home plate to the running track. Our eyes had deceived us. It was well over 300 feet. Left field at Yankee Stadium is 301 feet. Even so, Colonel Henshel said an outfielder would trip over the rim of the track and get hurt. He made a note to suggest the building up of the rim of the track so that it would be even with the outfield grass.
Rejoining Baruch Bagg and Chaim Glovinsky, the colonel said, "I hope to see the day when the St. Louis Cardinals play an exhibition on this field."
Baruch Bagg said it was time to plant the tree. Every visitor coming to Wingate for the first time plants a tree. I planted one for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and Mr. Bagg said a sign would be made noting the date and the name. As we walked to Chaim Glovinsky's car I noticed a whole grove of trees, dedicated to the memory of the late Mrs. August A. Busch Sr. The grove was the gift of her son, Gussie, of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Before we left, Colonel Henshel gave Baruch Bagg a final piece of good news. The U.S. Committee, said the colonel, would soon start a campaign to get Wingate a $100,000 swimming pool and natatorium to be named for Bob Kiphuth the famous swimming coach at Yale. (Kiphuth has gone to Israel twice to hold coaching clinics.)
One of the oldest institutions in Israel is the kibbutz. Some are industrial, some agricultural. Members of the kibbutz own nothing of their own; everything belongs to the community. When a man's shoes begin to wear thin, all he needs to do is ask for another pair; the same for clothing and anything else he needs. Children live apart from the parents in age groups, visit the parents for an hour or so every day. Nobody has a kitchen, all meals are served in the community dining room. One afternoon, Glovinsky and the colonel and I visited a kibbutz near Haifa. It is called Mishmar-Haemek, which means "guard of the valley." There was bitter fighting here in 1948.
We had lunch in the dining room—meat balls and rice and vegetables, dessert and coffee—and after lunch strolled around the beautifully wooded grounds and inspected the dormitories, the classrooms, the shops and the library.
There was an outdoor basketball court, and a game was in progress. The boys played well, but a little later, at the home of Esther and Ernest Adler, who came to Israel from Czechoslovakia in 1934, we met two of the real basketball stars. Six-footers (king-size players are not too common among Israel's youth) Amos Lin and Adam Goren both played on the Mishmar-Haemek team which, at the time of our visit, was leading the national league. Colonel Henshel asked the boys if they had everything they needed in the way of equipment. They didn't. They badly needed gym shoes, and the colonel swiftly made a note of the sizes required. (The shoes were on the way over within 24 hours after the colonel's return to the United States.)
That evening at a sidewalk cafe on Dizengoff Street, Chaim Glovinsky and his wife, Monica, told me more about basketball and how it was that Israel's team was unable to compete in the 1956 Olympics.
Elmer Ripley (Chaim said), the former coach at Notre Dame, Yale, West Point and Georgetown, had developed a fine team for the Olympics. Working against such hazards as inadequate equipment (the boys used to practice barefoot to save their shoes for the games) and the language barrier, Ripley had taught his players the fast-breaking American style of play. Everything looked promising. Ripley himself predicted that Israel would have a chance to finish third behind the Americans and the Russians. Then, on the eve of the Olympics, Nasser closed the Suez Canal, and Israel, France and Britain went to war. Israel army officers showed up at basketball practice one evening and plucked six men, the best six, from Ripley's squad. The Olympic team vanished into the Sinai campaign.
One morning I set out from Hotel Dan in Tel Aviv in the company of Isaac Austrian, a driver and guide for the government. He said we would make an overnight trip to the south. We passed through Jaffa, one of the oldest cities in the world, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and then headed down to Askelon on the Mediterranean. We stopped first at the ruins of the old Roman city of Askelon, and I copied from a sign over the ruins a Biblical quotation that began, "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon," with the intention of looking up its context later on. We drove on to the new city of Askelon and stopped at its American-style shopping center with its shops and cinema and cafe. In the cafe (where the Askelon Rotary Club meets every week) we kept an appointment with Philip Gillon, a transplanted South African, and settled down over coffee to talk about sports in that part of the country.
Phil Gillon, a tall, broad-shouldered man, very British in his speech, estimated that the number of athletes in Israel had increased 500% since the state was born.
"New immigrants," he said, "naturally turn to the sports with which they are familiar. Almost everyone is familiar with soccer and chess—is chess a sport? It is. Otherwise, each group continues its interest in the sports it knows best. North Africans go in for cycling and boxing and weight lifting. Immigrants from Egypt are good at basketball. Central Europeans like soccer first, then track and field events and handball. Northern Europeans, again soccer-minded, also like gymnastics and table tennis. Anglo-Saxons have brought in cricket and bowls. Swimming is popular everywhere, especially in the kibbutzim. Three-quarters of the swimming pools in the country are in the kibbutzim, which, of course, also play soccer and basketball."
"I have heard," I said, "that feeling runs pretty high at the soccer games."
Phil Gillon nodded vigorously and said, "The bravest men in Israel are the soccer referees."
"I've heard some strong talk on that subject," I said. "Some people deplore the conduct of soccer crowds. But surely conditions are not as serious as in South America where they have to run a moat around the field to prevent spectators from getting at the referee."
"I have seen games," said Phil Gillon, "where a moat would have been most appropriate. But I must say that things are getting better. Some years ago the spirit of independence in the country produced side effects on the athletic fields. Players resisted any kind of discipline. They were given to what might politely be called discussion of any and all decisions by the referee. Sometimes the discussions became very violent."
Isaac Austrian, the government guide, stood up and looked at his wristwatch. "We must go," he said, "if we are to get to Beersheba for lunch."
"Will you drop me at my house?" said Phil Gillon. "We'll see the tennis court and the soccer field on the way."
On the way to Phil Gillon's house, noting the new soccer field and asphalt tennis courts, we picked up a 6-year-old hitchhiker named Chaim Abraham, a dark-skinned immigrant from Cochin, India. He spoke Hebrew, and Phil Gillon asked him if he played any games. "I play ping-pong," said Chaim. "Are you any good?" asked Phil. "No," said Chaim, grinning from ear to ear, "but I play anyway."
We pointed for Beersheba, the city of Abraham and Isaac, and drove along excellent roads lined by the fast-growing eucalyptus trees that were planted after 1948. There was cactus, too, imported from Mexico a half century or more ago to serve as fencing, and there were olive trees and beautiful, lush vistas and then arid stretches where the sand blew across the road and pelted the windows of the car. We passed a huge tent, and Isaac Austrian said it belonged to a Bedouin sheik who (Isaac had heard) had four wives, 100 concubines and a Chrysler. In the cultivated areas there were orange groves as far as the eye could see and, again, bare hills. Now and then a modern housing development of a new town would appear on the horizon or a huge factory would suddenly loom up. On every hand, it seemed, there was surprise of one kind or another, something very new, something incredibly old, something as modern as a missile, something primitive and unchanged since the time of Abraham—like the camel-driving nomadic Arabs who, along with their veiled women, would glance around as our car roared by.
That night in Beersheba, Isaac Austrian and I sat in the Last Chance Café, which is owned by Leon and Betty Hellman. Leon once lived in Elizabeth, N.J.; Betty is from France. I asked Leon how he happened to give his café, in this Old Testament city of Beersheba, a name that sounded like it belonged in the old Wild West. Leon said he had decided on the name because his bar offered the last chance for travelers to get a drink before they struck out across the Negev, the desert, for the port of Elath on the Red Sea. Betty added that the café also represented the Hellmans' last chance to make a living in Beersheba. They had opened the place with a stock consisting of one bottle of brandy. When that had been sold by the drink, Leon took the money and raced down the street to buy another bottle.
The décor of the Last Chance is definitely beatnik. It is lighted by candles, and in the center of the room a hangman's noose dangles from the ceiling. Incongruously, the record player was blaring out Colonel Bogey March, the theme music of the motion picture The Bridge on the River Kwai. A few people were sitting around, but they were not at all in harmony with their surroundings: they looked too healthy and robust and clean-shaven and not at all beat.
Remembering my mission, I turned the conversation to sports, and Betty Hellman said she had once won a 100-meter race in France and had received a spanking from her mother for allowing Marshal Petain, the collaborationist, to kiss her on the cheek after her victory. Leon said that the Last Chance was sometimes filled with soccer players, drinking beer after a game, and then he added: "Of course, we have boxing here almost every weekend."
"Boxing?" I repeated incredulously, looking around the cluttered room. "How could you box in here?" "Oh," said Leon, "we usually go outside. You see, it is usually some customer who challenges me to a fight." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I don't mind," he said. "It keeps me in shape."
The music had changed to a dance melody. A man sitting next to me at the bar leaned over and whispered in my ear, "You see that young woman dancing there?" I nodded. "She was a terrorist in the old days. They say she was a genius at making and throwing bombs."
I thanked him for the information and then signaled Isaac Austrian, pointing to my watch. He got up and buttoned his coat and I said goodby to the Hellmans, and Isaac and I went to the hostel where we were registered and turned in.
In Jerusalem, another day, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion was seated at his desk in his large office as Teddy Kollek, his assistant, ushered us—Colonel Henshel and me—into the room. I had read that Ben-Gurion dislikes shaking hands, but he stood up and shook hands with us. Somebody had told me that he loved Biblical questions. So I began by asking him about the quotation I had copied down at the ruins of the old Roman town of Askelon.
"'Tell it not in Gath,' " said Ben-Gurion, "'Publish it not in the streets of Askelon...lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice.'
"That," he said, "was the lamentation of David when he heard of the death of Saul, the first king of Israel, who died with his son, Jonathan, in the war with the Philistines. David did not want the news to spread because it would give comfort to the enemy."
"From what I have seen of sports in Israel," I said, "there is better news to tell in Gath and Askelon now. Sports seem to be booming. We've been traveling all around, and every playing field and basketball court we saw was crowded. Colonel Henshel feels, and I do, too, that Israel has time to play more and more games and perhaps try out some new ones like baseball or, as I've suggested, the Irish game of hurling. Do you think Israel needs some new sports?"
Ben-Gurion smiled and said, "What Israel needs are better sportsmen."
I thought he referred to good losers or something of that sort. But Colonel Henshel spoke up and said: "Here all athletes are called sportsmen. In our terms, the Prime Minister is saying that Israel needs better players. It's something like President Eisenhower's remark about the Washington baseball club. You remember, he said he believed there was nothing wrong with it that a few good players couldn't cure?" He turned to Ben-Gurion. "Maybe the Prime Minister is thinking about the soccer game with Russia last summer." Ben-Gurion nodded and said he had followed it on the radio. Colonel Henshel turned back to me. "Israel almost beat the Russians even though the star goalie, Chodorov, was out of the lineup for a considerable part of the game. The final score was 3-2."
Colonel Henshel then volunteered that he had never seen Ben-Gurion looking so well. He did seem to radiate good health. He was taller than I had imagined and younger-looking than his photographs. Teddy Kollek brought over some picture books of Israel for which the Prime Minister had written the text, and he autographed them. It occurred to me to pursue the subject of bringing hurling over from Ireland, but I thought better of that.
Instead we said goodby and went on to the YMCA in Jerusalem, a branch founded in 1878 by the British. We inspected one of the three indoor basketball courts in Israel and visited the indoor swimming pool and then took the elevator up into the tower to look over into the old city of Jerusalem, which is Jordan territory. I was told that, as an American, I might conceivably get permission to enter old Jerusalem, but if I did, the Jordan authorities wouldn't let me come back. I settled for the view from the YMCA tower and for coffee and sandwiches in the lounge of the King David Hotel.
Israel's first golf course is at Caesarea on the Mediterranean between Tel Aviv and Haifa. There are gently rolling hills, oak and centuries-old carob trees dotting the fairways and a clubhouse site high on a hill overlooking the blue sea. The greens have been constructed and the fairways cleared, but an attempt to plant both with English grasses turned out to be a costly failure. Now, however, the club people are in consultation with American experts skilled in growing grasses in the sands of California and Florida, which have climates comparable to Israel.
The golf course adjoins the ruins of the old Roman town of Caesarea, where archaeological excavations have uncovered tile floors of what was once a courthouse as well as evidences of the hippodrome where horse races and chariot races were held more than 2,000 years ago. Giant statues have been uncovered and great Roman columns lie along the roadside.
Herschell Benjamin, a former major in the British army who now raises cattle on his farm near Caesarea, is secretary of the new golf club. He told me in Tel Aviv that, hacking around the unfinished course, he had once taken a divot that laid bare a Roman coin. This seemed incredible, sitting in the lounge of Hotel Dan, and so Herschell Benjamin said, "Come to Caesarea and walk around the course with me, and I'll guarantee that you'll pick up a piece of Roman pottery at the very least."
A little later, walking up the hill to the clubhouse site, Herschell Benjamin stopped and pointed to the ground at my feet. There it was: a fragment of a Roman pitcher handle. I put it in my pocket, and as we walked along Benjamin told me how the golf course idea was born. All the land as far as I could see, he said, had been purchased by the late Baron James de Rothschild of England. He envisioned a hotel and villas, a youth hostel and, being an enthusiastic golfer himself, the course that now was being created. When he died, his widow and the others of his family determined to see to it that his wishes were carried out.
There are a variety of opinions about Israel's first country club and golf course. Some people say it is a good thing, a good tourist attraction. Others say that it is downright bad taste in a country with so much more serious work to do, a country in which everyone is so heavily taxed that a box of Kleenex is a luxury item.
"In America," said one man, "keeping up with the Joneses is the aim of most people. Here it is exactly the opposite. In America everyone wants a new car every second year. Here an old car is a badge of honor. Ostentation is something to be avoided at all costs. Why, I believe that if a Tel Aviv businessman joined the new golf club, he would hide his golf bag from his friends." Herschell Benjamin scoffed at such talk. "Israel is growing up," he said, "and it's time we had our own golf course. Some of the critics, I think, are guilty of reverse snobbery."
Anyway, the golf course is there, beautifully there, and when American skills solve the grass problem, there doubtless will be a line waiting at the first tee.
Another day we went to Haifa, which is called the San Francisco of Israel. It is 60 miles north of Tel Aviv and, rising on the side of Mount Carmel, it commands a magnificent view of the harbor. It is the home of Technion, the engineering school that is Israel's equivalent of MIT. As we toured the campus of Technion, inspecting its fine dormitories, library, classrooms, all in the modern design that is found all over the country, two glaring deficiencies stood out. There is no gymnasium (Hebrew University at Jerusalem also lacks one), and the only playing field is no more than a sandlot. We stopped a while at the sandlot to watch a pickup soccer game, and the players exhibited the careless skill of youngsters who had grown up with the game.
Later on we visited the home of one of the great men of Israel, president of Technion, hero of Israel's War of Independence, General Yaakov Dori. He lives simply in a house that is part of a housing development. There were a number of people there: General Samuel Tankus; Sasha Goldberg, a Haifa businessman; and Carl Alpert, an American who is assistant to General Dori.
Colonel Henshel, Chaim Glovinsky and I joined the group, met the ladies of the party and then sat down to coffee and a discussion of sports that soon developed into a pretty fair rhubarb. Colonel Henshel told of his scheme to form an intercollegiate athletic association which would include Hebrew University, Wingate Institute and Technion. These schools have an informal athletic association now and meet each other in soccer, volleyball, fencing and certain track and field events. Colonel Henshel wanted to formalize the association, and everybody present agreed that it would be a fine thing. Colonel Henshel made a note of it on a sheaf of papers he took from his pocket. Then Colonel Henshel took up his favorite subject: baseball.
"We've inspected the new field at Wingate," he said briskly, "and, with certain modifications, a fine baseball field can be laid out on the soccer field. Now I'll report back to our committee in the United States and we'll step up our efforts to get baseball equipment and a baseball coach over here."
General Dori, sitting back in his chair, his hands clasped on his lap, nodded agreeably. Mr. Goldberg just smiled with the air of a man who had no violent opinions on the subject one way or the other. Chaim Glovinsky sipped his coffee in his imperturbable way. Then Carl Alpert moved forward to the edge of his chair and set his coffee cup down on the table. Mr. Alpert is a short, balding man, whose smiling, friendly countenance apparently masks an actual determination (when he feels strongly about something) not only to disagree with what you have to say but to challenge your right to say it.
"Colonel Henshel," he said, "I think you're wasting your time."
Colonel Henshel, who had been beaming around the little circle, let his mouth fall open in astonishment. "What did you say, Carl?" he asked incredulously.
"You are wasting your time trying to introduce baseball in Israel. The game will have no appeal for the young people here. It is not in character with the spirit of the country. It is too slow. The young people want fast games like soccer. They took to basketball because it's fast and exciting. They would be bored to death by baseball."
Colonel Henshel looked at me and then at Chaim Glovinsky.
"Carl," he said, turning back to Alpert, "you're completely wrong. Baseball is not slow when you understand it. It's highly scientific, and there's something happening every second if you know what to look for. Now, furthermore, our committee at home is charged with raising funds for sports over here, and the idea of introducing baseball in Israel has great appeal for the people we depend upon for contributions."
Carl Alpert leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs.
"All right then," he said. "It's a gimmick for fund raising. But I still insist that baseball will never go in Israel."
"That's your opinion, Carl," said the colonel, smiling in the friendliest way, "but we'll go ahead with our plans just the same. And when you see, as I visualize, a big league team, possibly the St. Louis Cardinals, playing an exhibition at Wingate, I think you'll change your mind."
"I doubt it," said Carl Alpert, smiling in the most winning manner.
There were a few seconds of silence. I put down my coffee and leaned forward.
"May I say a word?" I asked, looking around the group.
"Certainly," said Colonel Henshel, speaking for the assembly.
"You say, Carl," I began, "that baseball is too slow for the youth of Israel. For all I know, you may be right. However, I do believe it would be worth a trial. But if you want a fast game, an aggressive game, a game that will give players and spectators alike all the excitement they can handle, I've got the game for you."
"What's that?" asked Carl Alpert.
"Hurling," I said, "the national game of Ireland."
"How is it played?" said Carl Alpert.
I told him. When I finished, there was not a sound. After a moment I added, "Just as the colonel visualizes the St. Louis Cardinals playing at Wingate, so I visualize Israel and Ireland playing a home-and-home schedule of hurling."
Nobody said anything. I looked at General Dori. He was impassive. I looked at Chaim Glovinsky. He was staring out the window. I turned to Colonel Henshel, and he was doodling on his sheaf of papers. I glanced at the young woman sitting next to me. She smiled faintly. Finally, I summoned courage to look directly at Carl Alpert. He was frowning. Then he suddenly relaxed, smiled and declared loudly: "I like it!"
Colonel Henshel stared at him in amazement.
"You like it?" I blurted.
"Yes," said Carl Alpert firmly. "It sounds good to me. It makes a lot more sense than baseball. Action, speed, body contact, it seems to have everything. I'm for it. I would say go ahead, arrange an exhibition."
I drew out a notebook and pencil and scribbled furiously. Emboldened by Carl Alpert's reaction, I went on talking.
"In view of your feeling about the matter, Carl," I said, "I think I should say that I have discussed the subject of hurling informally with a few other people. Max Rosenfeld of Hebrew University is all for it and personally would like to see it demonstrated on the university's fine athletic field in Jerusalem. Norman Lourie, who heads up the playing fields association over here, has been briefed on the subject. I've explained the game to Mayor Abba Hushi of Haifa and he's definitely interested, and so is Mayor Abraham Krinitzy of Ramat Gan. Ramat Gan's big stadium, accommodating 60,000, I believe, would be the ideal place for an exhibition."
I looked swiftly around the little circle. "One more thing," I said. "I have put out some lines in Dublin, and I am free to say that Mr. Robert Briscoe, the former lord mayor, has endorsed the idea in principle. Of course, there will have to be some discussion about financing such a trip. One plan would be to have the hurling exhibition put on as part of the 1961 Maccabiah Games [an international competition held in Israel one year after the Olympics], but if some hurling-minded philanthropist should come forward, it might be done sooner than that."
I turned to General Dori. "What is your feeling, sir?" I asked.
General Dori, who had said nothing during the baseball rhubarb, now spoke up decisively.
"My feeling is," he said, "the more sports the better. Bring them all to Israel. Let's have a look at them. Baseball, hurling, American football—let's try them out."
Everybody stood up. There could not have been a better note struck for a leave-taking. We shook hands all around and went out and got into Chaim Glovinsky's old car and pointed for Hotel Dan in Tel Aviv.
In the tent, a few feet from the border that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip, Lieutenant Jacob ran his hand through his tousled blond hair. "There are some beautiful girls in Tel Aviv," he said. He shook his head sadly and spoke to the sergeant in Hebrew. The sergeant listened carefully and nodded, hunching his shoulders and spreading his hands.
"Yes," I said, "there are some beautiful girls in Tel Aviv. Some evenings I have sat in the lounge of Hotel Dan, discussing sports with certain authorities on the subject, and I noticed many beautiful girls dancing the cha-cha-cha."
"The cha-cha-cha," said Lieutenant Jacob. "I have seen it. Very good as danced by a beautiful girl at Hotel Dan."
"However," I said, "I think you were curious about my over-all reaction to Israel and the people here?"
Lieutenant Jacob looked at me blankly for a moment. Then he said, "Oh. Oh, yes, certainly."
"What has impressed me," I said, "is the variety of people you meet. Now in Ireland almost everybody is Irish. But here there are Russians, Poles, Rumanians, Germans, British, South Africans, Americans, Indians, Yemenites, Arabs—even some Irish. You know, of course, that Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem is a Dublin man. The accents are so varied, it is really quite remarkable. And just as remarkable is the attitude of the people. They are cheerful, dedicated, unaffected and very friendly. They are taxed to the eyebrows and still you hear few complaints. I suppose it's because they have a sense of purpose, because they are building a new country and can see the results of their efforts all around them."
"Yes," said Lieutenant Jacob.
I got up and put out my hand. "Thank you for the visit, Lieutenant," I said. I turned and shook hands with the sergeant. They both said, "Shalom," which means peace.
As I drove off in the car I looked back once. Lieutenant Jacob and the sergeant were kicking the soccer ball around in the long shadows cast by the setting sun.