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About The Book

Every season, dozens of African American basketball players pack up their sneakers to play and live in Israel. They eat Israeli food, navigate Israeli hustle and bustle, experience cultural and religious customs in the world’s only Jewish country, and voluntarily expose themselves to the omnipresent threat of violence in the volatile Middle East. Some players are both Black and Jewish by birth. Others choose to convert to Judaism while residing in Israel. Some go so far as to obtain Israeli citizenship, enlist in the Israeli Army, marry Israeli women, and stay long after their playing careers end.

Alley-Oop to Aliyah: African American Hoopsters in the Holy Land, is the first book to provide an in-depth exploration and analysis of the experiences of African American basketball players in Israel from the 1970s till today. Author David A. Goldstein examines how they end up in the country in the first place, the multitude of distinctive aspects of their lives there, the challenges and difficulties they face, and the reasons some choose to return to Israel year after year. In some cases they even decide to stay in Israel permanently.

Alley-Oop to Aliyah not only deals with basketball and its impact on Israel, but it delves into emotion-laden issues of race, religion, identity, and politics, primarily through the eyes of the players themselves, based on more than forty extensive first-person interviews Goldstein, a sports journalist of half-Israeli descent, conducted. Their stories and their impact on Israel are at the very heart of this revealing book that is about more than just a game.

Chapter Outlines

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The significance of the game of basketball in Israel, the importance of contributions made by African American players, and the path blazed by Aulcie Perry, one of the first and most significant African American players in Israeli basketball history.

How African American players first ended up playing in Israel, why their numbers increased exponentially in just a few years, and how Israel’s Law of Return (which guarantees Israeli citizenship to any Jewish person) played a part in the conversion of numerous African American players to Judaism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Players’ preconceived concerns about playing in Israel, how those notions were confirmed or dispelled, and the elements of Israeli life that make it an appealing destination for African American basketball players looking to play overseas.

Players’ perspectives on four particularly distinctive elements of Israeli life – the food, the driving, the Israeli people (who have a reputation for being abrasive at times), and the Hebrew language.

The ways in which violence or the specter of violence affects the experiences of African American players in Israel, including specific stories of African American players who chose to leave or stay in the country during times of conflict, or actually enlisted and served in the Israeli Army.

The ways in which religion affects the experiences of African American players in Israel, including players’ impressions of the Jewish Sabbath and various holidays, and the significance to players of Israel being home to Christianity’s most hallowed sites.

An analysis of the debate over whether having African American players in Israel harms the development of local Israeli players (by taking away roster spots, playing time, and shot attempts), or helps them (by increasing the level of competition and mentorship, thus raising the bar for Israeli players).

An account of five African American players who fell in love with and married Israeli women, detailing how each couple met, how their respective families reacted to their mixed-race, mixed religion unions, why each player chose to convert or not to convert to Judaism, and how race and religion affect their childrearing and parenting.

The unique aspects of the experience of African American players who play for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the flagship of Israeli basketball, including the remarkable number of players who either come from or end up in the NBA.

The unique aspects of the experiences of those African American players who don’t play for Maccabi Tel Aviv, including their perspectives on living in small, isolated cities, or in communal settlements like a kibbutz.

The experiences of those players who are both African American and Jewish by birth (as opposed to those who converted to Judaism later in life), or who identify as Black Hebrews or Hebrew Israelites, with a focus on four such players, David Blu (formerly Bluthenthal), Sylven Landesberg, Willie Sims, and Amar’e Stoudemire.

A look at the issue of race, and the myriad of ways in which it affects the African American basketball player’s experience in Israel, including players’ differing perspectives on whether racism exists in Israel. This chapter will also address these players’ inability to secure jobs coaching in the first division of the Israeli league, an issue some retired African American players attribute to a reluctance of team management to think outside the box, and which others attribute directly to the race factor.

An exploration of the lives and careers of African American players who choose to stay in Israel after retiring from playing: whether or not they remain involved in basketball; if and how their treatment from native Israelis changes; and the stress of having their children enlist in the Israeli army.