For most, Tal Brody is frozen in that one unforgettable moment in history. After
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory over CSKA Moscow in the European Cup Championship in
1977, an ecstatic, sweaty shooting guard and captain uttered an iconic sentence
in his heavily-accented American Hebrew: “We’re on the map, and we’re staying on
It was Israel’s first victory in a major international sports
competition, and the sentence immediately became a classic sound
But Brody, now a 68-year-old grandfather, hasn’t stopped
representing Israel in the international arena. After embarking on a successful
career as an insurance agent for many years, the tall, trim former star has
embarked on what he calls his “third career”- advocacy for Israel. A regular on
the pro-Israel talk circuit, Brody makes monthly trips to the US to speak at
schools, universities, synagogues and public institutions to provide Americans
with some of the feel-good stories from Israel that get lost in the din of the
Brody’s official position is Israel’s Goodwill
Ambassador, a new position that was created for him by Avigdor Lieberman (Israel
The position followed an unsuccessful bid for a spot on the
Likud list for the Knesset in 2008.
“I wanted to serve the State of
Israel the best way I can,” said Brody, who served in both the Israeli and
Brody’s decision to join Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1965,
despite being drafted 12th in the NBA, was a turning point for Israeli
basketball. Suddenly, the struggling team was drawing viewers, had legitimacy,
and the victory over Moscow in ’77 united the country in wide-spread spontaneous
celebration that prompted dancing in the streets.
In an interview with
The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday, Brody talked about the transition from advocating
for Israel as an athlete through his basketball victories, to advocating for
Israel as a long-time resident and passionate supporter of the
Brody hasn’t stepped away from the arena, and utilizes sports,
especially among youth, as a vehicle for advocacy.
The value of using
sports was brought home the strongest two years ago, when Brody was assisting
the American- Israel Friendship League and brought 12 kids from Sderot to the US
to play basketball.
Off the court, the kids spoke about what it was like
to be in the middle of a basketball game when a red alert sounded, meaning
rocket attacks were imminent. They described the pandemonium of trying to empty
a gymnasium of two teams and all the spectators into a protected area in the
course of 15 seconds.
“This is how the American public can relate,” said
Brody. It took the kids’ description of a normal basketball game, interrupted by
violence, for Americans to fully grasp what it means to live under the threat of
Basketball is the same in America and Israel, and
connecting over a shared passion makes the rest of the explanation, about
borders and peace negotiations and terrorism, more understandable.
overcomes political borders,” said Brody.
The flotilla of May 2010, and
the public relations disaster that followed, was the turning point when the
government finally sat up and took notice of the importance of advocating for
Israel, Brody believes. “[They realized] we’re winning wars, but losing the
battle on hasbara (public diplomacy),” he said.
In addition to his
frequent speaking engagements, Brody maintains an active Facebook page and
mailing list, where he updates thousands of supporters about good news coming
out of Israel, including stories about dialogue between Israelis and
Palestinians and innovative Israeli start-ups and inventions.
than four decades in Israel, Brody’s accent has mellowed to near-fluency, though
he still gets recognized – and photographed – everywhere he goes.
been in Israel for 45 years, I know the real Israel,” he said. Being Israel’s
first Goodwill Ambassador is exactly the place where he wants to be, he
“This is a natural position, I’ve been doing this type of thing
all my life, and it’s a great honor to do it when they need it.”