Women on the ball

A more recent basketball player, Anat Draigor, set a Guinness World Record in 2006 when she scored 136 points in a single game.

By
May 15, 2019 04:12
Women on the ball

President Reuven Rivlin and the women who played on the Israeli 1950 basketball team . (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Women’s sporting teams and individual female athletes don’t get much media attention in Israel, and when budgets for sports teams are being allocated women’s teams are usually at the bottom of the totem pole, while individual female athletes have to struggle bitterly for sponsorships.

Yet a perusal of Israel’s sports history indicates that a woman’s basketball team that represented the nascent state of Israel in the Women’s Eurobasket championship that was held in Budapest in 1950, was the first sports team that Israel sent abroad long before anyone had ever heard of Tal Brody.

Admittedly, the team captained by Brody did a lot better than the women’s team, because as Brody said: “We’re on the map, and we’re going to stay on the map.”

Still one can’t take away from the fact that it was women who pioneered Israel’s entry into international competition in sport.

Of the twelve competing teams, Israel came eleventh. Disappointing as this was, the team members were nonetheless proud to be able to represent Israel.

The final rankings that year were Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Netherlands.

Coincidentally, Israel’s first Olympic medal was won by a woman. In 1992, Judoka Yael Arad brought home a silver medal from Barcelona.

A more recent basketball player, Anat Draigor, who played professional basketball from 1985 to 1994 , but continued to play after she stopped playing professionally, in 2006 set a Guinness World Record when she scored 136 points in a single game.

Draigor continues to work as a coach and is the founder of the Israel Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

In this latter capacity, seeking to right an historical wrong, she decided to track down all of the players in the 1950 National Team, bring them together and ask President Reuven Rivlin to recognize them.

Most of the women are in their late eighties and early nineties. Some still have athletic figures and move with ease. Unfortunately, some are no longer living, and some were unable to come to a meeting with Rivlin on Monday, due to poor health.

Those who came were very excited and signed a basketball which was presented to Rivlin by Dvora Rof who teaches gymnastics and swimming at a retirement home for senior citizens, and looks nowhere near her age.

Rivlin was delayed due to his earlier meting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which went on for longer than anticipated.

While waiting the women tossed the ball to Draigor who made a loop with her arms, and they proved that even now they are still capable of scoring points. Draigor then showed off some fancy moves as she passed the ball from side to side around her body.

The team came with spouses, children and even grown grandchildren.
 

MAYA KRAF-RESHEF , who will turn 90 in two months time, said that she had not seen any of her team-mates since 1950. “We came from all over the country, from kibbutzim and different towns. We had different backgrounds and different viewpoints, and there were not too many opportunities for us to practice. In fact, we related to every game as a practice game for the next game, but somehow we were united as a team.”

All the members of the team had been very young, and were so excited to be traveling by plane to Europe.

Raya Bronstein recalled that the team members had been players from Hapoel and Maccabi clubs. Because Hungary was under Communist rule at the time, the team was warned not to say anything about Hungary, not to talk politics and not to speak in Hebrew. They were also told that they would be under constant surveillance by the Hungarian secret police. For all that, every now and again, someone would sidle up to them, softly say “Shalom, Shalom” and pull out a Star of David pendant from beneath a shirt or a blouse before quickly moving on. It was a very emotional experience for the young sabras.

Maya Kraf-Reshef recalled that she had been let out of the army a month early in order to travel with the team, and had been told that some Jewish person in Budapest would be in touch with her. When she asked how she would recognize this person, she was told not to worry. Sure enough, someone approached her, told her to get into a cab and not to say a word throughout the journey. When they reached their destination and alighted, she found herself in a hall packed with Hungarian Jews who all wanted to know about Israel.

Foreign currency was very limited in Israel in 1950, and the team members had very little money, but enough for each of them to buy a traditional embroidered Hungarian blouse as a keepsake.

Travel was not as easy in those days as it is now, and the team in order to reach its connections and destinations traveled by plane, ship and train to Vienna, Naples, Budapest and Paris. It took two-and-a-half days by train from Budapest to Paris, and when they arrived, there were Jews crowding the platform with packages of food for them.
 

DRAIGOR HAD compiled a brief biography of each of the players which she read out to Rivlin. and the information she conveyed showed that each of the players had other athletic skills including javelin throwing, high jumping, tennis, sprinting, swimming, chess and more. Some had represented Israel at other international sporting events.

Rivlin listened with a happy smile on his face, and revealed that his 12-year-old granddaughter plays junior league basketball for Tel Mond. She’s too short to play center, he said, so she plays defense “and we’re very proud of her.”

Rivlin who is a great sports fan, which is the reason that Draigor initially approached him, said that although Israel excelled in many areas, in the early years sport was not one of them.

He said one of the reasons that women athletes didn’t get their due in terms of support was because in the early days, not everyone had a radio, so they couldn’t listen to sportscasters reporting on women’s sports events.


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