Most people would agree that there’s nothing like a good story. Even in this
digitized, here-and-now, sterile-communication, instant-gratification global
village of ours, a good tale – or even just an amusing anecdote, related in an
immediate, personal and totally analog manner – is generally
That this is so is borne out by the continuing success of
the annual Storytelling Festival, which will take place for the 17th year at
Givatayim Theater between September 23 and 30.
The festival roster is
impressive and expansive, and perennial artistic director Yossi Alfi has drawn
on eclectic cultural and geographical baggage.
For a start, there’s
British unofficial storyteller laureate Taffy Thomas; while, at the other end of
the cultural spectrum, there will be a rare appearance in the Western world by
an Iraqi artist, singer Ismail Fadel.
Elsewhere in the imports section of
the festival agenda there is acclaimed Canadian raconteur Dan Yashinsky, who
founded the Toronto Festival of Storytelling in 1979 and cofounded the
Storytellers School of Toronto. Everywhere you look in the program, there are at
least half a dozen items that should appeal to almost all tastes.
is also a significant home-based contingent among the festival guests, including
veteran media personality and comic Rivka Michaeli, former president Yitzhak
Navon, former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, children’s TV show host Hanni
Nahmias, former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg, and Greek music radio and TV show
presenter Shimon Parnass – to mention but a few.
The public will also
receive some insight into the world of politics, the army and the world of crime
by some highly qualified speakers with practical experience in those
One of the standout speakers at the festival – in the literal,
vertical sense, too – is iconic former Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star Aulcie
Perry. Now 60, the Newark, New Jersey-born Perry will tell the festival audience
about some of the things he experienced during the course of his conversion to
Judaism over 30 years ago, and what spawned the decision.
me at just the right time,” says the two-time basketball European Cup winner.
“I’ve had a tough couple of years, and I was just starting to get everything
together to start telling my story to the public. I think it’s time I told
“Nobody really knows about me. I came here and I was an instant
success, and people only heard about that side of things, about Maccabi and how
well we were doing.”
A couple of years ago, Perry underwent a tricky
operation to replace his aorta, developing complications a year later which
almost killed him. Thankfully, he is now well on the road to recovery and able
to run his regular Basketball for Stars summer basketball camp for kids at the
Wingate Sports Institute, together with his pal and fellow former Maccabi star
Greg Cornelius. He also works with Maccabi’s youth teams.
accounts, Perry has had a helluva roller-coaster ride in his six decades thus
far on this planet, racking up amazing sporting achievements, and not a little
personal grief. He grew up in a tough neighborhood of Newark and says it was
often a battle for survival.
“My primary school was nearby, so that
wasn’t a problem. But when I went to high school, which was further away, I had
to find a different route home every day, to avoid getting harassed. That was a
very racially charged time in America, in the Fifties, and there was a lot of
discrimination against blacks back then.”
Luckily, however, Perry grew
and grew – “I was two meters tall by the time I was 13 and a half,” he says –
and there were some top-class sports facilities right across the road from his
home where he could hone his basketball skills.
college basketball career was followed by a brief professional runout. But by
1975, Perry was not getting any NBA playing time from his New York Knicks
employers, and he began looking abroad for employment. He was spotted by a
Maccabi Tel Aviv scout shooting baskets on a park court in Harlem – and the
rest, as they say, is history.
A year after Perry began playing at the
Yad Eliahu stadium, Maccabi won its historic first European Cup with the
2.10-meter-tall center playing alongside some of the legendary figures of
Israeli basketball folklore, including Mickey Berkovitch, Motti Aroesti and
captain Tal Brody.
“We won the European Cup again in 1981; but, on
reflection, I think that 1977 team was the best one I ever played in. We were
like family – and still are.”
In 1978, Perry converted to Judaism in
“Everything felt right,” he recalls. “I felt completely
at home as soon as I landed in Israel. People normally go to one or two classes
a week to learn about Judaism when they convert. I went five times a
week. I was like a sponge, I couldn’t get enough of it.”
wasn’t all roses. “I come from a devout Baptist family, and my parents could not
accept my conversion.”
Perry’s father eventually came to Israel to see
his son play for Maccabi, but his mother was afraid of flying, so she never got
any of that nachas firsthand.
“My mother still hasn’t accepted the fact
that I’m Jewish, but she’s happy if I’m happy,” says Perry.
time, the cracks started to show through the façade of the sporting
“I guess I had a lot of anger inside me, which I had never
released. There was all that racial discrimination – and things haven’t improved
that much, in that respect, in the States – and other stuff. I’m now starting to
deal with rage.”
In 1982, Perry missed a European Cup game. The official
statement was that he had flu, but he had developed a drug problem. In 1983 he
was found guilty of buying heroin, and a couple of years later, he was caught
smuggling heroin from Amsterdam to New York. In 1987 he was sentenced to 10
years in jail. He served five years, and now says he is grateful for getting
“I am definitely thankful that happened. So I could mend my ways
and sort myself out.” Perry has a wealth of entertaining and very moving stories
to tell, including how he came to be circumcised at eight days old, African
American origin notwithstanding.
“I don’t know if I can use the world
‘destiny.’ I was told by a rabbi that there is no such thing in Judaism, but
things always seem to happen at the right time. I think I’ll ask [fellow
Storytelling Festival guest] Rabbi Lau about that,” Perry says.
will be a plethora of other activities available during the eight-day festival
including the first professional storytellers conference, with Thomas and
Yashinsky sharing some of their many years of professional experience with the
public. There will also be plenty of free activities available in the Givatayim
Theater forecourt.For more information about the Storytelling Festival:
www.yossi-alfi.co.il. For ticket bookings: (03) 604-5000 or *8965.