By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM — Israel is usually in the headlines about war, terror, great power efforts to make peace, or some other bloody or politically charged issue. This note is not about any of that exciting stuff, but deals with the way others and Israelis often view themselves. That may have something to do with having the world’s most popular publication assign us the label of Chosen People living in what the same book calls God’s Promised Land. Extremism is the language in dealing with Israel. Adversaries or our own domestic critics think it is the worst, and some friends consider it only a small measure removed from Paradise.
Recently some ranking officials of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development visited Israel to wrap up the country’s application for membership. The OECD is a prestigious organization, arguably of the world’s best countries, growing out of the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Israel is expected to join within the coming months, and that will add another mark of distinction to a place thought by many to be a pariah.
What has marked the visit of OECD dignataries is their statements that Israel would be the poorest member, as well as most marked by inequality between its well-to-do and poor. The allegations have been repeated by left of center Israeli politicians, including the distinguished economist and former university president, Avishay Braverman, who is serving as a minister in the government with responsibility for minorities. Braverman appeared on a discussion program to assert that he would work to assure the entry of Israel to the OECD, and would press his colleagues in the government to allocate more resources to the underprivileged Arab sector. Joining him on the program was a prominent Arab Member of Knesset. Mohammed Barake discounted Braverman’s promises, and demanded that the OECD suspend Israel’s membership application on account of its discrimination against Arabs.
Even a minister from the right-of-center Likud signed on to the claims that Israel would be the poorest and least equal of the OECD members. Or maybe this minister was seeking to get something for his education portfolio in the discussion about membership. Gideon Sa’ar said that the OECD report was a reflection of the reality of Israel’s society.
“Investment in human capital and higher education is the future of Israel . . .We are going to make every effort to improve teacher skills and qualifications and ease the entry and participation in education for the Arab and haredi sector.”
Sounds good, insofar as it comes from reputable people, but it ain’t so.
Israel would be neither the poorest nor the least egalitarian of the OECD members. Data from the World Bank indicate that on a common measure–Gross Domestic Product per capita–Israel scores wealthier than existing OECD members Portugal, the Czech Republic, South Korea, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Mexico. On a common measure of income equality (Gini coefficient), it scores more egalitarian than OECD members Turkey, United States, and Mexico, and the Gini coefficients for Portugal and Japan are only fractionally in the direction of greater income equality than Israel’s.
The distinguished people who comment inaccurately on Israel’s poverty and inequality make more sense when they speak about other traits of the country. They emphasize that the ultra-Orthodox and Arab minorities are poorer than the average. That is true, but both owe some of their poverty to themselves and the politicians who represent them. The ultra-Orthodox volunteer for poverty. The men avoid work for prolonged study of religious texts. Their families live on the incomes of wives as teachers or in other low-paid occupations, and the payment of poverty-level stipends to mature yeshiva students and child allowances for their large families. These payments–and the continued abstention of ultra-Orthodox men from the workforce–reflect the importance of ultra-Orthodox parties for government coalitions.
Arab family incomes are actually closer to those of the Jewish majority than are comparable figures for minorities and majorities in the United States. That is not a great compliment for Israeli egalitarianism, insofar as the United States is a prominent outlier among wealthy countries, noted for its lack of equality. Statistics from the Central Intelligence Agency rank the United States close to the Philippines, Uganda, Jamaica, Uruguay, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Iran and Nigeria, and far from Western European democracies on the conventional measure of income equality.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/rawdata_2172.text
Israel’s Arabs might gain a larger share of the country’s opportunities if the parties that most of them vote for learned the political game of going along to get along. Instead of trading their 11 votes in the Knesset for their constituents’ benefits, the Arab parties continue to stand united in opposition to whoever is in the government. Severe criticism rather than cooperation is the name of their game. For someone who sees the trading of political support for benefits as the key of civilization, the Arabs who vote for those parties get what they deserve.
Some of you have ridiculed my claim that Israel is a normal country. You are partly right. Thanks to those who would sanctify or demonize it, Israel is different from other countries. But if you look at reputable statistics, most extreme claims pro or con prove to be false. The most prominent indicators that show it to be abnormal are that 80 percent of the population is Jewish, and that it allocates two or three times the proportion of its resources to defense compared to other western democracies. The defense indicator reflects the chronic aggression threatened by Israel’s neighbors, which makes them far less normal than Israel itself.
And if any of you object to my designation of Israel as a western democracy, go read something else.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.
“Sometimes you’re not always going to get the best out of every situation, but you’re supposed to strive for the best and maximize your ability.” – Antonio Garay
SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers are on the precipice of history this season. Not only are they the hottest team in the National Football League having won their last 11 games in a row, but there is an unfamiliar buzz around the Charger universe . . . that “this” is the season. Even though the team has captured the AFC West title the previous three years, there was always some worry – some doubt – that the lightning bolts would fall once they left the comforts of competing in their lackluster division (and face mightier AFC foes in the playoffs). Unfortunately, those concerns came to fruition each season.[i] Yet, this year, with a healthy core team still intact having experienced the heartbreak of past playoff loses; the Chargers could very well bring San Diego its first major championship. If they do, they’ll do it with the aid of an exceptional talent recently added to the roster, defensive tackle, Antonio Garay.
Garay was traded to the Chargers in December, ironically by this weekend’s opponent, the New York Jets. At 6-4 and 330 pounds, Garay is an imposing figure with a surprising amount of speed and quickness. Antonio’s story is one that does not immediately interest those in the sports realm. He has never been caught-up in a scandal, he does not wear flashy clothes or perform overly dramatic celebrations after big plays, and he doesn’t take to the internet to broadcast himself 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, dig a little deeper, and the tale of this incredibly unique athlete begins to surface. And, it is one that could very well be just as interesting, for all the right reasons.
Born on November 30, 1979, the first of three children for Marsha and Tony Garay, Antonio was brought into a family of incredible diversity and love. Marsha Garay is devoutly Jewish, who taught Antonio and his siblings, brother Daniel and sister Francesca, from an early age about their heritage and the importance of understanding their religion. Of his mom, Antonio stated, “My mom is very proud, knows where she came from, and respects everything about her religion. Every holiday we celebrated, she explained the importance [of them] to us. Even though I am diverse, first and foremost, I am Jewish. It’s a big part of myself and my family.” It is an ambition of Antonio’s to visit Israel soon and wrestle in the Maccabi Games.
His father’s side is a mainly Catholic family with a combination of Puerto Rican, Costa Rican, and Jamaican backgrounds. Marsha and Tony were both two sport athletes at Hofstra University in New York. Tony wrestled and played football and Marsha was a softball pitcher and captain of the tennis team. On a fateful afternoon, Marsha twisted her ankle while playing tennis and Tony came to her rescue, that event, according to Antonio, “is when the fairytale began.”
Tony had a minor stint in the NFL, playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, and New York Jets, after being touted by sports writers as one of the best defensive linemen in the country in 1971.
“My father, he’s like my best friend. I was a kid [who] had support from two parents that were college educated and two sport athletes. I’ve been very fortunate. There were things that were done and said through their careers and they made sure to guide me to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow.”
While growing up in the small town of Rahway, New Jersey, Antonio knew that he was going to be a football player from an early age. However, his Mom enrolled him in soccer. “My mom had me playing soccer. One of my biggest attributes is that I’m pretty fast. The last two games I’ve been running down on kick off’s. You don’t really see anyone my size running down. In soccer, I played left wing and right wing. Everyone used to be like, ‘who’s that big fat kid running?’” The fact was, Antonio was too big at his age to play in junior football, yet the passion for one day competing on an NFL field burned inside of him.
“My best friends used to have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders [jerseys], for me, I never got into, wearing and supporting. The one person that I did like was Greg Lloyd. I never had posters up. I was never a super fan. When I was younger, I was [always] thinking about ‘who I was going to play for’ and ‘which one of these guys was going to be a teammate.’ I was always very goal oriented. I would write down [everything], ‘how many plays am I going to make this week?’ When I was younger, in order for me to get to college, I [had] to do well in school. I just became very goal oriented.”
In high school, Garay was not only a dominant force on the football field (All-State and Blue Chip All-American), but a track star running the 100 and 200 yard races and throwing the javelin. However, it was his skills at wrestling that earned Antonio a great deal of praise and recognition.
Wrestling has been an institution in Garay family since 1955 when his uncle, Louie Garay, won the New Jersey state championship. Two years later, Carlos Garay, another uncle, finished second in the state and in 1966, Antonio’s father finished third. Antonio was the New Jersey state champion in his weight class, 275 pounds. He never lost a match during his high school years (1994 – 1998).
Beyond his athletic accomplishments, Garay maintained his goal of performing well in his classes. The strong support of both his parents in his competitive and educational endeavors fueled Antonio to succeed. He was offered scholarships from 25 different schools, but he elected to accept the offer from Boston College.
In Boston, Antonio continued to wrestle until Boston College dropped the wrestling program his senior year. He finished 4th in the NCAA championships during his sophomore year and remains the only NCAA All-American in Boston College history. It was also at Boston College when Garay’s seemingly inevitable path to the NFL began to waver after a few horrific injuries. During his junior year, in the first play of the first game of the season, Antonio sprained his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). His season was over. The next year while playing against Notre Dame, Garay suffered a season ending spine injury.
Antonio could have utilized his degree and walked away from football and the risk of any further injury or focused on wrestling and competing in the Olympics. However, the NFL dream continued to push him to rehab, train harder, and focus on the upcoming 2003 National Football League draft.
On Sunday, April 27, 2003, the Cleveland Browns selected Antonio Garay in the sixth round of the NFL draft. The years of preparation, studying, focusing on school – and not being deterred by the pressures of youth and ignorance – led to that glorious moment. Garay was a Brown for two seasons (2003 – 2004). He tore his ACL in a game against the Baltimore Ravens and once again found himself on the mend. The inauspicious tag of, “injury prone” began to be attached to Antonio, yet, in 2005 he was signed to the Chicago Bears practice squad.
In 2006, during the Bears Super Bowl run, Antonio was active for seven games. Unfortunately, he was deactivated for the Super Bowl, which the Bears lost 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. In 2007, Garay was having an impressive season, and then on Thursday, December 6th, 2007 while playing against the Washington Redskins in prime time, Redskins Offensive Tackle, Chris Samuels made an illegal chop block that broke Antonio’s leg and shattered his ankle. Samuels was fined $12,500 for the hit and has been referred to by many in the league as “a dirty player.”
While discussing the injury, Antonio noted, “When I broke my leg, it was a chop block from Chris Samuels. I’ve broken my leg before; I knew right away it was broken. I knew I was going to have a journey ahead of me. Unfortunately, I was going into my free agent year and not many football teams are in the market for a D-Lineman with one leg.”
Antonio would spend all of 2008, essentially starting over again. Beyond rehabbing the leg and ankle, Garay had to find a way to drop the “injury prone” stigma that had seemingly become his legacy. He refused to let the dream die. He wanted to come back stronger, faster, and healthier than ever before.
“I was just real motivated. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I loved football. I knew I wanted to play football. I knew I had a lot more to give to football. Sometimes guys just stop, they feel like they’ve accomplished everything they could. Deep down inside, I felt like there was a lot left for me to accomplish. I heard a lot of people [over the] course of 12-13 months, ‘you had a good run, we’ll support you, but if you don’t get an opportunity, we’ll help you out.’ Some people felt I should get a job. Some people said ‘go back to school.’ In the back of my head, I knew I’d be cheating myself. If I wanted to play football, I [had] to make sure I devoted everything to football. It really was just kind of a mindset that I would will myself to get an opportunity, no matter the cost.”
Prior to the start of this season, Antonio was signed to the practice squad of the New York Jets, his home town team. Garay was thrilled that he’d be playing so close to home. “Over the last year I was out with a broken leg. I got very close with everyone, not that I wasn’t close before, but I’m saying, we were going to family events all the time, bat mitzvahs, bar mitzvahs. [While in College and with the Browns and Bears] I wasn’t able to go to all the family events. Being in New York, basically right over the bridge from everyone, it was accommodating for them and for me, to get to see them all the time. It was definitely a great thing; it was definitely something I will always remember.”
New York never called Antonio up from the practice squad and on December 9th, they traded him to San Diego. “Once I found out I was coming here, I knew I’d have a good opportunity. I have a pretty strong relationship with the coaching staff. Ron Rivera was my defensive coordinator in Chicago. Don Johnson was my D-line coach. For them just to want me here, the stars [have] aligned.”
So far this season, Garay has played in two games for the Chargers, having recorded an assisted tackle vs. Tennessee in week 16 and three tackles and an assisted tackle against the Redskins during the final game of the regular season. Regarding the match up this weekend against the Jets, Garay said, “They’re a talented team. When I was a part of the team, I was thinking, we were going to win the Super Bowl. Now I’m a Charger through and through. Now that is my mentality. We have one goal. We have to take three steps to it and this Sunday is the first step.”
Thirty members of the Garay crew will be in attendance at the game, “This is probably the most family and friends I’ve ever had at a game, it’ll make me feel like I’m at home. I’ve never played a professional game where I felt like I was at home. I’m pretty excited about going this weekend.”
As for the Chargers making it to Miami and Super Bowl XLIV, Antonio said, “Our chances are pretty good. Even though they’ve had some heartaches in the playoffs, that core group is still here. They’ve been together and had a chance to grow. They know what this city is expecting from them. Guys like me, who haven’t been in San Diego, can feed off everything. You can feed off the older guys and know that everyone has to carry their own weight. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”
For the 2010 season and beyond, Garay believes, “I’m in this for the long run. I don’t have a set number. Right now, I’m probably in the best shape of my life. My legs are fresh. My body is feeling good. Junior Seau is a perfect example. He was in this system and has continued on. I actually think I’m a lot better than some of these younger guys. Only time will tell. Right now, I’m just trying to take advantage of every moment. There will be certain moments that will lead up to that defining moment, that’s what I’m hoping for.”
“I like everything about [San Diego]. I like the people, the fans. Everyone is so personable. The organization itself, the guys on the team, everyone has made this a very easy transition for me. I think starting this week; it’s a sign of great things to come.”
Beyond football, Antonio is in the process of creating a foundation that will work with kids in his community to prepare them for college, by instructing them on all their options for continued education as well as providing a safe haven for studying and avoiding the dangerous pit falls that tend to detract students from achieving their fullest potential.
Finally, even though he is 100% committed to football at this moment, Antonio has not completely ruled out representing the United States in wrestling at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Garay still has a lot to prove to San Diego fans before he is mentioned alongside Sid Gilman and Ron Mix as the greatest Jewish Chargers, but he is certainly the prototypical role model for any student athlete with aspirations of finding success in their athletic field of play.
As we all cheer for Rivers, Tomlinson, Gates, Jackson, Sproles, Merriman, and yes, even Kaeding, this Sunday, keep an eye out for #71. He’ll have his hands full with the number one rushing team in the league, but let there be no doubt, Antonio Garay will leave it all on the field this weekend for himself, his family, his teammates, and every Charger fan counting on him and the team to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to San Diego.
Connect with Antonio by visiting his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Antonio-Garay/251498588675
[i] 2004: The Chargers lost to the New York Jets in overtime, 20-17, after Nate Kaeding missed a game winning field goal from medium range, during Wild Card weekend. 2005: Did not make the playoffs. 2006: Lost to the Patriots 24-21, after Marlon McCree intercepted a Tom Brady pass and attempted to advance the ball. He was subsequently stripped by Patriots Wide Receiver, Troy Brown. The McCree turn over led to the go ahead Patriots score. Nate Kaeding missed a field goal that would have sent the divisional round game into overtime. 2007: Lost to the Patriots in the conference championship game 21-12. 2008: Lost to the Steelers, 35-24 in the divisional round.
Joey Seymour, Sports Historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives.” Now Available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.
Contact Joey Seymour at email@example.com
KIBBUTZ RUHAMA, Israel — A slight gentle movement and the basket lifted of the ground. The fields still were covered with the morning dusk and the sky was only beginning to show pink and yellow colors.
Was this a dream or had my dream come true? I had to pinch myself several times in the arm before understanding that I was not dreaming and the fields and river Valleys down below were the ones where I usual either run or bike.
The atmosphere can only be described as divine, and the silence was “deafening”–only being broken here and there by the PSSSS… of a burner heating up the Air in the balloon. Now and then I waved to the small group of bikers below.
The ride in a hot air balloon was over my home – Kibbutz Ruhama. Joining me on this adventure was journalist Ayellet Nir who is a regular writer on the Israeli bicycle magazine “Ofaneim”. She has been working on an article about the bike rider group in Ruhama – the Ruhama Riders. And as part of the article we had asked some of the group to follow in the “footsteps” of the balloon.
The morning started out at 6AM near the balloon that was lying flat on the ground. Air was blown into it by a ventilator and soon it rose above the small basket that can hold six passengers and the captain.
The hot air balloon flights have been lifting off from the fields close to Kibbutz Ruhama for more than two years. The flights are run by Moran Itzckovich, an experienced balloon captain who is a Kibbutz Ruhama citizen. More information is on his website, www.overisrael.co.il
After a while the riders down below had a problem following us because we started flying farther and farther north over magnificent expanses of nature. Sunrise lit up our surroundings, and from the balloon’s basket, Kibbutz Ruhama seemed much smaller and compact than it looks on the ground.
The Ruhama Riders consists of 20-30 people, including beginners and more experienced riders. The stalwarts are 6-8 riders who bike three times in the week, usually very early in the morning in order to finish riding before going to work.
Not long ago a decision was made to prepare a set of bike uniforms for the whole group. We were lucky to get a sponsor so the expenses could be minimized.
The group now proudly rides together in shirts and pants bearing the logo of the sponsor and the logo of the Ruhama Riders. But if you look closely on the back of the shirt an additional smaller logo can be noticed – it is the Jamaican flag with the sentence “We are free” inscribed on it. There is a very touching story behind this picture.
Avi Garbovski works as a service manager at AvivCom mobile–the company that sponsors us. His son Ido was killed near Saluki in one of the last battles of the Second Lebanon War. He had been in a tank in which everyone except the driver was killed.
Ido’s parents searched for several ways to commemorate their son and in their search they came upon the idea of the Jamaican flag.
Apparently when Ido and his classmates were graduating 12th grade, they had a farewell party and as decoration they hung a huge Jamaican flag on which Ido wrote in the middle “We are free”. After the party the flag followed Ido everywhere and became a symbol for him.
After he was killed his bag was removed from the tank. Inside there were only a few items apart from the flag. Since then the flag has now become a symbol of Ido’s memory for his parents.
Additionally, AvivMobile Com also uses it on cars and in promotional materials.
The Ruhama Riders group are proud to have Ido Garbovski’s flag on their bike shirts and to be able to continue the commemoration of this Israeli soldier– a young guy of 21 who lost his life too soon. The logo can be seen on Ido’s website, www.idolaad.co.il
As the balloon neared its final destination, a small field near moshav Telamim, the captain instructed us on landing procedures. I had not thought that part through. Usually not a very brave flier, this air balloon trip did not rip any nervous membranes in my body, but once we started bumping on the ground and the basket turned on its side my stomach turned once or twice.
Nothing went wrong and apparently this is normal procedure. Well, what can you expect when you deal with the wind and the weather and don’t have big machines to do the work for you?
Hadar is San Diego Jewish World’s bureau chief in Sha’ar Hanegev, the muncipality that is a partnership region in Israel for the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County. Kibbutz Ruhama is a part of Sha’ar Hanegev. The ballooning and biking photos are by Ayellet Nir. The photo of Ido Garbovski is courtesy of his family.