Putting Israel on the Map

Stand for Israel  |  August 28, 2023

Tal Brody playing basketball
(Photo: Yaakov Saar/GPO)

A Jewish-American Star

Basketball star Tal Brody was born to a Jewish family in the United States — his family had come from Eastern Europe, but had spent time living in the Holy Land. His father and grandfather had even helped build the first airfield in Israel!

A high school basketball star, Tal led his team to a state championship. This renown led to more than 40 top colleges recruiting the flashy point guard for both his scoring and passing abilities. Tal ultimately chose the University of Illinois, where his team won the Big 10 championship and were ranked #3 in the nation, and where Tal himself was chosen as one of the country’s top 10 players.

After college, Tal was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. But before the season started, he traveled to Israel. There he played for the American national team at the 1965 Maccabiah Games, winning the gold medal. After the tournament, Tal was approached by the Israeli Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team with an offer to play in the Holy Land instead of America, where he could elevate Israeli basketball to a level only seen in America.

Making Aliyah

Being in Israel opened Tal’s eyes. After returning to America and playing for a season before being traded from one NBA team to another, he decided to make aliyah and take the Israeli basketball league’s challenge. When he arrived, Israeli players had no concept of practice and hard work on the court. Tal doubled the number of times they practiced and brought a new culture to the Holy Land’s athletics. His work paid off, with his team reaching the European Cup Finals, and Israeli politicians attending games for the first time.

When the Six-Day War broke out in 1967, Tal was warned by the United States to return to his home country. But Israel felt like home now. He stayed, despite the war, and volunteered as a fitness trainer for IDF soldiers on the Israel-Jordan border.

The military would play a part the next year as Tal was called back to the U.S. to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War. He did so by leading the Army’s basketball team. While he did so, Tal received a personal letter from famed IDF General Moshe Dayan, asking him to return to the Holy Land.

Tal did return to Israel, this time for good. He made aliyah (immigrated) and become an Israeli citizen in 1970, serving in the IDF.

A Career of Highlights

The highlight of Tal’s career was 1977. As the Cold War raged, the Soviet Union was boycotting Israel. Tal’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team beat other basketball teams in the European Champions Cup, leading them to a game with the Soviet Red Army team, which was an international powerhouse, even having defeated the United States.

Because the USSR had no diplomatic relations with Israel, and because they were allied with Israel’s neighboring Arab enemies, the Soviet team refused to play in Tel Aviv. But they also refused to allow Israelis into Russia. Instead the game was played in Belgium.

Staying on the Map

The Israeli press billed it as “the fight between David and Goliath.” Almost every Israeli watched the basketball game on the one television channel available at the time in the Holy Land. And they all saw David win, with Maccabi Tel Aviv destroying the Russians 91-79. After the game, Tal Brody gave the announcers a soundbyte that Israelis know to this day: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map — not only in sports, but in everything.”

Tal Brody is still an inspiring figure in Israel today. His saying is still remembered, and so is he, keeping busy in business, philanthropy, and as Israel’s Goodwill Ambassador.

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