"There's one difference," I said. "I have a great many cousins in Ireland, being second generation myself. They helped give me the feel of the land. I have no cousins in Israel."
"Oh, you'd have plenty of contacts," said Milton, "don't worry. Let me introduce you to some members of the United States Committee for Sports in Israel and perhaps put you in touch with the Israel consulate in New York to see if a trip could be arranged. O.K.?"
"Milton," I said, "let me put it this way. With your permission, I shall adopt an attitude of passive nonresistance. I shall not seek, I shall not oppose this thing. If I am fated to go to Israel as a result of having gone to Ireland, let it happen."
Milton went right to work. There was a meeting with some members of the United States Committee for Sports in Israel, and then there was a call to the New York consulate for a briefing on general conditions over there. Not long after that, at 2 o'clock in the morning, I stepped off one of El Al's Britannia planes at Lydda airport outside Tel Aviv. There waiting to greet me was Colonel Harry Henshel of New York, chairman of the United States Committee for Sports in Israel. He has long been prominent in the AAU and was this year's recipient of its Gold Medal award. With the colonel (he was on General Omar Bradley's staff in World War II) was Chaim Glovinsky, labor leader, road builder, manager of the small team that Israel sent to the Olympics in 1956 and the liaison between the U.S. Committee and Israel sports organizations. I was to see a lot of Glovinsky and the colonel in the next two weeks. They complemented each other perfectly. The colonel, at 69, tall, with iron-gray hair, was bursting with energy and bounce and enormous affability. Chaim Glovinsky, black-haired, younger (a British officer and for four years a prisoner of the Germans in World War II), wore a bemused look in every situation and was as imperturbable as a well-fed cat.
After breakfast the next morning Chaim Glovinsky and Colonel Henshel and I went for a drive, and I got my first look at Tel Aviv by daylight. It is a city of 400,000 now, built on what was desolate sand dunes a half century ago. The housing is modern, and there are concert halls (Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist, was in town) and theaters, broad boulevards, bright lights and cafes along Dizengoff Street, vast government offices and elaborate headquarters for Histadrut, the labor organization.
We dropped in at the office of the three-times-a-week sporting newspaper. The editors (all of whom have regular jobs on the daily papers) showed us proudly around their new offices. I asked Nechemiah Ben-Avraham, one of the editors, to explain to me how sports were split up along political lines. I had heard that the Histadrut sports federation, known as Hapoel, was the strongest in the land, and next came the Maccabee, a middle-of-the-road organization politically. And then (I had been informed) there were smaller factions representing the extreme right and left. Ben-Avraham shook his head and put up his hands in protest. "No," he explained, "all that belongs to the day of the oldtimers like Glovinsky and the colonel here. There was bitter feeling among the various factions in the old days, but a new generation is coming up and it has no time for such nonsense. In the old days a team representing Israel might have been called the combined Hapoel-Maccabee. No more. Now a team that represents the country is proud to be called Israel's team. Why, in the old days, a Hapoel man from Haifa would cheer for a Tel Aviv Hapoel team playing his own city's Maccabee. No more. A Haifa man cheers for Haifa, no matter what political connection the team may have. Is it clear?"
I said it was. Ben-Avraham called to a girl in the next office and asked her to be so kind as to serve coffee. The coffee was served, and then I asked Ben-Avraham about the general pattern of sports in Israel. "Of course," he said, "football—soccer, as you would say—is the No. 1 game. Most of the young people have grown up with it. Basketball, comparatively new in the country, is tremendously popular. Some of us think that one day it may be even more popular than soccer. Its speed and excitement suit the country exactly. As you travel around, you will see how it is spreading everywhere. Softball has been introduced and is well liked. Swimming is a national sport because we can swim outdoors eight months a year and have the Mediterranean along the whole length of the country."
Colonel Henshel spoke up. "I want to see baseball introduced. Our committee is going to send equipment over. We will build a baseball diamond at Wingate Institute. It will be laid out over the soccer field."
Ben-Avraham shrugged his shoulders. "Good," he said. "I would like to see it. But I doubt that it will ever become as popular as football and basketball."
"I see the day," exclaimed the colonel, "when the St. Louis Cardinals will come over here on an exhibition tour."