In Atlanta the
scene unfolding on American television scared Sharan Mercer, too. She was
supposed to fly back to Israel in early January, but Lavon and her parents had
persuaded her to stay in Georgia at least until Jan. 15, the deadline set by
the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The missile attack ended
all talk of her returning to Israel anytime soon. "Stay there with your
family," Lavon had urged her. "It's just not safe here." By then
she had enrolled Dionn in an Atlanta school, and all she had to fear was what
she feared most: that her husband would return to Tel Aviv. His own parents
urged him to come home to Atlanta.
"What are you
trying to prove?" his mother asked. "What are you doing over there?
Explain it to me."
So he explained
it all. It was more than just making a living. "Of all the bad things that
have happened here, we have been one of the few good things," says Mercer,
who has converted to Judaism. "We can't go anywhere and not be noticed.
We're not just Maccabi of Tel Aviv. Or Maccabi of Israel. We are, really,
Maccabi of the Jewish nation. It's an important thing we're doing. We're
helping each other. We're giving something back. There is nothing like this
team in the United States. No analogy. It goes a lot deeper than sports. We are
like ambassadors for Israel."
So there was no
persuading him to leave the team, but Sharan did persuade him to come to the
U.S. for a few days. "I can get you a good ticket," said Sharan. "I
want you to come home. I need to talk to you." So Mercer returned to Israel
by way of Atlanta, where he spent three days with his family, not missing any
games. "I wanted to calm Sharan down," Mercer says.
She was not the
only American-born wife of a Maccabi player who watched in horror when the
first wave of missiles hit Tel Aviv. Kerry Winter of Commack, N.Y., was a
scholarship basketball player at George Washington University, in Washington,
D.C., when she met and fell in love with Moti Daniel, an Israeli-born forward
at GWU. They moved to Tel Aviv in 1987, got married a year later and settled
into a penthouse in Holon, a suburb south of the city. "We had a son nine
months and two weeks after we were married," Kerry says. She was in Israel
as the United Nations' deadline neared, and he wanted her to stay. "Don't
worry about it," Moti told her. "Everything is going to be all
"I was upset
and torn," Kerry says. "I didn't want to pick up and leave Moti. If it
was just me, I would have stayed. But I was worried about our son, Sean."
Kerry is 6'1", her husband 6'6", and their 22-month-old son, Sean,
weighs 40 pounds. What concerned them most was that Scan was too young to wear
a gas mask and too large for the little plastic tent that the government was
issuing to the parents of all infants under two years old. They were supposed
to put the children inside the tent, which looks like an incubator, during an
attack. "Sean is as big as a three-or four-year-old," Kerry says.
"He's the new Toni Kukoc, I think, a 6-10 point guard. He was issued the
little tent, but I was also afraid he would try to get out of it. God forbid he
would try, but he's too hyper. I was afraid he would try to stand up in
As the deadline
drew close, Moti began urging his reluctant wife to leave; she finally took off
for Commack on Sunday evening, Jan. 13, three days before her husband left with
the team for Greece. She had hardly touched down when the first Scud hit Holon.
"It hit two miles from my house," she says. "I was so scared my
body began to shake. My mother-and father-in-law live half a mile from us. I
kept calling them: busy, busy, busy. It was really difficult. I didn't know how
big a Scud was. Did it blow up a city block? Are my in-laws all right? Is my
home blown up? Moti called and said his parents were O.K. It was such a
The rest of the
team returned to Tel Aviv, but Royal and Horton stuck to their vow not to go
back to Israel. The two Americans stayed in Greece, and rejoined their
teammates the following week in Zurich. In the days leading up to the first
Scud attack, Royal's mother, Barbara, had tried to talk her son into coming
home. "You're getting on the next plane, aren't you?" she asked him by
phone. "They're going to bomb Israel. You need to come home." Royal
lingered as the U.N. deadline approached, but he grew increasingly anxious.
"I don't feel
safe here," he told Mizrahi. "I don't feel comfortable with the
Mizrahi had tried
to reassure him. "Nothing will happen," the team president told him.
"If it does, we will make arrangements for you to live in Europe. You can
meet the team where it plays."