A third Washington State athlete will represent the U.S. in Israel’s 2013 Maccabiah Games beginning July 18 (see “Singing for a Cure,” Mar. 18, 2013, for more on the other two). Bill Cohon of Shoreline will play grand masters tennis in the international games that are second in size only to the Olympics, joining over 9,000 competitors from 80 countries.
A retired school orchestra director, Bill, 64, was both a tennis pro and a professional violinist in his younger years before turning to teaching. He returned to competitive tennis in retirement, and was ranked number one in the Pacific Northwest’s over-60 age group last year.
No matter what the competition in Israel, he knows “going there is the prize.” He has much to look forward to, like laying on clay at the Israel Tennis Center in Ramat Hasharon outside Tel Aviv, visiting the Kotel with his doubles partner Barry Brahver, and seeing sights he missed on his first visit there in 2009.
Used to summer heat from tournaments in central Oregon and California, Bill still assumes “it will be hot as hell” in Israel. He’s thrilled to be marching with his 1,200 teammates in the opening ceremonies — cheered by 60,000 screaming fans and seen on national TV — but suspects the atmosphere at his first match will be quite different.
“I think it will probably be Rebecca [Ringer, his wife] and the other guys’ wives watching,” he says. There won’t “be any trouble finding a place to park.”
Bill’s goal is “to do as well as I can,” he says. “If I win or lose is secondary to that.” Competing in Israel as a Jew is much more important to him. For many years he felt his Jewish roots were in Brooklyn, but that changed on that first Israel trip. Seeing the Temple Mount, where in ancient times only priests (kohenim, the origin of his last name) could go, “was truly going back to my roots, and it was profoundly moving,” he says.
The 19th Maccabiah Games run July 18 through July 30. Those interested in following Bill’s exploits on this trip will find his writings at Williamcohon.blogspot.com.
His email address is email@example.com — yes, you can contact him there — so right off the bat you get Shaul Judelman’s angle.
“It’s safe to call me a progressive Orthodox rabbi, settler/peace activist,” he wrote in an email, a slightly different description than when we last chatted seven years ago (“Our Washington Israelis,” Feb. 16, 2006).
Shaul (Stefan) visits Seattle July 18–August 5 to speak at Congregation Beth Shalom, where he grew up, and elsewhere, about his efforts to bring environmental awareness and organic practices to Israel. He made aliyah now and lives with his young family “across the green line” in Bat Ayin.
The Seattle Hebrew Academy and Garfield High grad once thought “being born Conservative was like being born Ashkenazi; I didn’t think it could change.” Now he’s a long-haired Orthodox rabbi who’s worked for years to illuminate the relationship between Judaism and environmentalism in his new home.
Shaul first traveled to Israel in 2000 for his degree requirements in international studies at Pitzer College and was “completely blown away” by Judaism's connection to the land. Having spent time as a political activist among the Navajo, he found it reminiscent of the way Navajo “religion and culture were so tied to the land.”
Speaking to me on July 4, Shaul reflected on modeling participatory democracy for Israelis. “Feeling empowered to make change [is]…something Americans bring here.”
For example, he’s been involved with “halachic activism,” creating change and awareness by asking environmental questions of Israeli rabbis who interpret Jewish law. One query was, “Can tzedakah money be used to buy low-flow faucets?”
“These are important questions,” a lot of rabbis noted. But they admitted that “They didn’t have the background” to decide, Shaul says.
Shaul also works for JIVE, part of a larger Israeli environmental organization called Teva Ivri (www.tevaivri.org.il).
Many in his settlement want to improve relations with Palestinian neighbors, says Shaul. There was even an Israeli-Palestinian cooperative organic farm for a while, but political pressures ended it. He wishes there was more reporting on collaboration and says older Israelis and Palestinians still remember back when there was more cooperation before the second intifada.
“We as Jews have so much fixing to do inside of us,” he says, “but can’t do it without working outside.”