SHORTLY after the cease-fire in 1949, the Israel Defense Forces invited all its branches to compete in a national basketball tournament.
The Air Force sent a team of five: three Machalniks from the USA of whom one was from Boston, one from Philadelphia and I from Los Angeles, and the fourth was from Toronto, Canada .The fifth starter was an Israeli. We won the tournament easily and I do not remember any team coming within 25 points of our score.
Shortly afterwards the United States Marine detachment in Jerusalem was invited to play the Israeli Air Force team at the Air Force headquarters court in Jaffa (Machane Ariel). The bleachers, balconies and roofs of the surrounding buildings were crammed with spectators.
The two squads faced each other at half- court and the formal introductions were held. The US Marine Colonel, commander of the detachment, and General Aharon Remez, commander of the Air Force, made their introductions. We, the American Machalniks, pretended that we did not speak English, as US President Truman had issued an embargo against US citizens participating in the war, so we were here “illegally”.
The game proceeded and though the marines were much taller and stronger, we were much quicker and a better team. The final score was 41-18 and I had scored more points (23) than the entire marine team. However I paid the price because every time I went to the basket they pummeled me and by half-time I looked as though I had been through a meat grinder.
The Marine Colonel and General Remez sat beside each other at half-court with the substitutes alongside. Three quarters through the second half I was standing at half-court when a marine came behind me and elbowed me in the back. My response was instant and I let loose all the expletives I knew, which were considerable. The marine was shocked, and to my surprise I realized that I was standing right in front of the Marine Colonel. General Remez blushed.
After the game we hosted a big party for the marine team. As I entered, all the marines rushed to me and said, “We know you’re American and the way you swore, you must have been in the Navy.” I had really blown my cover! The party was a huge success, and Israel was proud to have achieved victory in its first international sports event.
Lee Silverman still plays tennis every day and is ♯1 in the “Over 80’s”.