Traveling with the Rockets: Day four

August 12, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is writing about the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

For the first time on our voyage across the globe, I took the morning off from a training session. This old-age thing is definitely catching up with me. The only other excuse I can come up with while I didn’t train is that our days have been too packed with nonstop events and it’s not bad if I skip one day. And if I keep telling myself that many, many times, just maybe I’ll start believing it, right?

We woke up this morning in picturesque Tiberias, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, and had still another spectacular buffet breakfast at 6:45 a.m. I went with pancakes, some sort of spinach quiche and fresh pineapple — very tasty!

The Rockets posed for another team shot during their trip.

The Rockets posed for another team shot during their trip.

We then packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel at 7:40 a.m. to set sail on another full day of activities.

Upon leaving Tiberias, we traveled about 90 minutes to the city of Nahariya and visited the Western Galilee Hospital. Did you know the it’s the second largest hospital north of Tel Aviv and operated as an underground hospital during the Lebanon War in 2006? It is located only six miles from the Lebanon border. A total of 808 missiles hit this area during the 33 days of that particular war, including one direct hit. A total of 1,872 people were treated in the underground hospital.

After taking a tour of the underground portion of the hospital, the team visited the children’s ward and played with the kids for about one hour. There were basketballs in the room and the players did a great job interacting with the sick children. The Rockets definitely put smiles on the kids’ faces. It was a great experience for everyone, and there were a lot of photo opportunities!

During our tour, our group saw a lot of sick men, women and children, and I can say I am truly blessed to have a healthy 15-month-old son, knock on wood and, by the way: Hi Ethan!

The group then ate a buffet lunch in the hospital cafeteria (really going to have to do more sit-ups when I get back into Toledo) and then got back on the bus for our next stop. I went with chicken chunks, brown rice, some sort of pasta and cole slaw — pretty good for hospital food!

After leaving the hospital, the group traveled approximately 20 minutes to the Hafuch Center in Akko. Hafuch, which means coffee shop in Hebrew, is a place for Arab Israeli youths at risk to hang out. The center entertains approximately 25 to 40 kids each night. The mission of the center is to promote mutually beneficial endeavors between the people of the Central Area Consortium and the Western Galilee, forging relationships through programs that build Jewish identity and strengthen ties and connections among and between the communities. Earlier this year, the Jewish Federation for Greater Toledo donated a ping-pong table to the Hafuch Center, and the team presented them with ping-pong balls and paddles — great international gesture!

Following the visit at the Hafuch Center, the group made its way to the Akko Fortress in downtown Akko. The city is among the world’s oldest known seaports, and the fortress is located on the northern tip of Haifa Bay. A little more inside information for you all: The fortress was built in the Ottoman Period. At the end of the period, the fortress served as the palace for the rulers of Akko, a military barracks, a munitions warehouse for the standing army and as a prison.

We took an in-depth tour of the facility and watched a pretty emotional 20-minute video documenting its storied history. Among the sites we saw were the death-row prisoners’ cells and the room where the hangings took place. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

We then headed to our hotel for a short time in Haifa, the Crowne Plaza. The hotel is located on the top of the Mount Carmel mountain range and provided a spectacular view (about 1,500 feet above sea level) of the Haifa Bay and the city.

We only had about 20 minutes to clean ourselves up before leaving for the team’s only other game against many of the same Israeli Select Team members for the second straight night in Nahalal. The 2011 WNIT Champions led wire to wire and coasted to a 96-57 victory. Four Rockets scored in double figures in the 39-point triumph: senior Haylie Linn (16 points), junior Riley McCormick (12 points), sophomore Brianna Jones (11 points) and junior Kyle Baumgartner (10 points). The team did a great job of sharing the basketball, as 12 different players found the score column.

The team then celebrated the victory with hands down the best meal we have had so far on our trip; it was at Naama Shafir’s house. The Shafirs offered kosher hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, turkey skewer, veggie skewer, roasted eggplant, au gratin potatoes, watermelon, veggies, cole slaw and about four different kinds of salads, as well as ice cream on a cinnamon stick for dessert. It was delicious! I tried really hard to eat only one plate, but I caved and had two full plates and two desserts. I have absolutely no self-control.

Our group then made its way back to the bus about 11:25 p.m. and returned to the hotel at 12:10 try to get some much-needed rest. And as I mentioned in a previous blog, I need all the beauty rest I can muster!

We have another one-night stay in a hotel and leave bright and early tomorrow for a two-plus-hour trip to Jerusalem. Some of the sites we plan to visit include Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Museum, Mount Herzi, burial place of Israel’s founding fathers and its leaders, and experience its profound Jewish memorial to the Shoah and its victims.

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