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Issac Rosefelt, for the love of Israel

Sitting in the middle of the Pais Arena while waiting for Isaac Rosefelt, I started to contemplate whether it’s a hard transition for a basketball player to move to a city like Jerusalem, to live and play for such a big team. For Issac Rosefelt, life in Jerusalem is great, basketball and food wise:

“I’m a guy that is enjoying his life and very happy to be in Jerusalem. It’s been kind of long road to get here and a hard one as well. I set a goal for myself to reach it and now the next step is to stay here and win some championships. And as you know, have a long fun time in this city, ride out into the sunset and then somewhere down the road become a chef. I love to cook; you kind of have to learn to cook for yourself or you can lose all of your money. When I started playing I didn’t make a lot of money so I couldn’t go to a lot of restaurants and I had to go to the grocery store and cook for myself. I love cooking Italian; it was nice to go to Italy for a few days, not a lot of time to explore though with games and stuff. Once it gets a little colder, I’m putting stuff in the crock-pot and experiment with that. I just don’t cook a lot of fish.”

Issac Rosefelt’s road to success has been an unconventional route to say the least. Pridefully, he admits that he is happy with his upbringing; it made him the person he is today. Born in DC, Rosefelt was adopted and moved to Minnesota. When asked about what his childhood was like, Rosefelt happily smiled at me and said “You’ve got yourself a big story and I’ve got a lot to say.” He continued, “ I was born in DC on May 3rd 1985 and I was adopted by a white Jewish family. Frankly, adopting a black kid was not a cool thing to do back then, but I was raised as a Jew and I had an Orthodox conversion thanks to my uncle who is a rabbi.”

Delving deeper into his roots, Rosefelt went on, “I’ll be honest; I grew up Jewish but not the most religious. We celebrated all the major holidays; I was definitely in touch with the religion and had Shabbat dinners. It’s crazy because my parents didn’t know that I was going to be this giant person. One thing I always tell people is that I wouldn’t be in Israel if it wasn’t for being adopted by this family. I went to a Division III college, but getting a chance to play in this great league in Israel is thanks to them. If I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t just come and play. But it was easy to get citizenship because I am a Jew.”

We began to discuss how his parents went about his adoption, and how they raised Issac as he spoke about his parents with such glamor: “My parents are very special because they see people as people and they don’t care about color. That is how I was raised my entire life. It’s a little different though when you go to a basketball game and you got these two 5’5 Ashkenazi parents with this big 6’8 black guy. Obviously, I think people are more understanding now, but growing up it was kind of hard at times when I was sometimes the odd man out. Here’s something crazy for you. My best friend was adopted in the same type of similar situation and we lived one block away from each other. It was nice having someone like that growing up to connect with; we are still best friends today. Obviously my parents couldn’t hide it from me that I was not their biological son. It was kind of a different childhood growing up. But, now you can put me in any room, any place, with any race and I’m comfortable and I don’t think a lot of people can say that.”

Having never come to Israel as a child, Issac was faced with a relatable decision for young Jewish athletes, Religion or sport? “It’s kind of ironic, I was 12 and I started going to Hebrew school and started studying for my Bar Mitzvah. At that point, I was getting very serious with basketball and I was struggling in normal school. One day, my father said to me, you got to make a decision. You can go study and have a Bar Mitzvah or focus on basketball; you need to choose, you can’t do both. So I chose basketball and never had a bar mitzvah, but growing up Jewish was still a huge part of my identity.”

Playing overseas and at the Maccabiah games opened up Issac’s mind to other potential destinations, “I never envisioned going to Israel it wasn’t really on my list of things to do but then I started playing overseas. I played in a few of the Maccabiah games, participating in two when I was 14 years old in the States, and then I played in another when I was 20 in Australia. I also tried out again when I was 24 but I was cut. Long story short, I was playing overseas in Spain and I had a bad year, I was injured for a while and was very homesick, my grandfather died and it was a big balagan of everything, especially playing in the fourth league. The league doesn’t even exist anymore and they cut me. At that point I retired from basketball, I went back to my old college and got a job as an admissions counselor and I worked there for three months. Then, I realized I still wanted to play basketball, so I went to see if I could go somewheres to play. I talked with my agent and tried out for the Maccabiah team going to Israel to play at the Maccabiah games. They said I wasn’t good enough and I was the only guy with professional experience and once again believe or not I was cut. I was shocked. Then I tried out for a team in Germany for a week and then they cut me as well.”

Rosefelt didn’t give up though, “After that I went back to the States and signed for a team in Portugal and played in place of a guy that was injured; after he came back they released, so once more, I went back to the States. I then signed with a team in third league in France for a short spell and then they didn’t want me anymore so they cut me also. After all that, my agent said to me, look we got to get you to Israel. You can get citizenship; otherwise I don’t know where else I can get you a job.”

After living in Israel for almost a decade, Issac found his home, he defends Israel every chance he gets: “Whenever I tell people I’m playing in Israel, they respond with a ‘Wow, how is that?’ I always say relax; my main joke is that we have cars and running water. People think it’s the desert with camels and stuff. I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I just get upset and stand up for this country so much because in my opinion it’s safer here than it is in America. I’m sorry, but you don’t see people standing at a movie theatre getting shot down or that shooting that happened in Orlando at the gay nightclub.”

We began discussing satisfaction in terms of life. “I think for me I’ve learned about myself, number one I found a home here and I love it. You know it’s my first time away from Tel Aviv and I love it so far here in Jerusalem. I realized that bouncing around the first couple of years just led to bad experiences and I am one that likes to be comfortable. If you noticed, I signed with Herzilya for 3 years, played in Holon for three years and I would like to be here for 3 years or more. I just like being able to sit down and call a place home. I could have left as a dream of mine is to play in Australia. But this place, Israel is really westernized. I’ve picked up enough of the Hebrew language to communicate and you know if you have a good thing you don’t mess it up.”

We moved on to the dream of almost every basketball player, the chance to play in the NBA, “I really wanted to play in the NBA for a long time and I was also a shooter. But I realized that my advantages are in my athleticism, timing on the ball and rebounding, plus Israel is a country where I was able to play the 5 spot. I found my place while playing well enough and people wanted to keep signing me to do all of that especially because I would play defense and do the dirty work. At the same time I know that I’m not going to be in the NBA, but I’m going to have a 10 year career and how many guys can say they played 10 years professionally. I have no regrets and I’m playing with Amare Stoudemire. It’s awesome to be here and for me my goal was to play in Jerusalem.”

Rosefelt continued, “I didn’t know I’d be sitting here in this crazy setting and I wouldn’t have changed anything that I’ve gone through at all. I think about all of the things that I’ve experienced, from getting cut from a few teams which taught me about money, being humbled and gaining happiness which are all important aspects for one to be successful on the court. I have had a good go in it in Israel. I’ve been happy and maybe I haven’t chased the money I could have made more in other places, but for me it’s not about that. When you are a kid, you say you want to be rich and famous. It’s obviously important and I felt that for the majority of my career I was underpaid, but I wasn’t complaining. I understood why and a lot of times when you sign a three-year deal you make less money. To me, making less money from the start has made me save more money later on. When I was making only 2,000 a month I was trying to make that work while also saving some as well. Now, I can still survive on that same bit of money while saving the rest.”

With time running out we went to some quick fire questions to gain an even further insight about who Isaac Rosefelt really is:

What is your favorite part about living in Israel?
“I love the diversity here; I’m from Minnesota where it’s not very diverse. You just look around and everybody is different. It’s just not something you are so used to.”

Which away trip are you looking forward to this year?
“Holon is going to be an emotional trip, but it’s going to be nice to be in that arena and see some fans. It will be nice to have those memories come back, and maybe the fans will give me stick but it’s all love at the end of the day.”

What are your aspirations for this year?
“Championships, as many as possible. Personally, to grow as a person and player. Coming from situations where I played 30 minutes a game, to not be playing every night is a struggle. In my mind, I need to keep a level head and know that I’m here for a reason. Maybe even mentoring guys like Amare making sure he knows what he’s got himself in to here in Israel.”