Dani Menkin’s story of the underdog 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team debuted at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival earlier this year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, Gold Coast, and Jewish fests in Boston, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, and Virginia, among others.
In 1977, after years of failing to make it past the initial round of the European Cup basketball tournament, the Tel Aviv team achieved the seemingly impossible, winning against champion CSKA Moscow in the semi-final round. This victory over the Red Army team – which came after the USSR refused to play in Israel, a nation they did not formally recognize at the time – prompted Maccabi leader Tal Brody to declare that this put Israel “on the map” – both in basketball and in world affairs. Menkin’s engaging film, grounded in the context of Cold War politics and Israel’s tumultuous history, provides a comprehensive consideration of the symbolic weight of Brody’s sentiment, revisiting the basketball team that overshadowed all other Israeli events at the time, including the resignation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin amidst a financial scandal involving his wife.