Israeli Cricket Tournament Pays Tribute to Late Friend

Memorial game for Michael Pushett raises funds for, awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Naomi Jackson.

Wielding bats and sprinting between wickets, on October 1 a group of cricketers in Ashdod paid tribute to their late friend Michael Pushett with a memorial tournament, as they have for the past decade.

Pushett, a resident of Efrat, was known in the community for his Pommeranz juice business, among other things. He died in 2004 after suffering for two years with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Pushett was a sports enthusiast — he participated in the Maccabiah Games one time. An avid cricket fan, he would get together every now and again with a group of friends to play the game in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

“Even when he was sick, he would ask me to read him out the cricket scores,” recalled Liz Pushett, his widow. “I had no idea what they meant.”

This year’s tournament, the 11th, raised funds for IsrA.L.S., the Israel ALS research association, as it has every year. Liz says the event has historically raised up to 10,000 shekels.

The Rest of the World team won — 121 for 8, to the Australians 120 for 9 — for the first time since 2010. The Man of the Match award went to Akiva Fink from England. Liz puts it down to their captain, Jacob Jackson, a former Londoner, finding some 19-year-old cricketers on their gap year in Israel for his team. But one of the Australian players claimed that they “have to let them win once in a while or they’ll stop coming back.”

Liz told Haaretz that she met Michael, who had a “sharp wit and an infectious smile,” almost 30 years ago, when she was on a year off and he was visiting the country. Afterward, they both went back to their respective places of origin — Liz to London and Michael to Melbourne. However, they returned to Israel about a year later and got married in 1990.

Living in Jerusalem, he managed the Off the Square Restaurant for a number of years, worked in a catering business and marketed dehydrated vegetables. For a while, he owned a map of Jerusalem, selling advertising, before becoming a co-owner of Pommeranz.

“It was actually started by another Australian who found himself in dire straits financially,” recalled Liz. “Michael bought in and helped turn it around. He was very proud of the fact that they were providing a living for so many distributors.”

The Pushett family moved to Efrat, where they lived with their five children, and the cricket clique “continued meeting now and again.” She described the players as “childhood friends from Melbourne Bnei Akiva and other new olim who became like family.”

Michael watched the test matches on a neighbor’s television via satellite dish. “During the Ashes, he would disappear for days at a time,” she said. The children had no idea what he was doing, she noted. “I don’t think he ever took them to the matches they played,” she said, “they were too little at the time.”

Liz recalled that after Michael died, during the shiva people were talking to his brother about “how much Michael loved cricket and how the kids would grow up not knowing what it was.”

That is when the idea arose of having a cricket match in Michael’s memory, so his children would know what cricket was, get involved and get excited. A friend, Steven Deutsch, became one of the prime organizers.

The first tournament, which ended in a tie, was held in 2005 during Hol Hamo’ed Sukkot, the intermediate days of the holiday, just before his yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death. “Not just his cricket pals, but lots of other people” came the first year, recalled Liz, who said the players would bring their families, making the event a joint picnic-social-spectator sport.

As the group of friends has aged — Michael would have been 56 this year — the parameters of the tournament have changed. What started out as a match with 40 overs a side has slowly been whittled down to 22 overs, and the lunch break barbecue has been extended from 20 minutes to about an hour.

According to Deutsch, the tournament not only has honored Michael’s memory but also has been a way for the next generation to know the children of all the families involved in this circle of friends.

“If we didn’t do this the parents would know each other, but I don’t know if the kids would know each other,” he told Haaretz on Thursday. “My son got a day off from the army so he came. He met kids of other parents of similar age with similar stories,” he added. “We love that continuation.”

Deutsch, who grew up in Melbourne with Michael and used to play golf with him in Australia, also said the tournament has led to increased awareness of ALS, a fatal degenerative neurological condition that attacks motor neurons, cells that control the muscles.

Liz agrees about the tournament’s benefits.

“So now our kids know what cricket is, my youngest waits for it all year and some years the boys take part. It’s been a great opportunity to get together with many of Michael’s and our friends around his yahrzeit, without being sad,” she says. “He was a real hevraman, always networking, always trying to help. This tournament celebrates all those things about him that were fun and alive. I hope it continues for many years to come.”