Maccabiah / More Than a Trip to the Homeland

India's cricket squad met its goal of beating Israel after a 16-year drought

Benjamin Waskar of India spent months preparing for the trip to the 18th Maccabiah. The 37-year-old cricket player, who lives in a village three hours from Mumbai, supplied his cricket teammates with prayers during the entire journey to Israel.

"To play cricket, which I love so much, and to be in Israel where all the things I read about in the Bible happened, is simply a dream come true," he says with gleaming eyes. "When I was small, I wanted to play cricket and practiced with my friends, but I came from a religious family that objected."

Pushed by his father, Waskar started studying to be a cantor. "In my village there wasn't anyone to sing with, so I started teaching myself and traveling to meet specialists in the subject," he recalls.

"Now I sing in synagogue every day, on the holidays and Shabbat," says Waskar, who also works in a furniture store. "It's important to me that Jews learn about their roots and the meaning of being a Jew."

The team's coach, Daniel Reuben, sounds like he's trying to find a shidduch for his players when he says that "Benjamin is a shy, quiet guy, a good player, quiet, gentle and friendly."

Despite cricket being practically a religion in their homeland, the Indians have not been able to beat Israel in the Maccabiah in 16 years, and Rubin's team was set on ending that dubious streak. The team succeeded on the first day of competition - scoring 134 runs for four wickets, while Israel was 127 all out. "We didn't come for a picnic, that's our motto," says banker and team member Jeremiah David Elijah. "And here we are," remarked Elijah last Thursday, pointing at the Hadar Yosef pitch. "You can see we are very close to South Africa, one of the strongest here." (South Africa has won 32 matches in a row.)

India's players started training three months before the Maccabiah. Vice-captain Noah Abraham Ashtankar, an executive at Toyota, arranged the practice facilities. "It was raining, so we practiced in company offices," says the 46-year-old proudly.

Businessman Steve Soboroff underwrote the travel for the 20 members of the delegation. Without even knowing us he donated $75,000," says Steve Marshall, the delegation head, about Soboroff. "Thanks to the donations we could allow young players and those with little means to fulfill a dream."

Most of the Indian cricketers are here for the fun. Ashtankar, who lost 11 kilograms ahead of his first visit to Israel, asserts that he plays cricket strictly for the love of it. Benzion Songaokar, 28, plays in a professional league in India and is considered the only player on the squad who could still make a real living from the sport. "Every game of ours is built upon him," attests Ashtankar.

With the cantor, the banker, the car dealer and Songaokar the professional, India meets South Africa in the finals today.