By Alexandra Lapkin, Jewish Advocate staff
Dolgin played center for Bridgewater State.Only three years ago, when Max Dolgin, who is now 25, went on a Birthright trip to Israel, joining a basketball team there seemed nothing but a “pipe dream,” he said. “I thought it would be great to play in Israel, but it didn’t seem too realistic.”
Dolgin proved himself wrong as he prepares to sign a contract to play basketball for Maccabi Ra’anana, a professional team based in Ra’anana, a city about 15 miles north of Tel Aviv. He made aliyah when he went to Israel for tryouts this summer and is getting ready to move there as soon as arrangements are made.
Dolgin has been playing basketball for as long as he can remember. He honed his skills at Randolph High School and at Bridgewater State University. After he graduated, he started work as a financial analyst for a consulting company in Boston. Basketball no longer took center stage, but he continued to play whenever and wherever he could, including at the YMCA branches in Cambridge and Chinatown, the Equinox sports club downtown, and a community basketball league in Roxbury.
At the Equinox, he made a few friends who had previously played for Israeli basketball teams. They introduced Dolgin to their agents and got him involved in several recruiting events. At one such event in Las Vegas, Dolgin placed 13th out of 100 players and gained exposure to scouts and coaches. “It was a networking game from there,” he said.
Dolgin met an Israeli agent, who helped him apply for aliyah. He explained that having Israeli citizenship makes it easier to join a team. Each team makes spaces available for American players (who are often considered the best), and so making a team as an Israeli leaves those slots open for American players.
In Israel, basketball is played similarly to the American college system. There are three divisions, with the first division being the best. Depending on performance, teams can move up and down the divisions. A national team gets assembled with the finest players who then play against European teams during the Euro Cup. Maccabi Tel Aviv is usually the top team in Israel.
Ra’anana, which has a large population of American and European Jews, “is a great place for me to start,” Dolgin said. “There is a great ulpan program [Hebrew classes], which I plan on taking.” His team will pay for his apartment and possibly a shared car, and provide a salary.
Dolgin signed his contract for one season, which is about nine months. If he has a season-ending injury, Dolgin will still get paid for the rest of the season. He is not yet sure what his plans are after the season ends. “I will feel out the first year and see how it goes,” Dolgin said. If his contract is extended for another season, “It’s something I will consider doing.”
“While I’m there, I’ll try to make the most of my time, not just playing basketball,” he continued. In addition to Hebrew classes, Dolgin will study for a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam, as he eventually plans to return to the United States and resume his work. “Basketball as a living isn’t realistic for me right now and my finance career takes priority over that,” Dolgin said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity, still being young and in shape. I figured I’d give it a shot and make a great experience out of it.”