- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shay Doron is quick to smile or make a joke. She proudly wears a necklace that bears the ring she received as a member of the Maryland women’s basketball team that won the national championship in April.

Doron is living a dream. She met the president, was honored at a Baltimore Orioles game and, in general, is enjoying the spoils that come with winning a national title. The senior guard with the happy-go-lucky attitude has become a celebrity in College Park and the surrounding area after leading the Terrapins to the ultimate prize.

“We were drinking lemonade on the White House lawn and saying, ‘Wow, we’re drinking lemonade on the White House lawn,’” she says. “It has been amazing.”

There is, however, a cloud over her feel-good summer.

Doron is continually thinking about her native Israel, where most of her family still lives, and that country’s fight with Hezbollah. A cease-fire took effect yesterday, but she spent the past month worrying about family and friends. She monitored the news and received daily phone updates from her mother, Tamari, who rode out the hostilities at the family home outside Tel Aviv.

“It is just tough because all my friends, my guy friends, are still serving in the military,” the 21-year-old senior says. “I know at least 10 or 15 have signed on for a few more years with the Navy, and they are really embattled. It is really scary. I just don’t want to hear any bad news.”

The fighting has taken an emotional toll on her family, although she considers herself fortunate since no one has been injured. One set of grandparents and an aunt became refugees, fleeing to Tel Aviv from their homes in northern Israel near the Lebanon border to get out of range of Hezbollah rockets.

Her uncle Meir sent his wife and children to safety in Denmark while he stayed at their home not far from Lebanon.

“He is still working because somebody has to make a living,” Doron says. “My uncle is in a bomb shelter five, six times a day. It is no kind of life to live. Hopefully, what we are doing will make it stop eventually.”

In addition to her national title ring, Doron wears a royal blue bracelet with an inscription that reads “Stay strong for Israel.” Doron has dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. She spent her first two years of high school in her homeland, then moved back to America — she previously spent eight years here — to play for power Christ the King High School in New York.

Doron continues her daily regimen of working out and going to class. She averaged 13.4 points last season and led Maryland in assists and steals. The 5-foot-9 guard plans on making a run for another title before pursuing a career in the WNBA. And though Doron, an academic All-American, never has wavered in her desire to improve on the court and graduate, the events in the Middle East have weighed on her.

That has been the case since she received a call from her mother with distressing news of a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military base in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and two kidnapped, then five more killed as the attackers were pursued across the border.

Israel quickly responded with air strikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon as the hostilities increased. Hezbollah rockets rained on Israel, and Israel launched a ground offensive designed to disarm Hezbollah.

The fighting finally stopped yesterday after 34 days because of the U.N. cease-fire pact.

“The truth is we deserve to have our state in a peaceful way,” says Doron, who has played for Israel’s national teams. “They started it, and they say we are the aggressors. This is one of the main terrorist groups. It’s a fact. If we don’t fight back, there will be no more Israel.”

Doron admits she feels the urge to go fight for her country. Israel has a mandatory military commitment (two years for women), but she is exempt as long as she lives outside Israel. Her sister, Nette, served two years as a Navy SEAL. Her mother, who played on the country’s national volleyball team, was also in the military. Her father, Yuda, who lives primarily in New York, also was a SEAL.

Her father constantly reminds her she is doing quite a bit of good for Israel by playing basketball in America. Yuda Doron is a software executive who served Israel in two wars and later worked for Texas Instruments.

“We have talked about it,” says Yuda Doron, whose parents originally were from Poland, survived the Holocaust and came to Israel when it was created after World War II. “I was a soldier, and I understand the horrors and bad connotations of war. It is frustrating to not be able to do anything. She is doing a good job focusing on what she needs to focus on, sports and basketball.”

Nonetheless, while Shay Doron stays the course, she can’t help feeling like she could do more. And she leaves open the possibility of joining the Israeli military later in life.

“I always tell my dad I feel like basketball is just a small piece of the total world and I could be doing something bigger,” says Doron, a criminal justice major. “He always tells me that part of what I am doing is helping Israel and spreading the message. I agree with him, but at some point something is missing because I haven’t served.”

Doron, the first Israeli to play in the women’s NCAA title game, feels getting recognized for success for her sport is sending a positive message about Israel and helps gives the country’s cause a face. She has created a diversion for sports fans back home who closely monitor her accomplishments through newspapers and the Internet.

She says the basketball court is a “safe haven” from her troubles. And when away from the gym, this Israeli basketball ambassador also tries to explain her views and answer questions about the conflict to anyone willing to listen.

“I just try to educate people about the situation, about the truth, because you hear so much misinformation,” says Doron, who displays both an American and Israeli flag on the walls of her dorm room. “Unfortunately, not many people understand that terrorism is not just our problem. The only people battling terror right now is [Israel] and the U.S. instead of everyone coming together and putting an end to it.”

She takes exception with television reports sympathizing with Hezbollah while condemning Israel for its actions.

“And yet you are just going to try to get Israel out of [Lebanon] so they can get 800,000 more rockets to shoot at Israel in the next year or two,” she says. “When the time comes, they are going again. Us fighting against them now is hard. But if everyone would fight against this one thing it would be hard for them to succeed at what they do. Right now, we are fueling their fire because everyone is against us and everyone feels bad for them. It is amazing.”

Doron spent June in Israel and left shortly before the fighting began. She decided not to play for the national team this fall while she pursues her degree but plans to rejoin the team after that. She was named MVP while helping Israel to an under-20 European championship last summer.

For now, her homeland and family weigh heavily on her mind as she and her teammates set their sights on repeating as champions. Doran desperately wants back-to-back crowns but knows there are things much more important than cutting down the nets in April.

“There are a lot more things to be [concerned] about that are life and death. Basketball is not one of them,” Doron says. “I do think about [events in Israel] a lot. I don’t mind thinking about it. I feel like if you don’t think about it, you forget. I think that is worse than thinking about it. I don’t think about it 24 hours a day, but I am concerned about my family’s safety. That is something that is always going to be on my mind.”

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