New York – It’s 8 p.m. but Arad Mishkal is only partway through his day. The Mercer County Community College (MCCC) alumnus leans over his desk into his webcam for our conversation, taking a break from his schoolwork.
For the last month, Mishkal has been taking virtual classes at Yeshiva University in New York City from his home in Israel. The seven-hour time difference means his body clock is effectively reversed. Mishkal’s latest class ends at 1:30 a.m. Israel time, well after the rest of his family has gone to sleep.
“I’m making the best of it,” Mishkal says, alluding to the fact that most of his work comes after sunset. As an international student who came to MCCC to play basketball, Mishkal is used to pushing through tough situations.
Originally from the small village town of Kfar Tavor, Mishkal dreamt of going to America. While attending Wizo Nahalal High School, he participated in a basketball academy that allowed him to play for the school while being a student. Once he graduated, he began his three years of mandatory Israeli armed forces service and started mapping out a plan to make the jump from Israel to the United States.
“I was working with a guy named Dan Aronovic who tried to help me find a school in the U.S,” Mishkal says. “After a long process we found MCCC. Coach Levy saw my tape and he liked it. I’m grateful to Dan for all that he did for me.”
Mishkal took his first step onto American soil in December 2018. He arrived without a family or housing.
“I was lucky enough to have some support from the Merkovitz family - Mark, Wendy, Max, and Sam - who live in Princeton,” Mishkal says. "They are an amazing family who helped so much. Mark works for the Jewish Federation of NJ, so the connection was created from there. They gave me everything and helped me acclimate to the new culture. I'm still in touch with them today. I’ll never forget all that they did for me."
Mishkal stayed in Princeton for a month until he could move into the dorms at Rider University through MCCC’s partnership with the nearby school.
Over the next few months, Mishkal eagerly completed courses in MCCC’s computer science program while training for the 2019-20 basketball season. Though he recalls experiencing culture shock, his connections with Levy, Merkovitz, Neria Weiss a friend from Israel who studied at Rider university and Eial Marzouk, another Israeli student-athlete at Mercer, eased the transition.
“Culturally, he was dropped into a completely different environment, but he took it in stride,” Levy says. “He’s a hard worker, a great student and cared so much about everything.”
Mishkal noted that Mercer’s faculty also made sure he was set up for success.
“My English 101 Professor Michael Biehl was amazing,” Mishkal says. “All of my advisors and professors cared so much about my success.” Ultimately, Mishkal's hard work culminated in an National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Academic All-American award for the 2019-20 basketball season.
In addition to the language and cultural barriers, Mishkal said that playing “American basketball” came with its own learning curve.
“Israel isn’t like the U.S. The universities here don’t offer the option of being a student-athlete. You can do it separately by playing a sport on any team outside of the college while you study.” Mishkal explains. “Leagues in Israel might have players in their 20s through their 40s. The game is more tactical. So, you have to play smarter, because your opponents have much more experience than you.”
Conversely, Mishkal found college basketball at Mercer to be a faster, more athletic game.
“The attitude around the game in America really sets it apart from Israel,” Mishkal says.
For Mishkal, the expectations set by Levy also came to define his basketball experience at Mercer.
“Coach Levy is a tough coach, but has a great personality," Mishkal says. “He helped so much when I arrived. I knew that whatever Levy expected of me would help me become better player. I appreciate that Levy opened the door for me and helped me to make my dreams come true.”
Though he only spent a single basketball season at MCCC, Mishkal’s connection to Levy and the program was the impetus for his transfer to Yeshiva University.
With Levy’s help, Mishkal got his highlight tape in front of Elliot Steinmetz, Yeshiva University’s basketball coach.
“As soon as he saw Arad’s tape, Elliot was like, ‘That’s why [Arad] plays that way, he went to Mercer,’” Levy says with a chuckle. “Yeshiva likes to play a similar style to us, and Arad is a great fit for that. He does all the little things. He’d run through a wall for you.”
Excited as he is to eventually return to the court, Mishkal is equally thrilled to connect with his fellow Yeshiva students in New York.
“Yeshiva is a great school. They have a great computer science track. The basketball program is seventh in the country and the team won its conference twice in the last three years, " Mishkal says. "Last year, they went to the Sweet Sixteen but COVID-19 cancelled the season.
"There is also a strong community of Jewish students, which is important to me and will help me feel at home. The coaches and admissions staff are great and very caring. I’ll get to celebrate holidays and meet people just as I would in Israel, all while having access to one of the greatest cities in the world,” Mishkal says.
As an added bonus, Mishkal is attending Yeshiva on a 90 percent scholarship, which means he’ll be able to graduate virtually debt free.
Though he believes graduate school is in the cards, Mishkal wants to make a run at playing professional basketball. He’s seen the success of Israeli basketball players firsthand – he knows Matan Simantov, an Israeli-born MCCC basketball alum and agent for Deni Avdjia, the projected top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
He also knows the odds are against him – there have only been four Israeli NBA players in the league’s 74-year history – but the tenacity he developed as an international student means he’s not easily shaken from his goals.
“When you are an international student, you really need to want it,” Mishkal says. “When you decide you want to come to the U.S. to play a sport or get your degree, you need passion for that.
“It’s a long process, so you need to be brave. When you see the whole picture and put the emotions to the side, you realize how many benefits and tools you can earn for life. It makes you a better person and athlete.”
Most of all, Mishkal is appreciative of all that MCCC provided him, including a home-away-from-home during his time in the U.S.
“I want to say thank you to everyone. From the Mercer athletic department and admissions, to my professors and coaches Levy and Steinmetz who opened the door for me to make my dream come true," Mishkal says. "Thank you for your patience and the help in achieving my goals.”