Joseph Zohar Obituary
Born November 9,1935 in Tel Aviv An early appearance on theTel Aviv beach

There are 65 photos in the gallery

Service Information

 
In Memory of

Joseph Zohar

November 9, 1935 - December 14, 2009
Obituary

Joseph was born in what was then the small city of Tel Aviv while it was still part of British Mandate of Palestine. His family lived in the poor part of town on the southern edge of the city, adjacent to the mostly Arab town of Jaffa. As a young boy, he attended a religious elementary school, which he always said cured him of religion. Although not observant, he was fiercly patriotic and always considered his Judasm and Israeli identity one and the same. He was a big boy, but was often chased by the older neighborhood boys, both Jewish and Arabic, until his father insisted that he fight back. Soon the bullying stopped, but Joseph,...
Joseph was born in what was then the small city of Tel Aviv while it was still part of British Mandate of Palestine. His family lived in the poor part of town on the southern edge of the city, adjacent to the mostly Arab town of Jaffa. As a young boy, he attended a religious elementary school, which he always said cured him of religion. Although not observant, he was fiercly patriotic and always considered his Judasm and Israeli identity one and the same. He was a big boy, but was often chased by the older neighborhood boys, both Jewish and Arabic, until his father insisted that he fight back. Soon the bullying stopped, but Joseph, while never provoking a fight, knew how to take care of things if necessary. He was considered a bit of a behavior problem in school, even though he was very bright.

During the turmoil of the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, which was his bar mitzvah (thirteenth) year, the family home was burned and they were forced to flee. They went through the affluent central Tel Aviv to the undeveloped northern edge, with the Yarkon River on the north and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Thirteen members of the extended family lived in one room for two years, until they could save enough to find individual places to live. Many years later, this area became a prestigious address, but even when Joseph and I were first married and visited in 1964, the streets were not yet paved and were just packed sand.

Joseph attended Municipal High School A, which was considered the best in Tel Aviv. Although he was a very good student, studying Arabic along with the required English courses, he continued to be a behavior problem. The only thing keeping him from expulsion was his good grades. In his junior year, a perceptive teacher suggested that he learn to box. He was a natural and quickly climbed the ranks of amateur boxing in Tel Aviv. He was also on the local sports club soccer team and tried some track and field. In 1953, he won the bronze medal in javelin throw at the fouth Macabbia Games (the world wide Jewish Olympics).

He served in the Israeli army from 1954-1956, and was discharged just one month before the Sinai War of 1956. He was a drill sergeant and became the Israeli Army heavyweight boxing champion.

After the Army, he continued interest in things physical by graduating the two year Wingate Institute in Tel Aviv, majoring in physical education. However, a course in teaching the handicapped piqued his interest in doing more to help people and he applied to New York University in downtown Manhattan to major in physical therapy.

Arriving in New York in 1958, he lived in Queens with his aunt and uncle, while taking the subway to NYU, where he played on the NYU varsity soccer team. It was a totally different world from Tel Aviv, particularly because food was so abundant and he was a big eater. (During his Army stint, he was granted double rations because of his size.) But he had no intention of staying in the U.S. after graduation with his B.S. in Physical Therapy, for in those days, with Israel still under constant siege and out-manned, it was considered unpatriotic to leave the country (even for a short time.)

Enter me (Joyce). In 1960, I was a senior at the Bronx campus of NYU School of Engineering when mutual friends arranged a blind date. I will always have the image of the first time that I saw him, standing in a trench coat, stern faced and square jawed, like a KGB agent. I was both intimidated and intrigued. During this first date at the NYU Israeli Students Hanukkah party, he ignored me to go off and do Israeli dances and brought back strange Isareli food, like falafel, to the table. At the end of the evening, I was certain that there would be no second date, but there was and more to follow. Since I was going through my own religious phase at the time, (a phase which was about five months long) I later found out that he nearly declined the date on the grounds that he didn't want to get involved with a religious girl. I soon gave up my experimentation and we both were on the same wave length. I was to graduate the following June and by that time, the relationship was serious, but Joseph still had one more year of school and felt that he was in no position to bring it to another level. I was offered a job at Douglas Aircraft in California and told him that I was going West, unless I had a good reason to stay. The coercion worked and we were married the next September, 1961. His answer to those Israeli critics who accused him of abandoning his motherland was very simple. He said, "You love your mother and you love your wife at the same time. One love does not diminish the other. Israel is my mother and America is my wife. I have the capacity to love both. I am there, if needed, to serve both."

Joseph graduated with his B.S. and worked in the City of New York Hospital system while working on his Master's degree at NYU. After obtaining that he became Chief Physical Therapist at Queen's General Hospital. But as with school and the Army, Joseph did not like regimentation and arbitrary, bureaucratic rules. He did not just follow protocol like a recipe, but wanted to understand the rationale and basis for the treatment. He was constantly analyzing and adapting methods to the individual needs of each patient.

Soon an opportunity to go into private practice arose and Joseph grabbed it. The chance to be his own boss, to develop and apply a logical and thought out approach based on bio- mechanical principles was too much too resist, even with a wife and child on the way.

His reputation grew, first locally on Long Island, and then to New York City itself. Although first and foremost to him were ordinary people with back, neck, knee shoulder and such problems, he began to work with local athletes and soon well-known professional athletes, such as basketball stars Willis Reed and Earl Monroe, and later Julius Irving. Joseph was a pioneer in the new, unnamed area of sports physical therapy, at a time when no team even considered off season training or preventative programs. Each football, baseball and basketball ball player was responsible to prepare for the season on his own, and most had no inkling how to do it. Many of the ideas which Joseph first presented in his many consultations with local high school teams and the pros are now commonly accepted practices throughout the sports world.

Personally, Joseph discovered tennis, which was the ideal sport for him. It was physically vigorous, unlike golf which he tried but found too sedentary. The time commitment was reasonable and one was the master of one's own destiny when playing. You won or lost on your own and had no teammate to take the blame. When his practice had grown sufficently, we moved to Muttontown, Long Island, where we had our own tennis court. Joseph was so serious about his tennis that we bought the property, sited the tennis court in the ideal location, and then built the house on the remainder. Tennis became the family pasttime.

Joseph continued to apply the same intensity to tennis that he did to everything else, and soon became an expert in the bio-mechanics of tennis. After treating many tennis elbows, he believed that proper biomechanical stroke technique would prevent injuries and was soon advising and treating many amateur and professional players. John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Gene Mayer and Vitas Gerulaitis were among the many who sought his counsel. He wrote a fitness column for Newday for many years and authored a book on conditioning for tennis, as well as articles for Tennis Magazine and other sports publications. He particularly loved working with elite juniors at the high school level, a passion which he took with him when we retired to California in 1998.

Joseph was well known around the Racquet Club of Irvine, both as a congenial doubles player and as an occasional advisor to the resident tennis academy. He did not teach tennis per se, although he had his USPTA certification. His area of expertise was technique analysis and correction to prevent injury and treatment advice after injury.

He was at his wit's end with me, though. I always questioned his advice and said that I couldn't do what he wanted me to do. I must have heard "bend your knees" and "keep your wrist firm" thousands of times. But he always went out to hit with me and drill me so that I would improve. Of course we rarely actually played together as partners, because my lack of technique was so frustrating to him. He was my personal "pro" in every way.

Joseph passion for fitness began with himself. His body was like his Lamborgini and he was the mechanic entrusted with keeping it in the best condition possible. It wasn't an ego thing. He didn't pose or take up the latest fad. He applied all the basic principles to himself that he advised others to do. He was careful about his diet, especially eating healthy since we were in California. He made his own yogurt. He exercised religiously, jogging three times a week and playing tennis as often as he could. He never smoked and drank sparingly. So for him to have a progressively debilitating disease, which still remains undiagnosed, was a very difficul and depressing turn of events for him to deal with .

This overview of my dear Joseph's life is just to set the stage for those who follow, so you will have some context to their remarks. I cannot speak too personally of him here or I will not be able to continue. We bickered a lot, as many couples do, because we were both strong personalities. On many an occasion after such a spat, we would joke that we probably would never make it to our 50th anniversary. I never really believed that and was already beginning to think about plans for our special celebration in two years. But we did not make it after all.

Personalize Your Tribute

Share photos, videos and more with Legacy Memorial Websites. Find out more.

 
Start Planning Today

Make Your Plan Today

Preplanning your funeral or cemetery arrangements gives you and your loved ones peace of mind. Don't wait. Make your plan online today.
Plan Online Now

Audio Condolences

Use your phone to dial in a free personalized message. Click here to make an entry or listen to recordings from friends and family.