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A Tall Tale Of Love

A Tall Tale Of Love

Audrey and Bruce Carlson of Newington, Conn., traveled to Chile at the end of 2003 to watch some basketball. Their daughter, Leslie, was a member of the U.S. open women’s basketball team in the 10th Pan American Maccabi Games.

Leslie’s parents also went as scouts.

"They came to Chile to find me a Jewish husband," she said.

Leslie didn’t need their help.

A resident of the Upper East Side and a graduate of George Washington University, which she attended on a basketball scholarship, Leslie is returning to Maccabi competition next week.

Again a member of the U.S. open women’s basketball team, she will play in the 17th World Maccabiah Games. She will be accompanied by her husband, Jordan Schlachter, a member of the men’s master’s basketball team.

They met in Santiago and married three weeks ago.

In Israel, the couple will be among some 800 Americans on the delegation in the international, quadrennial competition usually known as "The Jewish Olympics," which runs July 11-21.

The 2005 Maccabiah is the largest in the competition’s 73-year history, with more than 7,000 athletes (including first-time participants from Singapore, China and Hong Kong) taking part in 26 sports.

Jordan and Leslie beam when they talk about their linked Maccabi history.

Sitting in Jordan’s sunny Midtown office, where he works as vice president of affiliate marketing for MTV Networks, they tell their story of sports and romance.

In Santiago, they stayed in separate hotels, a 20-minute car ride apart, as part of the 350-athlete American delegation. Leslie’s parents had a room in Jordan’s hotel. Leslie’s mother called one day to tell her daughter about the "perfect" man she saw in the lobby.

"He was tall, he was handsome," Leslie recalled her mother saying. "But she didn’t know where he came from."

Leslie didn’t know her mother was talking about Jordan.

Don’t worry, Leslie’s father told his wife.

"I promise you, if they’re supposed to meet, they’ll meet," was how that conversation went, Leslie said.

At the same time, the wife of a Maccabi official told Jordan about Leslie.

"She said, ‘I have the perfect girl for you, a tall, beautiful, model-looking basketball player,’ " Jordan recalled the official saying.

Jordan’s response: "Great."

But how to meet?

One evening, Jordan was standing in line for a bus that took athletes from a pre-competition social event back to their hotels. He spotted Leslie. He boarded the bus. Behind her was an empty seat; Jordan took it. Leslie and a friend said hello.

"We turned around and started talking," she said. "I was just being friendly."

Leslie’s friend played shadchan, lauding her availability.

Leslie, 6-foot-4, preferred someone as tall as she. Jordan is 6-6.

"I said, ‘What’s the maximum age?’ "No more than 35, Leslie answered.

"I was 35 at the time," Jordan said. Leslie now is 25.

They kept up their conversation in the hotel lobby.

"We talked about everything," Jordan said.

"Hours went by," Leslie added.

The attraction was mutual and immediate.

Jordan returned to his hotel early in the morning. Leslie ran upstairs and woke up her roommate, declaring, "I just met my husband."

Over the next week and a half they spent their free hours together, Jordan watching Leslie play (both of their teams won gold medals) and sharing music on his iPod (all love songs), Leslie carrying the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies (she sought out Jordan to guard her backpack) and introducing Jordan to her parents ("My mother was freaking out.")

Back in the States (Jordan lives on the Upper East Side, and Leslie was living with her parents in Connecticut) they visited each other every weekend.

He proposed in September, erev Rosh HaShanah. With his parents’ Dachshund, Barkley, in tow, he took to the nearby East River promenade. Leslie’s feet were sore from a day of walking in Manhattan, and she didn’t feel like doing more walking. So next to a Dumpster, with Barkley yelping, Jordan took out a three-stone diamond ring (one for Leslie; one for his mother, Diane, who had died of cancer the previous March; and one for Leslie’s sister Elizabeth, who had been murdered in 2002) and professed his love and asked her to marry him.

"I didn’t hear anything," Leslie said. "The dog was barking. I was yelling at him to stop ruining my moment."

She, of course, said yes. Then they went to a Rosh HaShanah meal at Jordan’s aunt’s apartment.

Leslie, who had played professional basketball in Israel and worked in pharmaceutical sales, is studying at Pace University to be a physician’s assistant. Jordan, who played basketball at Harvard University, previously worked for the Knicks and the NBA.

They were married June 19 in Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland, Conn. Leslie said it was a "traditional Jewish wedding" in a nondenominational wedding hall-conference center.

And last week, back to the Maccabiah, "again staying in different hotels," she said.

Past Games have featured such athletes as swimmers Mark Spitz and Lenny Krayzelburg, gymnasts Mitch Gaylord and Kerri Strug, and NBA players Ernie Grunfeld and Dan Schayes.

This year, four years after the intifada brought calls for the competition to be postponed, thousands of Israelis have volunteered for the Maccabiah cause.

"When the occasion arises, Israel knows how to put its best face forward," said Rodney Sanders, Maccabi World Union adviser. "We approached voluntary organizations and immigrant associations throughout Israel via the Internet and by phone. The response has been overwhelming. You name it, we have volunteers for the task."

The Maccabiah itinerary includes tours of the country, as well as social and cultural events.

"Sports is the attraction," said Jordan Weinstein, general chairman of the U.S. Maccabiah Committee. "The Land of Israel is the vehicle. Jewish continuity is our primary goal. It is the goal of the U.S. Maccabiah Organizing Committee that the members of Team USA come to Israel as Jewish athletes and return as athletic Jews."

Past games have featured such athletes as swimmers Mark Spitz and Lenny Krayzelburg, gymnasts Mitch Gaylord and Kerri Strug, and NBA players Ernie Grunfeld and Dan Schayes.

Leslie and Jordan won’t return to the States right away. After the Games, they’ll go to Italy for a honeymoon.

Leslie’s parents aren’t going to watch her play this time, she said. They don’t need to, her mother said.

Said Leslie: "She already accomplished what she wanted to."

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