The Torah and 3-pointers; shalom and slam dunks; matzo ball soup and the motion offense – these are not associations we typically make.
Despite the role Jews played in the early years of hoops, the NBA careers of Jordan Farmar and Omri Casspi, Amare Stoudemire’s embrace of his Jewish roots, and David Blatt’s hiring to lead the most talented team on the planet, Judaism remains the least prominent of the “big three” of the Abrahamic religions on the hardwood.
However, the tiny America East Conference has seen several members of the Jewish faith play prominent roles on the court, on the sidelines, and in the huddle in recent years (and even on media row, at least in the world of “wannabe bloggers”).
While the awesomely named Levi Levine, Albany’s former captain and all-time enforcer, was not a member of the tribe, among others, the likes of Karl Fogel (head coach, Northeastern), Al Walker (head coach, Binghamton), Dan Leibovitz (head coach, Hartford), Tamir “Jewish Jordan” Goodman (guard, Towson), Dane DiLiegro (center, New Hampshire), Josh Elbaum (guard, Vermont), Mike Horn (guard, Binghamton), and Ben Resner (guard, Stony Brook) all light the menorah on Hanukkah and attend services during the high holidays. Heck, if we’re going to break it down like Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song, Ryan Stys is some percentage (a quarter? an eight? a 16th?), and Nick Billings has joined me for many a sader dinner and learned the art of Jewish guilt from my mom — that has to count for something, right?
And so, in honor of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and holiest of the Jewish High Holy Days, which spans from sun down Friday to sun down tonight (and, to appease my mother, who thinks I have no Jewish identity), OBW caught up with DiLiegro, one of the top rebounders in UNH history, who is currently playingprofessional basketball in the top league in Israel, and Horn, whose journey from end of the bench walk on to tenacious defender made him a cult hero and who is tackling the business world in New York. Here is what they had to say about what their Jewish identity means to them, and how they are celebrating the Sabbath.
“Being Jewish is special to me because I get to be part of a very small group of people who are resilient and very hard-working and proud of who they are.
Being Jewish over here [in Israel], is very special to me because all the events and things that go on have extra meaning. Everything from Shabbat dinner to Sukkot is celebrated in a different way from America. It is a very special opportunity to be able to see that.
During Yom Kippur you are supposed to fast and not use any electronics. My coach warned us not to use our cars under any circumstances unless it was an emergency, because people are known to throw rocks at people who drive during Yom Kippur out here. Everyone either walks or rides their bike no matter what. Everything shuts down. I will be very cozy inside my apartment, either watching TV or playing Xbox.”
“Being Jewish means being part of something really special: It means you are part of the Jewish community wherever you are in the world. You are linked to the Jewish people from generations to generations who fought for our existence.
Throughout my life, I have been able to appreciate how important being Jewish is to me. Becoming a Bar Mitzvah helped me understand more of the Jewish religion and how lucky I am to be a part of this community. I’m so fortunate of my past family members who survived the brutal Holocaust, which is another example of why I am so proud to be Jewish. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and we are still standing strong here today. I may not be overly religious, but I do practice on the High Holy Days.
This year for Yom Kippur, like every other, I will be feasting before sundown with family friends. The following day I attend the synagogue with my family for a couple of hours. The next part isn’t so easy, as we fast all day and respect the importance of this High Holy Day. We break the fast with an early dinner filled with bagels, bagels, and more bagels. Most importantly, I try to understand why this High Holy Day is so significant to the Jewish community and make the most out of it.”