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The Jewish Basketball Stars Who Made It to the NCAA Sweet 16

The Yeshiva University men’s basketball team was on a historic 29-game winning streak, the NCAA Division III tournament was underway and the Maccabees were excited to see how far they could go. But then Covid-19 hit, the tournament was cancelled, and now the Maccabees will never know if they could have been champions. In this episode of Game Changers, Noam Weissman talks to Yeshiva University basketball coach Elliot Steinmetz and player Simcha Halpert about the bitter disappointment of not finishing the season, the importance of resilience and why the Macs have truly changed the perception of Jews as athletes.

  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Further Learning
  1. Which of the following types of people would be your biggest Jewish role model? Why?
    • Religious figure
    • Historical figure
    • Politician
    • Celebrity
    • Entrepeneur
    • Athlete
    • Other
  2. Have you worn a Jewish symbol in public in a non-Jewish setting? If so, how did it make you feel? Did you feel that you were representing yourself or your community, or both?
  3. In the episode, Coach Steinmetz tells the story of how he began wearing a kippah to work in response to growing antisemitism although some of his friends decided to stop wearing their kippot to work to send a similar message. Which perspective do you agree with? What would you do in this situation?
  4. When discussing participation in competitive sports, Coach Steinmetz explained that there are plenty of important skills to be learned, such as time management and the management of egos. What do you think are the three most important life skills and lessons one can learn from participating in competitive sports?
  5. Watch this short clip from a well known (older) movie, “Airplane.” How does the YU Maccabees basketball team help dispel this notion? When viewing this scene, do you find it funny or offensive, or both?
  1. When asked which Jewish tradition or practice they most connect to and why, Coach Steinmetz and Simcha both answered Shabbat and wearing a kippah. Ask your students to answer the question “What Jewish tradition or practice do you most connect to and why?” through a written reflection. After they write down their answers, ask them to share their answers with the group.
  2. In the Game Changers episode, Simcha Halpert said “No matter what you do in life, go 100%”. Take the following inspiring sports quotes and paste them around the room. Give your students time to walk around the room and read all of the quotes in silence. Then, ask them to sit next to the quote they were most inspired by. Once the students are all seated, ask them to share what lesson they can learn from their quote and why it inspired them.
  3. Before watching the episode, make two columns on your board: one with the word “Jewish” and the other with the word “athlete”. Ask your students to do the same on their own piece of paper or device. Then, ask them to write words or phrases that describe the qualities or characteristics of each side of the chart. After sharing and discussing the words that your students came up with, watch the video. After the video, discuss what it means to burst stereotypes and see if your students would change their charts in any way.

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