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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Falcon's Nest Notes: Shabbat in Memphis, TN

If one thinks “The Cooper” is all about basketball, then one would miss the real greatness of the event. What lies at the heart of this annual gathering of yeshiva basketball talent is what it really means to be a member of a larger Jewish community. This is what comes to the forefront on Shabbat in Memphis; 16 teams, 16 different communities, coming together as one to celebrate Shabbat in the center of the heartland of America.

It is easy for us in Brooklyn, NY, the cradle of Jewish America, to find a synagogue to go to for tefilah, to find a home to go to for Shabbat dinner. But to see a community in Middle America, where the numbers of the Jewish community is representative of the Jewish presence in the national population (roughly .2%), open its doors – literally – to our 200+ players, coaches and staff is to see the true power of Jewish community!

After davening with a nearby congregation, local families stepped forward, collecting their assigned guests for the evening. The Flatbush contingent was divided into 3 groups, was warmly welcomed into each respective home and represented the Flatbush community with honor, respect and pride (not surprisingly, one host family consisted not only of transplanted New Yorkers, but was also home to a proud Flatbush graduate!).

After dinner, all The Cooper participants gathered in the main auditorium of the Cooper Yeshiva for an Oneg Shabbat consisting of cakes, snacks, drinks and the anticipated appearance of Tamir Goodman. Known internationally as “The Jewish Jordan,” Tamir represents the realization of the dream of each and every player in attendance – an Orthodox, Shabbat-observant Jew who achieved basketball success on the Division I college level (at Towson State) and later professionally in Europe, earning respect not only for his commitment to basketball but also for his commitment to Judaism. How impressive was Tamir? In a room not really conducive to public speaking, you could literally hear a pin drop! Before sending the teams home, more raffles were held, with Flatbush again taking home prizes; a hometown jersey going to Senior leader Joey Dayon and, in a big surprise, one awarded to Flatbush’s own Athletic Director Eric Amkraut! (It can be seen in the Flatbush Athletic Office upon the team’s return to Brooklyn)

Yom Shabbat was more of the same; The Cooper and the Memphis community coming together, sharing experiences, respecting customs and learning together. In a Sephardic minyan, Flatbush members shared leadership and participatory roles in tefilah and Torah. At lunch, players mingled further, ate together and again shared more learning and more customs. Example: after a zamir of the Ashkenaz tradition, Rabbi Lubetski of the Memphis community invited a member of the Flatbush Falcons to lead the group in a song of the Sephardic tradition. Up stepped Mayer Kamkhatchi, who stood up on his chair and led the hall in a spirited “Baruch Kevodo,” which was received with spirit and enthusiasm! As part of the program, members of 3 attending teams stood up to deliver Divrei Torah prepared in advance of the tournament. Representing Flatbush, Junior Raymond Braha delivered an expert Drash on Parshat Toledot, delving into the meaning behind the depiction of the way the Torah describes the love Yitzchak had for Eisav and the love Rivkah demonstrated for Ya’akov. Chazak U'Baruch to Raymond for his inspired teaching! (And, following, another raffle and, again, another Flatbush winner – this time for Assistant Coach Leor Friedman!)

After lunch, the players and coaches gathered back in the school’s Beit Midrash to hear Yanni Hufnagel, Assistant Coach for the Vanderbilt University Commodores Men’s Basketball program. Players sat on the edges of their seats as Yanni had their rapt attention as he listed a Jewish who’s who in American basketball today, from college team managers to assistant coaches to head coaches; from NBA assistant coaches to head coaches to front office personnel. His message – your basketball dream is never out of reach if you are willing to work hard for it! To illustrate, he shared the tale of the mule in the well. In short, a mule is trapped in the bottom of a well and cannot get out. The farmer and his neighbors decide it best to bury the mule there and begin shoveling sand into the well. Rather than stand still and be buried in sand, with each shovelful the stubborn mule would shake off the sand and step up on the pile, eventually rising up and stepping out of the well – the moral being no matter how bleak things look, you can achieve your goals it you just “shake it off, and step up!