It’s March Madness in Pittsburgh, and it has nothing to do with cleaning the house and preparing for Passover.
The second and third rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament were held at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh from March 19 to 21. Joining in the excitement downtown were many Jewish Pittsburghers who collectively have a strong interest in the sport either as players, coaches or fans.
Suzanne Schreiber of Squirrel Hill comes from a very athletic family and grew up watching college basketball. She’s even related to the late Hall of Fame coach Harry Litwack, who led Temple University’s team from 1947 to 1973.
“College basketball gives Jews a great opportunity to become successful,” said Schreiber. “We can see that over the years many college basketball coaches are, in fact, Jewish.”
Litwack represents the epitome of what Jews can achieve in college basketball. His 373-193 record didn’t just land him in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but also the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Basketball Hall of Fame.
Besides coaches, there have been many successful Jewish college basketball players. Tamir Goodman is an Orthodox Jew who grew up in Baltimore. After spending part of his high school career in Pittsburgh, he was rated the 25th best player in the United States. He eventually moved to Israel and played with the Maccabi Tel Aviv team in 2002, earning the nickname the “Jewish Jordan.”
Rabbi Ari Goldberg, who overlapped with Goodman during his time at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, said of the player: “He was, hands down, the best basketball player I have ever seen.”
“What impressed me the most was … he always behaved in a very humble and unassuming way, as if for him it was just all about playing the game he loved,” added Goldberg. “It’s really amazing to see how he could take this passion and apply it to his life and livelihood, all within an observant framework.”
Following his retirement in 2009, Goodman utilized his basketball connections to help the Jewish community. He created the nonprofit organization Coolanu Israel, which strives to connect Jews to Israel and to strengthen Jewish identity through basketball clinics.
Dan Kraut, CEO of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, attended the NCAA tournament last Thursday with his two sons. They watched as the University of North Carolina scored the winning points against Harvard University in the last few seconds. He has been to six NCAA tournaments in the past and was ecstatic that March Madness was in Pittsburgh.
It was “a great opportunity to take my kids and share with them my love of basketball,” he said. “It was an extremely exciting and overwhelming experience.”
His 13-year-old son Aaron, who attends Hillel Academy and plays for the Hillel Heat, exclaimed, “It was amazing! We were right behind the hoop and we got to watch two basketball games.”
As some grieve over losses in their personal NCAA brackets, they can take pride in the knowledge that Jewish Pittsburgh had an up close taste of the game last weekend. But attention is already turning to cleaning those houses for Pesach.
Yael Itskowitz is an 11th grade student at Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh.