Last winter, right before Hanukkah, my brother and I decided to try something new and go to a Division III basketball game. After school, we drove to the local Moravian College in my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The small liberal arts college played terrifically the previous year and was on track to continue that success. However, the real reason we went to the game was to watch their opponent, Yeshiva University. We were both fascinated to see the squad of observant Jews of YU go toe-to-toe against Moravian. When we got there, the majority of the fans were rooting for the home team. There was only a small group of students from my school in Philadelphia, accompanied by the head of school, to watch the rising Yeshiva University Maccabeees continue their eleven game win streak.
Yeshiva University is a private university located in Washington Heights, Manhattan and has an undergraduate enrollment of just above 2,000. The university prides itself on its Modern Orthodox philosophy of “Torah U’Madda”, or Torah and science. Any event that the school participates in cannot be held on Shabbos or any other Jewish holiday. In addition to their plethora of athletic and extracurricular opportunities, they keep up a demanding schedule of secular and Judaic classes
The game I watched was incredibly close throughout the first half, ending with a buzzer-beating half court shot by senior guard Simcha Halpert. As Moravain took a small lead for the majority of the second half, YU remained calm, took back the lead, and finished the game strong. They would go on to win by seven points, and were led by star point guard Ryan Turell, who scored 31 points. After that game, the Maccabees continued to dominate Division III basketball, ending the year with a 29 game win streak. After winning their conference tournament and qualifying for the Division III March Madness tournament, the team looked nearly unstoppable. They then won their first two games of the tournament by more than 20 points each. Then, the tournament was abruptly canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What I saw that night was not merely just an ordinary basketball team. It was a team with shared religion, values, and love of the game. This team prays before and after every game, does not play any games on Shabbos or Yom Tov, and only eats kosher meals on the road. They are a group of men who exemplified Jewish values on the court by having the utmost respect for their opponents, as well as tremendous sportsmanship. In the classroom and outside of it, they are taught to treat one another as they would want to be treated. Additionally, none of the players had any endeavors of playing professionally after their collegiate careers like they do at the Division I level. There were no NBA scouts or analysts at the game looking for the next number one pick in the draft; they were only playing for the love of the game.
Unfortunately, YU’s future for this year is somewhat unknown. With the coronavirus pandemic lingering and cases rising throughout the country, Division III basketball this year is far from certain. However, expect big things from the Maccabees. Last year, the school reached many accolades, such as being ranked in the Top 25 for the first time and winning their first-ever postseason game. YU’s bright future has only just begun, and I am sure they are on track to accomplish incredible things on the court.