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Rabbi Makes Free-Throw Peace Effort at Madison Square Garden

Israel’s Rabbi Grossman tried to make peace at a NY Knicks-Macabbi Tel Aviv fundraiser. The winner was his orphanage in northern Israel.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 10/19/2009, 11:29 PM / Last Update: 10/20/2009, 8:37 AM

Flash 90

A Hebrew-speaking Israeli rabbi was a temporary star on the basketball court at Madison Square Garden when he tried to defend an Israeli coach who was ejected by a referee. Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, one of Israel’s most colorful rabbis, interrupted the Sunday exhibition fundraising game but eventually accepted the referee’s decision and pronounced, ”The law is the law. Sometimes people make a mistake.”

The game raised money for Rabbi Grossman’s huge Migdal Ohr organization, which runs an orphanage and a network of schools that provide academic and vocational studies while integrating new immigrant children into Israeli society.

His surprise appearance came during the third quarter of the game, which the Knicks ended up winning 106-91. Macabbi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon made some unflattering remarks to the referee over the Knicks' Al Harrington's behavior. The referee whistled Gershon out of the game for two technical fouls.

Gershon refused to leave the floor, Rabbi Grossman tried to make peace between him and the officials, and the stunned basketball players, with nothing else to do, began dunking and swishing out of boredom. Among the 14,600 spectators in the audience was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was sitting near the front benches but who stayed out of the incident. Thousands of others waved Israeli flags.

Rabbi Grossman, who among other accomplishments single-handedly shut down some bars in the Israeli town of Migdal HaEmek on the Sabbath by strolling in on Friday nights while embarrassed managers heard him sing a Chassidic tune, jumped on to the court with his black coat and white beard.

After his broken English failed to persuade the referee to change the law, Rabbi Grossman pleaded, in vain, “This is not a regular game. In a game for friendship, you forgive.” Gershon began apologizing for his behavior.

The Knicks' Nate Robinson wandered into the discussion to find out if the game would resume, but Rabbi Grossman began speaking Hebrew. “It threw me off,” Robinson told The New York Times. “I needed a translator.”

Macabbi Tel Aviv is to play another fundraising game in Los Angeles on Monday against the Clippers.