This year’s Mensch Madness Baaaaaa-sketball Tournament opens with a play-in game between the #8 seed, One Little Goat from the famous Passover song Chad Gadya, and the #9 seed, the Ram from the Akeidah.
Which of these two feisty beasts will make it to the next round?
Hardcore fans will recall the Ram from the story of the Binding of Isaac, back in Genesis 22. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then an Angel swooped in to stop the slaughter at the last moment. As Abraham looked up in gratitude, his eyes “fell upon the Ram caught in the thicket.” Now this Ram is almost a sure winner. After all, when they were walking up Mount Moriah Abraham said to Isaac, “God will see to the sheep for the offering.” We never doubted this Ram would come through, and we think he will perform similarly today!
On the other team we see the underdog, the main character from the Passover song, the One Little Goat that My Father Bought for Two Zuzim, also known as Chad Gadya. This is one small goat, folks. He got beaten up by a cat – A CAT, Y’ALL – and his size is still a big concern today!
We now go live to the game:
The Ram won the jump ball and has taken off down the court. Unfortunately, this is one clumsy Ram. Remember how he got his horns tangled up in that thicket? That’s how Abraham spotted him in the first place. Well, now the Ram is tripping all over himself again and the Chad Gadya quickly moved in to take the ball away.
Now here comes that One Little Goat down the court, and oh no! The stick appears out of nowhere to beat the dog who bit the cat who ate the goat my father bought for two zuzim. Sheesh, Little Goat can’t catch a break!
And that’s the halftime buzzer. One thing you really have to appreciate about both these players is their symbolic value. Abraham offered this Ram as a sign of his gratitude when God spared his son, Isaac. God’s acceptance of this offering really put an end to child sacrifice. The Goat from Chad Gadya also carries deep meaning; he represents the paschal offering, the reminder of how God freed our ancestors from Egypt. Both these beasts carry weighty symbolic burdens.
And we’re back! Now as the Ram takes the ball down the court. The aforementioned Angel of God appears to set a pick, and the Ram shoots from the 3-point line and scores. What a play! Chad Gadya has divine beings on his team, too, and as he takes the ball the Angel of Death who killed the butcher who slaughtered the ox who drank the water that put out the fire that burned the stick that hit the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat that my father bought for two zuzim has appeared on the court to come to the Goat’s assistance.
Angel of God! Angel of Death! Holy… basketball!
This has been a tough game, but when the final shofar blows, it’s the Ram from the Akeidah walks away with the victory. You just can’t escape the fact that this Ram has divine sanction on his side. Abraham saw this Ram caught in a thicket, and made him the symbol of God’s mercy. As Yehuda Amichai wrote, “The real hero of the Isaac story was the Ram,” and it’s tough to beat that.
In the next round, the Ram will face off against the Golden Calf! See you there, sports fans.
 Yehuda Amichai, “The Real Hero.” Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Translation by Chana Bloch & Stephen Mitchel. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
Last year, the ISJL (a very sports-centric Southern and Jewish office) held a tournament of champions. The inaugural Mensch Madness matched up true heroes from the Tanakh in basketball match-ups for the ages!
Every game had fans cheering on both sides. Hillel took on Abraham in a thrilling contest, Deborah and Hannah sought to achieve eternal athletic glory, and in the end, the one and only Moses came through with the victory.
This year, we are proud to announce our 2nd annual Mensch Madness bracket. Over the coming weeks we will, similarly to last year, broadcast the results of an intense basketball showdown among some famous characters from the Jewish tradition. Each match-up included two characters, and using texts from Jewish history and the contemporary Jewish world, we determined who the winner would be, and they moved on to the next round.
But THIS season, there’s a twist!
In this year’s edition, the mensches…well…they won’t be homo sapiens. Instead, we will be recognizing some of our most important non-human contributors to Jewish text over the years. Characters such as the Golem of Prague, Bilaam’s donkey, and the serpent from the Garden of Eden will battle one another on the hardwood, and we at the ISJL will be there every step of the way to describe the match-ups thoroughly and provide our professional analysis on the results.
Our competitors have been preparing for weeks, and they are ready for the Madness. Some might even call them ANIMALS.
Are you ready for Mensch Madness 2015?! GAME ON!
As an ISJL Education Fellow, I hit the road a lot and spend time in communities that are new to me—and many of them might be new to you, too! So I’ll sometimes shine the Southern & Jewish spotlight on one of my new communities… starting today with Midland/Odessa, Texas.
I recently took a trip to Midland/Odessa, Texas. For anyone who hasn’t heard of these twin-cities and the surrounding area, it’s worth a peek at a map. The city of Midland was founded in 1881 as a midway point between El Paso and Dallas on the Pacific Railway. Traditionally, white collar workers lived in Midland, while blue collar workers lived in Odessa. Twenty-three miles separate the cities from one another, but it is clear today that the cities have a symbiotic relationship.
This relationship exists clearly in the business function, the thriving oil industry, but also in other affairs, such as Jewish life. (Speaking of which, there is a full history of the Jewish experience in Midland/Odessa available through the ISJL’s Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities!)
When many people think of a combined metro area, some famous ones come to mind: Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul… Most of these metros are less than 15 miles apart. And between the centers of them are suburbs and businesses that serve both cities. Midland and Odessa, however, are 23 miles apart, downtown to downtown, and between the two cities lies almost nothing besides the local “cash crop”: oil fields. The cities only agreed to a combined statistical designation recently, as it allowed for larger companies to come and serve the now combined “Petroplex.”
Though the synagogue building is in Odessa, the membership population is split between the cities of Midland and Odessa.
I spent the weekend hanging out in both Midland and Odessa. Erev Shabbat services on Friday night were at the synagogue in Odessa. I was also hosted overnight in Odessa. A community lunch the next day was held in Midland. Havdalah was at a community member’s home in Midland. I went on a tour of the “Petroplex” with a community member, exploring both Midland and Odessa (including George W. Bush’s childhood home). Religious school on Sunday was in Midland. Last but not least, I was taken to the airport on Sunday afternoon, located smack dab between Midland and Odessa, to spend a little time at the oil fields.
In no place is the symbiotic relationship between Midland and Odessa more obvious than in the Jewish life. There are separate school districts for Midland and Odessa. There are separate Walmarts and other businesses of the like for the two cities. But there is only one synagogue – Temple Beth El, and it draws people from both Midland and Odessa, to observe Jewish traditions, and also to celebrate a longstanding Jewish presence in the Permian Basin.
The Jewish community, small but dedicated, consists of approximately 65 families. There are 8 students in the religious school, all enthusiastic and eager young Jewish children. I had a wonderful time teaching students about the Jewish obligation to social justice and tikkun olam.
You may have noticed that lately at your local gas pump prices have gone down. Some places in the country have even seen prices well below $2. Midland/Odessa is the hub of this gas gala that has led to plummeting petrol prices nationwide. Jews were initially attracted to the Permian Basin in the early 1900s for its oil industry… and while this post isn’t intended to be a plug for Jews to move to Midland/Odessa, hey, if you like the oil industry, this may be the place for you. The Jewish community there really is lovely.
Speaking of lovely Jewish communities you may not have visited… I look forward to sharing the stories of some of my upcoming visits here, there, and everywhere in the Jewish South— with all of you!