In the South, college football is king. Adjusting to the world of Saturday morning tailgates (after shul, of course) and punting on fourth down is hard for some ISJL Education Fellows, but for me, it felt like being home. See, I am a Columbus, Ohio girl—born and raised on Buckeye Football. I come from the land of Woody Hayes, Archie Griffin, and scarlet and grey. This past year has been an exciting one for me. I’ve had a front row seat to the SEC—one of the most dominant leagues in the country.
Luckily for me, and probably to the chagrin of some of our readers, on New Year’s Day, my Buckeyes beat Alabama, the only SEC team in the new College Football Playoffs. As a result the SEC was knocked out of the bid for the first ever CFP Championship.
So why should my fellow Southern Jews, those normally loyal to their SEC home teams, support The Ohio State Buckeyes tonight? I humbly offer a few suggestions:
- The Buckeyes squeaked out a victory over the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Though the loss is still a sore spot, especially since this year is the first since 2005 in which no SEC team will play for the national title, the SEC looks best if the team that beat them in the playoffs wins the championship.
- Les Wexner is an alumnus of The Ohio State University and a proud Buckeye. Wexner is a notable Jewish philanthropist and founder of the Wexner Foundation, which seeks to develop Jewish leaders and sustain Jewish heritage across the United States.
- As Southerners and Jews, we love our traditions. The Buckeyes have tradition to spare. From the start of the game, when The Ohio State Marching Band performs “Script Ohio” to the end of every home game, when the football team joins the band to sing the alma mater, to the Mirror Lake jump, when thousands of students jump into a frozen lake on campus, tradition seeps from Buckeye pores.
- Urban Meyer is a former SEC coach. So while the speed, offense, and defensive lines are in the Big 10, we look a whole lot like an SEC team. What’s more, six of our starters, not including injured quarterback J.T. Barrett, hail from our great 13-state region. Oregon’s roster includes only 13 Southerners, while Ohio State’s includes 17.
So, that’s my case. I love the Buckeyes and I love college football – and of course, I love my fellow Southern and Jewish football fans. Win or lose, I’m so excited that I was able to spend this season deep in SEC territory, where people love it just as much as I do.
Tonight the Bucks take on the Ducks in Dallas. I’d love it if you cheered for the Bucks along with me (but I promise to get over it if you don’t). Go Bucks!
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In this final match-up, the game really came down to something simple: straight-up skills. So who was the ultimate player – underdog Devorah? Or long-time champ Moses? Let’s see how they measured up on the proverbial court:
Basket (ball): Moses has the one locked up. He started his life in a basket, y’all. That’s commitment. This one’s a slam dunk for Big M.
Flair: You have to bring some flair to the game, as any Harlem Globetrotter or Biblical Baller will tell you. In a battle of musical prowess, setting the tunes against each other, Devorah is particularly well-known for her victory song, sung after the Israelites defeated the Canaanites. This song is famously beautiful and is acknowledged as one of the oldest and most original sections of Tanakh. Although, Song of the Sea does put up a good fight… still, this one goes to Devorah!
Drive: Having skills takes you only so far. Taking your game to the next level requires massive confidence, the belief in yourself that you can go out on the floor and dominate, each and every game.The name Devorah is Hebrew for Bee. That’s probably why Devorah’s tenacity is similar to a swarm of attacking bees. As she summoned Barak to battle against an army of invaders, she is also putting a stinger into the idea that women do not deserve places of significance in Jewish liturgy. Score one more for Dark Horse– er, Bee– Devorah!
Posting Up: During half time, Moses was thirsty and struck his water bottle, and Devorah immediately got 15 points. Devorah stands out as one of the strongest female characters in the books of Judges. She was one of the many judges chosen by God, and led the nation of Israel at a time when they were struggling to conquer the land. Additionally, they were experiencing great spiritual uncertainty. She’s one of the only biblical females spoken about on her own merits. For example, Sarah is always referred to as Abraham’s wife or Miriam is qualified as Moses’s sister. She was patient in how she would sit beneath the palm tree where the Israelites could come and seek her advice. But Moses always comes back after adversity, so this one’s a draw.
Spontaneity: Lots of players over-think the game. Moses is quick to act in many ways. When he finds his people struggling beneath the oppression of Egyptian task masters, he is horrified. Witnessing one beating an Israelite slave, Moses strikes back and kills the Egyptian. When Moses sees that there was no one else to address the challenges of his generation, he rises to the occasion and does what is necessary, realizing that it would have far reaching implications for his life.
Final Scoring: Mensch means “a person of honor” and for us, the winner has got to be Moses, the ultimate team captain. As it says in Deuteronomy 34:10 – “Since that time no prophet has supported Israel like Moses, who Adonai knew face to face.” Devorah played well, came far, and her jersey will surely be retired, but in the end, there can be only one winner of Mensch Madness.
MAZEL TOV… MOSES, THE MENSCH MADNESS CHAMPION!
Thank you for playing along! How did your bracket match up with ours?
We’re nearing the end of Mensch Madness, sports fans!
There is a palpable sense of history here in our arena, as two underdogs – Devorah and Hannah – match up against one another for a place in the Mensch Madness championship. Since both come from the WIN Conference (Women in Nevi’im), they are quite familiar with one another. Over recent years, the instant-classics that Devorah and Hannah have participated in have created a strong rivalry, up there with the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Ohio State-Michigan, and Cain-Abel.
We’re spotting some basketball yarmulkes in the crowded stands. The intimidatingly-named “Hannah’s Horde,” the raucous fans that flock to all of Hannah’s basketball games, all seem as excited as ever – we even spotted one holding a sign reading “Hey Eli, who’s drunk now?” Eli made headlines earlier this season for accusing Hannah of drunkenness during the game. Hannah insisted that she was not drunk, just full of intensity for her mid-season run of success, and the Breathalyzer tests backed up her claim. Eli did not even make Mensch Madness this year, and to add insult to injury, he was embarrassingly eliminated from the first round of the Mensch Invitational Tournament by Balaam’s donkey.
Devorah’s supporters have fewer signs – but they seem to be a fairly musical bunch. Their mascot, a giant bumblebee, chosen because it is the meaning of Devorah’s name in Hebrew, is conducting the entire crowd in a unified rendition of Judges Chapter 5! “Uri, uri, D’vorah” (Awake, awake, O Deborah!) and “Uri, uri, dab’ri shir” (Awake, awake, strike up the chant!) echo through the arena in a deafening roar.
But alas, there is basketball to be played, and the game will be won on the court – not in the stands. The game tips off, and Devorah takes control. She instantly summons 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun to execute a full-court press, and Hannah is no match for them. By halftime, Devorah has notched a 37-21 lead, and Hannah is unsure what she can do to start a comeback.
In the locker room, Hannah consults with her assistant coaches – her husband Elkanah and son Samuel the prophet. They have some sound advice! Many years back, when Hannah was desperate for a son, she made a deal with God. She said that “If You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and remember me…and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the Lord for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” She was rewarded with her son Samuel.
So Elkanah and Samuel advised her to make a similar vow today. Hannah summoned her strength. She closed her eyes, moved her lips, and stated “Oh God, if you will look kindly upon me and weaken the strength of Devorah my opponent, I will dedicate this court to the Lord, and no mop or broom shall ever touch its floor.”
God hears Hannah’s cries. God listens to every word, and God……reaches out a mighty hand…and…AND…God shakes God’s mighty finger at Hannah.
“Many years ago, your desire was for good. You wanted a son so that he may serve Me and serve My people. Today, your desire is for yourself. You wish Me to bring harm to Devorah so that you will win…a BASKETBALL GAME?! This thing is not good. Also, to refrain from mopping or sweeping such a court as this is unsanitary and a desecration of My name. This thing is not good. And you shall not win. ”
Despite the vigorous apologies from Hannah, Elkanah, and Samuel, Hannah returns to the court for the second half with little hope – and sure enough, Devorah comes away with a 72-50 blowout victory.
Who will win the FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?! You’ll know when Monday, when Mensch Madness reaches its exciting finale!
 Judges 5. Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia, 1999 (527).
 Judges 4. Ibid 520.
 1 Samuel 1. Ibid 572.