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.
Get ready, sports fans! It’s time for Mensch Madness, Round 2, and the Men’s Semi-Finals with Moses (1) taking on Hillel (3)!
We’ve got a sold out crowd here in the arena today, as our number one seed takes on an underdog winner! Seemingly everyone is on Hillel’s bandwagon, with a large contingent of college students filing their way into the stands. Moses, however, seems to have the celebrity backing, as everyone from Maimonides to Mendelssohn has been spotted sporting light-up promotional toy “staffs.”
Let’s check out some quick background on our teams. Michael Shapiro’s preseason rankings had Moses listed as the #1 most influential Jew of all time, whereas Hillel the elder just barely cracked the top twenty-five.[i] Don’t be fooled by his nickname “The Elder” – Hillel is actually significantly younger than Moses. Some people have some concerns about Moses’ knees and how they’ll hold up over the length of the entire post-season, especially considering his most recent ACL surgery.
Our guest referee for this game is Dwayne Johnson, and he wastes no time in tossing the ball up to start the game. Immediately, Moses jumps out to a huge lead. When he raises the ball in his arms, he has a clear avenue to the basket since, for some reason, Team Hillel stands in two rows and just watches Moses blast by. In a surprising move, Moses has elected to play barefoot. We got reports that say he took off his shoes after a local fan said something like: “You’re playing in the Garden! For Bostonians, you’re standing on holy ground!” This situation has not slowed his pace at all, as Moses continues his blistering barrage.
But, what’s this? As we near the half, Moses has charged off into the stands. Hillel begins to score at will! Where did Moses go?! We’ve just got word, our sideline reporter informs us that Moses saw an underage sheep wander off toward the beer concessions and is now carrying the animal back to the proper seat on his shoulders.[ii]
That’s the halftime buzzer. In a shocking surprise, Team Hillel is up, 34-40.
Our teams have returned from the locker and Moses looks angrier than when the taskmaster whipped that slave. We’ve gotten word he got quite the halftime pump-up, since the “Chairman of the Board,” Big Mo stormed into the locker room to give an inspirational speech. We’ll see if he bestowed any “championship knowledge” onto his namesake. Hillel starts out with the ball and is moving in a sluggish manner. I think this team may have scarfed too many matzah sandwiches in the locker room. Moreover, Moses’ face is shining so bright for some reason! Team Hillel seems to now be employing the “hack-a-shaw” method, swinging blindly nowhere near the ball… hitting Moses’ arms. I’m almost sure those are fouls, but for some reason still no whistles. Tired of not getting any calls, Moses has gone over to confront our referee. Holy Smoke! Moses has hit The Rock! That’s a technical foul, you cannot put your hands on a referee. That will give Team Hillel an opportunity to hit some free throws and have one last chance at a miracle upset. He hits both of them!
Here we go folks, we’re about to find out if, down by one, Hillel can overcome his renown calm demeanor and upset Team Moses! They inbound the ball to Hillel and, wait, a court side fan has asked him to explain the entire Torah on one foot. He’s completed that with barely two seconds left on the clock! He begins to move the ball down the floor…
TWEEEEEEET! Referee Johnson has blown the whistle. We have a call! Yes, that’s a double dribble! Moses’ Ball! Moses’ Ball! The game will end on a technicality! This is the worst playoff blunder since Chris Webber, folks.
That’s all from us here at WJEW Sports Radio. Our headline of the night:
MOSES MARCHES CLOSER TO THE PROMISED LAND. WILL PLAY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP!
[i] Michael Shapiro. The Jewish 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Jews of All Time. (New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1995)
[ii] Exodus Rabbah 2:2
When you’re not “from” the South, you have to get used to a few things when you move down here. There are the dialect differences, obviously. If you’re Jewish and have only lived up North, you do notice the Bible Belt culture quite a bit, too. And if you’re a sports fan, well – there’s even more culture shock to deal with!
Some people say home is where your heart is, or where your family is, and that may be true – but for me home is also where my teams are. I am a serious Boston sports fan. I am now living outside the area generally defined as “Red Sox Nation,” so there aren’t as many Sox or Pats fans around as I’m used to. During important sporting events, I feel a little far from home.
However, I am still as obnoxious a fan as ever.
I wore my New England Patriots t-shirt all season, and I enact all my game-day superstitions even in this hostile Southern territory. My family has a tradition that when the Patriots are playing badly, we rearrange how we’re sitting in the hopes that the change in our feng shui might positively affect the outcome of the game.
I have not hesitated to continue this practice in sports watching venues here in Mississippi. Much to my surprise, I even persuaded some of my friends to join me on this bandwagon.
One very telling moment was during the October 13th Patriots-Saints game. The New Orleans Saints are the geographically closest NFL team to Jackson, so most people here root for them. I was a lonely island in a sea of New Orleans fans watching this game at our local sports bar. Let me tell you, it’s a little scary to be “that fan” cheering for the team everyone else in the restaurant is rooting against. And I cheer loudly. But everyone still got along nicely. Maybe it’s part of that southern hospitality thing, but people here are still nice to you even when you root against the Saints.
The biggest challenge for me has been surviving in a land that loves Peyton Manning. You might have heard that Archie Manning (Peyton’s father) is from Drew, Mississippi, and this state seems to always root for him and his sons. I am not a fan of the Mannings. They’re probably very nice people and they all seem to be talented athletes but I am on the Tom Brady side of the Manning-Brady rivalry, thank you very much. Our loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship was therefore particularly disappointing.
The Super Bowl presented its own special challenge. After the Patriots lost the AFC championship, I had to decide who to cheer for in the Super Bowl. Since Peyton Manning is the Broncos’ Quarterback, I knew everyone here would root for them. Should I also root for Denver, because the people around me would be and I wanted my friends to be happy? Or should I stay true to my team and root against Peyton? In the end I was pretty happy the Seahawks emerged victorious, but I had a little more empathy for Mr. Manning, too.
Now that football season has drawn to a close, I am looking forward to more Southern Sports Education. It looks like NHL is not as big a deal here as it is back home (shocker!) but I think I will learn a lot about college basketball this season instead. College sports are, in general, a way bigger deal here than up north and I am enjoying gathering new allegiances for teams in the SEC. Rooting for newly discovered teams here has made this feel more like home, and that is something I can definitely cheer for…
But don’t worry, fellow Patriots and citizens of Red Sox Nation: I’m still a Boston fan first, and always!
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