This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.
(JTA) — After a crushing loss last year in the state championship round of 16 to Caprock Academy, the Denver Jewish Day School boys’ basketball team began the 2022-23 season hungrier than ever and ready to prove themselves. That drive paid off in March when the Tigers became Class 1A state champions, the first-ever crown for the pluralistic Jewish community K-12 day school.
But to get there, they had to pull off a 15-point comeback against the reigning state champions, battle through antisemitism on and off the court and travel more than an hour and a half each way for their final three games.
Winning the state championship was not only a monumental moment for the school, but it was also only the third time ever that a Jewish day school had won its state basketball championship.
The Tigers dominated the regular season, ending with a 22-3 record and becoming the number two ranked team behind the Belleview Christian Bruins. Going into the playoffs, the Tigers were on the lookout for the Bruins, who had delivered them one of their few regular-season losses. However, during the playoffs, the Tigers outplayed the Bruins twice in both the district and state championships, delivering Belleview their only two losses of the season and securing the championship.
Last year’s playoff loss against Caprock Academy, located 250 miles west of Denver, only provided them with more motivation. “We had a four-hour bus ride home of pure sadness and anger” on the way home, said starter Andrew Zimmerman, 18. “Everyone except the seniors were back in the gym the very next day to start getting ready for this season.” With a starting five composed of four seniors and one junior, everyone on the team knew that, for many of them, this was their last chance to win the state championship.
To add to this pressure, several players on the team experienced antisemitism from fans and players during the tournament. Some were called slurs, while others found posts on social media complaining that the game was moved because of the team’s Sabbath observance and saying that they should be forced to forfeit instead. However, the Tigers ignored what people were saying and focused on what they were best at: playing basketball.
The two other Jewish schools that have won their basketball state championships were Shalhevet, an Orthodox Jewish high school of about 260 students in Los Angeles that won the California women’s Division IV basketball state championship only a few days before the Tigers, and the Yavneh Academy of Dallas, a Modern Orthodox school, whose boys’ basketball team won the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools’ 3A title in 2020.
Winning the state championship as a Jewish day school is “just incredible for the whole Jewish community, and the fact that it’s so rare for it to happen makes it even more special,” said Coach Michael Foonberg. “There’s also a stereotype of [there being very few good] Jewish athletes. And you can overcome that with hard work and commitment and dedication. To stay the course and do it with this Jewish school and being Jewish myself, it was something that I just dreamed about, and to fulfill it is just incredible.”
Jews value athletic achievement as a statement of minority pride, according to Howard Megdal, a Jewish sports writer who covers basketball and specifically women’s sports, especially if a team wins a championship. “It is always significant, particularly in athletics, to see Jewish people excel,” he said. “At a time of rising antisemitism, this is especially important to the Jewish people.”
For DJDS, winning was about more than just bringing a trophy back to Denver. They were playing for something bigger than themselves.“Winning is just such a big accomplishment, and it’s something that we did for our school and for the Jewish community,” said starter Jonathan Noam, 17. “In the huddle, we always break it with ‘Mishpacha’ [family] because that’s the idea that we play with in our heads. DJDS is like one big mishpacha, along with the Jewish community in Denver. Everybody knows each other. Everybody is so tight-knit. It’s like we’re one big family. [We won] it for everybody.”
Fans and team members worried that DJDS would not be able to compete in the Colorado High School Activities Association’s state championship tournament due to the team’s Sabbath observance. However, according to Josh Lake, the athletic director of DJDS, “The changes to the tournament this year were in place for well over a decade. [CHSAA Associate Commissioner Bethany Brookens] and I meet yearly to make sure the accommodations are kosher for the particular season based on when the tournament is scheduled.”
Recently, the state association has been much more accommodating of DJDS’s Sabbath observance. “CHSAA respected the fact that we were Jewish and that we keep Shabbos and are not allowed to play on Shabbos,” said Noam. The team was able to play games typically scheduled for late Friday or Saturday afternoon on Friday afternoon and Saturday night, so the team could avoid violating the Sabbath.
According to Brookens, the Sabbath accommodations for DJDS have “been in place and communicated well before this year.”
While CHSAA respected the team’s Sabbath observance, fans and parents of opposing players were unhappy with the scheduling changes and expressed antisemitic sentiments against the team from the stands and on social media, according to starter Gavin Foonberg, son of Coach Foonberg, 18, and starter Elan Schinagel, 17. “We always run into [antisemitism]. It happened in the playoffs against McClave. “There were some people calling our fans ‘dirty Jews,’” said Schinagel, “You just have to be the bigger person when that type of stuff happens. It happens generally once or twice a season.”
Fellow starter Gavin Foonberg also experienced antisemitism at the tournament. “After we beat McClave, there was a bunch of talk, all over Twitter and CHSAA Instagram, about how [DJDS] is cheating because we had the game moved back farther because we can’t play on Shabbat,” he said. The team also experienced antisemitism during the regular season at a game against Lyons. “At Lyons, there definitely was [antisemitism]. [The fans] called our JV team “K*kes” at one point.”
DJDS prepares the players to deal with antisemitism. According to school policy, if they encounter antisemitism, they are taught to tell their coach or a school administrator immediately. “It’s not a great feeling knowing that we have to prepare for that, but it is a good feeling knowing that our kids know what to do,” said Assistant Coach Matan Halzel.
Despite the protocol, the athletic director of DJDS, Josh Lake, did not receive any reports of antisemitism directly. “No one has shared with me any [reports of ] antisemitic behavior at the district, regional, or state tournament this year,” he said. One of the players only discussed the antisemitic experiences he witnessed within the team and said he did not report it because he was used to such behavior.
Officials at McClave said that no one had contacted them about any alleged antisemitism. ”No one from the Denver Jewish Day School contacted myself or any other administrator during or after the tournament, so this is the first I am hearing of any issues,” said Maggie Pacino, principal of McClave. However, ”Had I or any other school administrator heard such comments we would have immediately dealt with those involved.”
Administrators at Lyons said they could not comment on the specifics of the antisemitic incident reported by Tigers players due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, even though that federal privacy law only covers personal information on a student’s record. “What I can share with you is that whenever our school receives a report of conduct outside of the very high standards we hold for our students, we conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate disciplinary action as necessary,” said Christopher Frank, principal of Lyons.
Tiger center Zimmerman said an adult fan supporting McClave walked past and called him a “dirty f–cking Jew.” A DJDS fan who saw it happen told him that the man had been saying similar things the entire game. Zimmerman did not respond to the comment and walked away.
Notwithstanding the antisemitism, the state championship win is still a bright spot for the Jewish community and a huge win for Jewish athletes around the nation.
The win “is history and is something that you’ll never forget,” said Halzel. “It’s etched in stone. We have a trophy, we have a banner, we have a signed ball that’s already in the trophy case. These are memories that will never be taken away from us.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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