(JTA) — Dylan Geller has taken great pride in his work as a student manager of Duke University’s men’s basketball team since landing the gig as a freshman in 2019. But things felt different this season, and not just because the Blue Devils had a new head coach, Jon Scheyer, after 42 years under the legendary Mike Krzyzewski.
“Coach Scheyer is such a role model to me, being a young Jewish man myself with aspiring hopes and dreams in basketball,” said Geller, a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Seeing him do it so successfully, he’s definitely been a big inspiration.”
Starting Thursday night, Scheyer, 35, will lead the Blue Devils through the head-spinning Division I tournament known as March Madness, which raked in an average 10.7 million TV viewers per game last year. Ranked No. 5 in its division, Duke will face off against the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts University, an evangelical Christian school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
If the Blue Devils go all the way in this year’s Division I tournament — as the team has done five times in the past, most recently in 2015 — Scheyer would be the first Jewish coach to do so in more than seven decades. (Nat Holman led the City College of New York to an NCAA championship in 1950, when only eight teams competed.) He would also be only the sixth Jewish men’s basketball coach ever to reach the Final Four.
Scheyer is ending his first season as Duke’s head coach with a 26-8 record, becoming the most successful first-year coach in the school’s history.
Duke students are famous for their fandom, earning the moniker “Cameron Crazies” from their antics in the stands of their school’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. But for Duke’s substantial population of Jewish students, faculty and graduates, the intensity is heightened by knowing that the most influential figure on the Durham, North Carolina, campus is a fellow Jew.
“At Duke, these people are celebrities,” said Sophie Barry, a former president of the Jewish Student Union who graduated last May. “It’s a national stage, people are watching them on ESPN all over the place, and they’re just walking around on our campus. It’s such a big deal. And as Jewish people, we can’t help getting all excited when a celebrity is Jewish.”
So devoted to basketball that he made the sport his bar mitzvah theme, Scheyer earned the nickname “Jewish Jordan” when he was growing up in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Illinois. (Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Cubs during Scheyer’s childhood there, after winning a national title for Duke’s rivals, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.) He led his high school team — with an all-Jewish starting lineup — to a state championship in 2005.
Scheyer then played for the Blue Devils from 2007 to 2010, helping the team win two ACC championships and one NCAA title. A history major, he also volunteered in a literacy program and starred in an improv group’s video in which he bikes to the campus Hillel, wears a tallit and spins a dreidel. After a devastating eye injury thwarted Scheyer’s ambitions in the NBA, he obtained Israeli citizenship and played one ultimately disappointing season for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I felt proud to be Jewish living in Israel, and you realize there’s not a lot of Jews in the world, and that only strengthened my beliefs,” Scheyer said during a conversation with Jewish students in 2015, shortly after he returned to Duke as a member of the coaching staff.
Scheyer was picked for the top coaching spot last year, taking on the daunting job of succeeding Krzyzewski, known as “Coach K,” who built a dynasty in the world of college basketball. Along with guiding the Blue Devils to five national championships, Krzyzewski amassed a total of 1,202 head coaching victories in his 47-year career — 42 of those at Duke — achieving a record in NCAA history.
Scheyer has already made his own mark, bringing the team into March Madness with a nine-game winning streak and celebrating a coveted title in his debut season. On Saturday, he led Duke to a 59-49 victory over Virginia in the ACC tournament championship, becoming the third first-year coach to win the title and the first ever to claim it as both a player and a coach.
He appears to be optimistic about his team’s chances. Scheyer’s assistant declined an interview request, saying this week, “We are leaving for Orlando and hopefully will be gone for the next few weeks at the NCAA Tournament. We can circle back after the season.” Scheyer had previously not responded to multiple requests for interviews.
Of the 363 Division I men’s basketball programs, 10 currently have Jewish head coaches, according to the Coaches Database.
“I feel like he’s someone that a lot of kids like me — even outside of Duke — who love sports can really look up to. Because there’s not a lot of Jewish representation, in terms of coaches like that,” said Geller.
The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame honored Scheyer as Jewish athlete of the year once while he was in high school and again in college. But Scheyer has indicated that he is ambivalent about being a Jewish sports icon.
“I always wanted to be recognized as a great basketball player. I always wanted a kid to look up to me because of who I was as a person and then my basketball skills, not because I was Jewish,” he said at the Jewish life event in 2015. “But I figured … if it was a cool thing that I was Jewish on top of respecting my game and the way I played and who I was, then I was all for that.”
Asked whether he would play a game that fell on Yom Kippur — an unlikely event given when the basketball season falls — Scheyer’s answer came quickly.
“I would never turn down a game,” he said. “I know that’s not a good thing to say but it’s the truth.”
Duke has about 15,000 students, and about 1,700 of them this year are Jewish, according to student newspaper The Chronicle. The school is home to multiple Jewish centers, including the Freeman Center for Jewish Life that is home to the campus Hillel; the Center for Jewish Studies academic department, and a thriving Chabad that last year inaugurated a new, 24,000-square-foot building.
At the school’s Chabad, some basketball fans call themselves the “Chabad Crazies,” according to Chabad Rabbi Nossen Fellig. “They’re all crazy about their basketball,” he said.
Throughout the weeks — yes, weeks — leading up to Duke’s games against major rivals, hundreds of students sleep in tents outside the Cameron Indoor Stadium on a patch of grass known as Krzyzewskiville, or K-Ville, in hopes of snagging tickets.
Barry was among those who endured dozens of frigid winter nights for a Duke-UNC game last season. (The teams split their outings during the regular season, then met again in the Final Four, when the Tar Heels ended Krzyzewski’s coaching career to go on to the final game.)
“It was six whole weeks,” Barry said. “You have to take two different tests about your Duke basketball knowledge — one on the current team and one on Duke basketball history — to determine whether or not you get a tent and what order you will sit in when you get into the stadium.”
While saying that Coach K was “the GOAT,” Barry was thrilled when Scheyer took his place. Before he was named the successor, Barry met the new coach during Hanukkah of 2020, when Scheyer appeared at a virtual menorah lighting for students secluded at home in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Coach Scheyer got on and did this whole Q&A — from questions about how he celebrated Hanukkah growing up and celebrating it now with his two kids, to questions about whether he preferred sour cream or applesauce. It was a really cute event to lift the spirits during such a hard time,” Barry recalled. (Scheyer and his wife Marcelle, a nurse, have since added James to big siblings Noa and Jett.)
Joyce Gordon, director of Jewish life at Duke, said she has heard giddiness at the campus Hillel about the coach’s identity.
“Many Jewish students definitely have a sense of pride that Coach Scheyer is ‘one of us,’” said Gordon.
Fellig described Scheyer as a “mensch” and “dear friend to the Jewish community.” One summer before the pandemic, the coach requested Fellig’s help arranging kosher meals for a group of players that he was training in Israel. And at a recent Jewish event on campus, he brought a surprise.
“He surprised the students by giving them tickets to the game the next day, which was a pretty big game,” said Fellig. “He saved everyone the line — they would have had to wait for many hours.”
Geller, who hopes to clinch a job in an NBA front office after graduation, was high-spirited about his team’s March Madness prospects under Scheyer’s lead.
“The team has great momentum,” he said. “But the most exciting part is in the locker room [after the ACC tournament], they were all talking about [how] we’ve got to forget about this win tomorrow, because we don’t want to fall in the trap of being too excited. So I think they have a great mindset and great leadership.”
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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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