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Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman embraces peacemaking role during basketball game

October 21, 2009 | 12:32 pm

Basketball The set-up is unavoidable.

You know, the one that starts off mentioning that a referee, a coach and a rabbi walk onto a basketball court. The punchline is this isn't a joke .

Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman intervened between the replacement referees and Maccabi Tel Aviv Coach Pini Gershon on Sunday in an exhibition game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Gershon had been ejected but he refused to leave the court.

Enter Grossman, who tried persuading both Gershon to calm down and the referees to reconsider their stance. He then learned it was non-negotiable since two technical fouls result in an automatic ejection.

"This was the first time a rabbi got involved with a game," he said.

Grossman was in Los Angeles on Tuesday when Maccabi continued its tour with an exhibition game against the Clippers. The event raised money for Migdal Ohr, the world's largest orphanage, which Grossman founded in northern Israel in 1972. The organization says it currently houses 7,000 orphaned, abused and underprivileged children.

While he is surprised at the amount of public attention he has received this week, Grossman is pleased that it gives him the opportunity to share how the exhibition games ultimately benefits his orphanage. He briefly spoke with The Times before the Clippers' 108-96 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Luckily for Grossman, he didn't have to intervene this time around... 

What compelled you to intervene between Coach Gershon and the referees?

"I’m a peacemaker. This is for the kids. The kids were watching and I wanted there to be love."

Did you see any carryover from your involvement with Middle Eastern relations?

"People know that I’m a peacemaker. Whether it’s religious or nonreligious, Jews or non-Jews, everything can work out in the end. It all comes from my heart."

What have you said to Gershon following his ejection?

"I said to him. 'Please try today to be OK and don’t go out of your mind. See that everything will be peaceful. The children from Israel and people from all over Israel are watching. I want this to be an example of friendship, not of fighting.' "

What's this week been like with all the attention you have received?

"I come here and feel a different atmosphere. It’s an atmosphere of unity and togetherness. I hope nothing happens here like it did in New York. I talked to the referees and said it’s a game of friendship. It’s not a regular game. It’s a game that becomes friendship for the children. The children are looking and I don’t want them to see a fight. I want them to see peace and togetherness. I asked them to try to make the game a friendship game rather than a regular game. This is special for the children. It’s a festive atmosphere."

What do these two exhibition games do to help your orphanage?

"Just seeing so many people coming for the children makes me feel very excited in New York and here. I think it’s a special atmosphere. There’s so many people coming and caring for the children in Israel that need a place. This helps thousands of children. It makes me very happy."

-- Mark Medina

Photo: Maccabi Tel Aviv Head Coach Pini Gershon, center, refuses to leave the floor after being ejected for a second technical foul during a preseason charity game against the New York Knicks on Sunday. Rabbi Tichak Dovid Grossman, front right, tries to calm down Gershon. Credit: Stephen Chernin / Associated Press