Past Men’s Basketball Captains Honored at Alumni Day Maccabees Game
With his opponents attempting to swat away the basketball, Yeshiva University Maccabees center Shlomo Weissberg dribbled to the basket. “Who’s ready?” Weissberg shouted. Quickly, he passed the ball underhand to a teammate, who made the shot. The two exchanged high-fives.
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Weissberg had to bend down a little. His teammate, Guy Zaibert, was six years old.
Zaibert came to YU’s Wilf Campus with his father, ’97-’98 Macs captain Alon Zaibert, to participate in a unique Alumni Day celebrating past captains of YU’s men’s basketball team. Forty three former captains spanning eight decades gathered at the Max Stern Athletics Center on December 18 to reunite with team members and perennial coach Jonathan Halpert, shoot some hoops, and to be honored at a halftime ceremony during the Macs’ 2 p.m. home game against the St. Joseph’s College Golden Eagles.
“What an incredible opportunity to be able to welcome back to campus more than 50 past players,” said Illana Feiglin, director of alumni affairs. “And then, on top of that, to have the chance to see them interact with their children, grandchildren and in some cases, great-grandchildren, in a space and capacity that was sacred to these men during their time as student-athletes was truly awe-inspiring.”
Before the game, current Macs players took the court to compete in mini 3-on-3 tournaments and shooting contests with team alumni and their families.
“It’s a huge thrill to have my son here,” said the older Zaibert, a software company executive from Atlanta who pushed his flight to Israel back a day so he could attend. During lunch—which featured a screening of “The History of the Macs,” a short documentary about the team—Zaibert shared a table with friend and former teammate Steven Kupferman, captain in ’96-’97, and Kupferman’s 9-year-old son Zev. While their children shared pizza, Zaibert and Kupferman reminisced about their favorite basketball moments.
“Definitely, my favorite game was the one we played in Madison Square Garden for the Eastern College Athletic Conference,” said Zaibert. “Or when we played Baruch College. We won ten seconds from the end.”
“There’s a sense of camaraderie you develop,” explained Kupferman, now a dentist. “I brought it with me to my practice.”
For Shabsi Schreier, ’83-’85 captain, that camaraderie extends to the teams that came before and after his own. On Sunday, he and his wife Julie unveiled an interactive display outside the Melvin J. Furst Gymnasium, featuring the history of the men’s basketball team, lists of past captains and 1,000 point scorers, and information about the current team. “We wanted to show the hemshech ha-dorot, the continuity from past to future,” he said.
Chen Biron, who along with Omer Haim is co-captain of the current team, feels a similar connection. “To hear about this historic event and all the players that were going to be here made me really excited and happy,” he said before Sunday’s game. “We’re going to play hard and make the school and the people in the stands proud.”
Don Geller, captain of the ’48-’49 Macs and the most senior captain in attendance, recalled organizing the Metropolitan Jewish Day School Basketball League with the advisement of then-coach Bernard “Red” Sarachek while still in college. “Red was a great coach,” said Geller. “He’d bring pro-ballers down to train us. We trained once with Red Holzman, coach of the New York Knicks.”
On Sunday, another great coach, Jonathan Halpert, a ’65-’66 Macs captain who has presided over more than 800 games and 40 years of YU basketball, was recognized. In Halpert’s honor, the University will name the basketball court for him at a special tribute to him in the spring. A group of former players are raising money for the Coach Jonathan Halpert Scholarship Fund to help future students attend YU.
“When my guys run on the court, they have ‘Yeshiva’ written across their chests, as we did in our years,” said Halpert. “We are out there representing the Jewish people with class, dignity, skill and sportsmanship, so that when people talk about YU, they can say, ‘Yes, they’re leaders of the Jewish people, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers—and they are basketball players on the collegiate level, too.’ ”
Watching the current Macs take the court against St. Joseph’s College later in the day, David Kufeld, the ’78-’80 captain—and only Maccabee ever drafted to the NBA—put it this way: “Basketball may not be the first thing you think of when you think of Jews, but at YU, it’s a part of our Jewish identity.”
View archived photos shared by former Maccabees here.