I did a double take several weeks ago while watching a college basketball game between Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh. At the top of each Pittsburgh uniform, was a large magen david, Star of David.
I searched the roster, and did not find one Jew, player or coach, on that team. After being moved by this small but gigantic gesture, I emailed the Associate Head Coach, Tim O’Toole. I thanked him for the kind act and expressed the entire Jewish community’s gratitude, from east to west.
Our Torah teaches us that we should not follow a multitude to do evil. It is easy to conform to the majority, however wrong the behavior. Yet, it is courage that it is essential when it is not popular. Religion is not a popularity contest, but it is an acceptance of a code of ethics.
Coach O’Toole responded almost immediately. He wrote, “Rabbi, not only do our uniforms have the Jewish star, but every practice shirt also has the Jewish star. We are approximately 1.5 miles from Tree of Life Synagogue, so that drastic tragedy is very real to all of us.” He then concluded, “I tried my best David and Goliath pre-game speech, but I guess it didn’t work!” That night, Syracuse beat Pittsburgh, but I can tell you who won the real game….. Coach O’Toole and the University of Pittsburgh, going well beyond the letter of the law to state publicly, “We stand with you!”
Just as we must call out the anti-Semitism and the evil we see in the world, so too, each Shabbat, we must proclaim the goodness, the kindness, and the acts of love that are found in the simple star.
Tomorrow evening, Syracuse will play Pittsburgh once more on national TV. Tune in and see what it means when we say, “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and all who hold onto it are happy.”
Let’s go Pitt!