Jewish Groups Get in on March Madness Excitement


The phrase “there is method to my madness” certainly can’t be applied to the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

Between University of Maryland-Baltimore County knocking top seed University of Virginia out of the tournament in the first round (with the entertaining Twitter feed to go with it) and underdogs like Syracuse and Buffalo stealing victories every which way, it’s safe to guess that your bracket is probably busted.

But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been fun.

As the tournament heads into the Elite 8, Jewish groups have joined the madness with fundraisers and community activities.

A group of about 30 students gathered at Penn Hillel throughout the early afternoon on March 15 to watch and cheer on their Quakers as they played against Kansas.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t give the students the results they were hoping for, as Penn lost admirably to the Wildcats 76-60, but it united them for a common cause.

“It’s been super exciting and just something that’s pretty unusual,” admitted Penn Hillel co-President Jennifer Reiss of the school’s athletic success, “but they have an amazing team this year so they definitely deserve to be in it.”

Students can continue to cheer on other teams — about 40 students created brackets with the hopes of coming out victorious to win a $36 Amazon gift card and other prizes.

Reiss, a junior studying economics, has Michigan winning it all — she was a bit biased, she admitted, since her brother went there — but for her, the important thing was that the bracket and the watch party, despite the results, brought the students together and through Hillel’s doors.

“I’ve always been athletic, that’s one thing I’m trying to incorporate more into Jewish life and Hillel life,” Reiss said. “Sports in general tend to bring communities together and it’s just a great feeling to be part of something that’s bigger … and [it’s] one time you can be rooting for the same team and all be watching together.

“Especially since Penn was in it, it was another way to get people who might not necessarily even do anything with Hillel, it was another doorway to get them in,” she added.

Main Line Reform Temple borrowed the overall theme for its “Mitzvah Madness” fundraiser event March 17, benefiting its Early Childhood Education school.

About 140 guests played beer pong, cornhole and other tailgate-inspired games and activities, while some of the night’s basketball matches were broadcast on a big screen.

There were also raffles and a silent auction while box pools were sold ahead of the event, which raised a little more than $20,000, according to event co-chair Stacy Steinberg.

“I’m looking forward to bringing the community together on a Saturday night at the temple and having them have a good time,” said Missy Horrow, director of Early Childhood Education, ahead of the event. “I often say I don’t care if they raise money, which I shouldn’t say, but they do; it’s more about the building of the community.”

The theme came about as Steinberg was brainstorming ideas with co-chairs Casey and Andrew Shechtman and Michele Pesin; Steinberg’s husband Henry, also an event co-chair, pointed out the fundraiser fell during March Madness.

“It really encouraged the men to come to the event,” Steinberg laughed.

Incorporating the mitzvah piece was especially important.

“This is a great opportunity for us to give back,” said Steinberg, who has a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old in the school. In addition to benefiting the school, a portion of the proceeds will be given to Save the Children, an international organization that provides relief and services to children, from school supplies to clean drinking water.

Giving back is a stronghold of the Steinberg family; she explained that they don’t do traditional Chanukah or birthday gifts for their children, instead encouraging them to give to a charity or volunteer. Her daughter, for instance, donated to Cradles to Crayons — a nonprofit that provides items for children in poverty — for her birthday last year.

The fundraiser was a way to continue that — as well as a night to have fun and play pong.

“Missy Horrow is amazing because she’s supportive of everything I do,” Steinberg added, “and also feels strongly that one of the greatest mitzvahs we can teach our children is to help those in need — and why shouldn’t the parents have some fun while raising the money?”

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