On March 30, the same night the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Houston Rockets 108-97, the hometown team also hosted the second annual Jewish Heritage night, replete with Jewish food, culture and a rock star.
More than 16,000 people came out for the event, which was presented by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. In addition to a post-game concert by Grammy-nominated Matisyahu, the night was chock-full of Jewish-themed extras: kosher catering by Max & David's; a sports exhibit by the National Museum of American Jewish History; a reading by children's book author Deborah Bodin Cohen; and cooking demonstrations by the Israeli-born Michael Solomonov of Zahav restaurant.
Jews came from all over the tri-state area, including groups from area synagogues and JCCs, and the Hillels of Drexel and Temple universities. To commemorate the night, the Sixers created special T-shirts sporting the team's logo and Philadelphia spelled out in Hebrew.
"Jewish Heritage Night is a terrific opportunity for us to bring together fans who may not have experienced Sixers basketball this season, while enjoying some traditional Jewish food and the live performance of Matisyahu, one of the top touring musicians in the country," said Ed Snider, chairman of the 76ers.
Those who attended the game seemed excited to have a special night to watch a sporting event together.
Jason Whitstein, 17, called it "the new Jewish holiday." His friend Jacob Lokoff said, "We came out of a sense of a Jewish pride."
Steve Reich spoke for many when he said, "It was awesome to finally be able to eat at a sporting event." Max & David's, a kosher meat restaurant in Elkins Park, served hot dogs, Italian sausage, veggie burgers, brisket sandwiches, non-dairy gelato and brownies.
Steve Katz, the proprietor of Max & David's, said, "We sold out of the 3,000 meals that we brought to serve. Hundreds of my customers came up to me at the game and begged me to serve food another night." Katz is lobbying for a permanent food stand at the stadium.
Everyone at the Wells Fargo Center stood when Arthur Seltzer from Cherry Hill was honored as this month's hometown hero. Seltzer's infantry division was involved in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in April 29, 1945.
Seltzer, past commander of the Jewish War Veterans of New Jersey, said the recognition was "a very great honor for me to be here in front of such an amazing crowd. The only time I saw so many people is when I was in the Battle of the Bulge. I am not a hero. The real heroes have not come home. They're still over there."
An estimated 4,000 attendees stayed on after the game to hear Matisyahu perform with a back-up band. He played old favorites such as "Jerusalem," "King Without a Crown" and "Darkness into Light."
Teenager Emanuel Korf compared him to reggae legend Bob Marley, wowed by what he called his "incredibly strong voice."
Kat Matchett, 18, who said she has downloaded all of Matisyahu's songs on her iPod, gushed: "His lyrics are spiritual, about real things unlike other singers of today. Katy Perry's 'California Girls' is about getting drunk and having sex on the beach."
Even Solomonov, the James Beard award nominee, is a Matisyahu groupie. The local chef, who prepared Za'atar-spiced lamb with harissa for customers at the Wells Fargo Center's Cadillac Grille, said, "I agreed to participate partially because the chance to shake Matisyahu's hand seemed a pretty exciting thing to do."
Some of the crowd, in a dancing mood after the concert, ended the night by doing the hora in the lobby of the Wells Fargo Center.