Cheers for "The Israeli" at Warriors' Jewish Heritage Night

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Basketball and Jews? Truly not a connection that comes naturally to mind. But as the Golden State Warriors celebrated Jewish Heritage Night on Wednesday, Jewish fans had an extra reason to turn out - Omri Caspi, the first Israeli in the NBA, was playing for the visiting team.

"Are you rooting for the Warriors or the Kings?" I asked a fan, sitting in the section for Camp Tawonga, a residential Jewish summer camp near Yosemite. She grinned, then replied "I'm rooting for the Israeli!" Indeed, Caspi started the game as the Sacramento Kings' highest scorer, then flatlined for the rest of their 130-98 loss to the Warriors. But that didn't stop Jewish fans from holding their breath every time he approached the basket.

"I go to all the Giants' Jewish Heritage Nights," fan Lisa Halperin said, "so of course I had to go to the Warriors'. I'm excited about seeing the Israeli, whose name I don't know, play for the Sacramento Kings." Halperin watched the game from the Camp Tawonga section with her daughter Molly, a longtime Tawonga camper and staff member.

Indeed, the entire Jewish community was out in force on Wednesday, taking over several sections of a spottily-filled Oracle Arena. Over 1,000 tickets were sold through affiliated Jewish organizations, according to the clerk passing out free kosher hot dogs, and groups like Camp Tawonga and Camp Newman passed out literature behind tables.

The stands were filled with Jews from every part of the Bay Area community. From Chabad to summer camp, from Orthodox synagogues to the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, many wore the free Jewish Heritage Night T-shirts, and all were excited about "the Israeli."

The halftime show featured the JCHS hip-hop dance team, which delivered a short but memorable performance. Dressed in black sweatpants and assorted colorful sweatshirts, the team generally stayed in sync, and the show was certainly punchy. After the dance team finished, the "Rally Rabbi" blew his shofar to inspire the fans, drawing an incredulous look from the otherwise-chipper MC.

The game itself was a sensory experience. During the various timeouts and between quarters, the Warriors ran all sorts of promotions. My personal favorite involved the promotion team loading T-shirts into pneumatic guns, and shooting them into the stands. The team also ran up and down the stands delivering free pizzas, and helping with races and contests between fans on the court.

The breaks also featured the "Flying W's," who jumped off a trampoline and performed acrobatic tricks while dunking basketballs, and the Warrior Girls, who performed multiple synchronized dance routines. But the most impressive was the Junior Jam Squad, ranging from toddlers to early teenagers, who shocked the crowd with their perfectly-executed dance routine. Had it been performed by professional dancers, it still would have been impressive, but such a performance was simply improbably from such a young troupe, and remarkably entertaining.

But the highlight of the night was the massive number of Jews in attendance, from such a wide variety of organizations. Omri Caspi is clearly a source of communal pride, and 1,000 Jews were excited enough to come out and celebrate their Jewish heritage.

EBAC thanks the Warriors for access to the Jewish Heritage Night game.

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