December 9th, 2007 By Jonah Sandford | News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Chanukah With The Blazers!

     
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In a press release for tonight's "Chanukah Jewish Celebration Night" at the Rose Garden, Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, one of the event's organizers, is quoted as saying "It seems almost miraculous to bring professional basketball together with Chanukah."
When I first read that a few days ago, I though maybe the words were a little extreme. But now I'm not so sure. For example, I don't think too many people showing up at the Rose Garden for this afternoon's game between the Blazers and the Milwaukee Bucks could have expected to see this when they walked through the gates:
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The dance party and the rest of the celebration was organized by Chabad of Oregon, a statewide Jewish educational organization. Rabbi Wilhelm told me the group organized the event as part of an effort "to connect with Jewish people who are in different places, to find the young jews where they are."
Along with the dancing there was a menorah lighting and an education table set up in the Rose Garden's south concourse before the game.
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Things in the concourse settled down a little during the game, which the Blazers won in a 117-113 overtime thriller (if you stopped paying attention after the Blazers lost 9 of 10 games over the last few weeks, you might want to get back on board. They've won 3 in a row). Then the celebration moved to the Plywood Room in the basement of Memorial Coliseum for the "Young Adult Chanukah Party," where there were latkes, jelly doughnuts, a no-host bar, and these guys playing music:
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The crowd did seem really excited about the event. Several people came over to me (I may have looked a little lost) and introduced themselves, asked if I was Jewish, offering lots of "Happy Hannukahs," and in general were just really, really friendly. I made one mistake when I offered to shake hands with the first woman I met--she politely informed me that she didn't shake hands with men--but otherwise everything was pretty smooth.
After a few minutes of stuffing our faces, Blazer backup center Raef LaFrentz showed up. The NBA journeyman (who, for the record, is not Jewish) signed autographs and then had a little question and answer session with the crowd, fielding questions about what time NBA players get up in the morning (they get to the gym at 9:30 or so) and what it was like to guard Shaquille O'Neal (Raef said he thought O'Neal had lost some explosiveness, and when someone asked if he thought Shaq would turn it up as the season went on, he replied "I don't think he can do that anymore").
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Rabbi Wilhelm then led LaFrentz over to a small menorah and had him light a candle, and Wilhelm gave an overview of the holiday and led the crowd in song. LaFrentz looked a little bewildered, but the crowd loved him. After the lighting ceremony he signed a couple more autographs and took off.
Chabad's strategy of trying to connect with young people was starting to work on me. Besides the free food, overwhelming friendliness of everyone there, and the chance to be up close to a Blazer player, someone gave me my new favorite t-shirt:
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It says "Trail Blazers" in Hebrew!

 
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