Jewish Journal

Cornell, basketball and Judaism

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 28, 2010 | 11:33 am

The Kentucky Wildcats have been bounced from the NCAA basketball tourney—and with them my hold on my bracket pool. At least now I don’t have to watch John Calipari boast and wonder whether it was worth the $100 I made.

After today, only the Final Four will remain. The reluctant Jewish hooper John Scheyer may be among the lucky, but the Cornell Bears will not. And that means former Jewish Day star player Eitan Chemerinski won’t either.

Chemerinski, who can solve a Rubik’s cube in a ho-hum two minutes and speaks only four, averaged just 2.7 minutes per game as a freshman this season. At 6’9”, Chemerinski is more Goliath than David. But he’s no Philistine. And it’s safe to say Cornell will have around for another three years.

Why did he choose the Ivy school? The Washington Post explained in a profile last year:

“My parents’ number one priority has been and always will be academics,” said Chemerinski, who speaks three foreign languages (Spanish, French and Hebrew). He has also taken up Mandarin—on his own.

“For him, really there were no other school choices than the Ivies,” Feldman said. “He could have easily played in Division I in many conferences, but it was important for him to get the best education possible.”

In the Chemerinski household, as far as priorities go, basketball is third behind religion and education. When those overlapped, basketball was often forsaken—a big reason he didn’t compete in AAU until last summer.

“For us, to lead an observant Jewish life was limiting from the basketball perspective,” said Debbie Chemerinski, Eitan’s mother. “The main reason why he never played [AAU] basketball [growing up] was because joining any of those leagues meant competing on Fridays and Saturdays.”

Though the Ivy League is defined by it’s unique back-to-back weekly schedule of games on Fridays and Saturdays. So I guess Chemerinski isn’t Orthodox. Few Jewish athletes are.


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