Migdal Ohr hopes to score with hoops event
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Migdal Ohr hopes to score with hoops event

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Tel Aviv’s Maccabi Electra played a sold-out game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2007 to raise money for the Israeli charity Migdal Ohr. The Electra return to the Garden on Oct. 18. Migdal Ohr

Tel Aviv’s Maccabi Electra basketball team returns to Madison Square Garden later this month for a showdown with the New York Knicks to raise money for the Israeli charity Migdal Ohr.

The teams first met in 2007 for an exhibition game before a sold-out crowd of 18,000. The Knicks dominated, outscoring the Israelis112-87, but so many thousands turned out in support of the Israeli team that the Garden looked like the Maccabi Electra’s home court. Now the Israelis are coming back, but to play for charity and not revenge.

Migdal Ohr, which means “tower of light,” is the world’s largest orphanage, said Robert Katz, executive vice president of American Friends of Migdal Ohr, which is organizing the exhibition. The Israeli organization serves 6,500 children annually, he said, with 1,500 living in its Galilee complex. With an operating budget of $25 million, the staff of 800 serves 15,000 meals a day and runs programs for children from 1-month-old to post-high school age.

“It’s a massive youth village,” said Katz, who lives in New Milford.

Katz credited Migdal Ohr’s founder, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, for the organization’s growth. In 1968 Grossman moved to the Lower Galilee town of Migdal Ha’Emek, which had been created in 1953 as a development town for Jewish immigrants from North Africa. Crime was rampant because of a shortage of jobs and insufficient schooling.

Grossman became known as “the Disco Rabbi” because he frequently visited the town’s youth at discos and pubs. He became chief rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek in 1969 and in 1972 he opened Migdal Ohr Educational Center.

The accolades have poured in for Grossman and his organization. In 1983, he received the Love of Israel award from then-President Chaim Herzog, and in 1991, Migdal Ohr was called the best educational network in Israel for the past 10 years.

Next week, Grossman will receive the International Humanitarian of the Year award from The Caring Institute and be inducted into the Caring Hall of Fame in Washington. He will be the first Israeli to either receive the award or be inducted.

“This is the Mother Teresa of the Jewish people,” Katz said.

The Israeli government provides roughly $15 million to the charity, leaving it to raise the rest. The 2007 Garden game raised $1.2 million in one night, which Katz called “glorious,” especially considering the Garden asked for Migdal Ohr to pay only for the event costs instead of exorbitant rental fees.

“That’s unheard of in today’s economy,” he said. “It’s a fabulous message.”

Before the Maccabi Electra and the Knicks take the court, the varsity basketball team from The Frisch School in Paramus will face off against the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway. After hearing of Migdal Ohr’s plans to return to the Garden, Frisch parent Eli Davidoff suggested the match-up to Katz.

“It’s a great charity event where the kids have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in the Garden,” Davidoff said.

Rabbi Eli Ciner, Frisch’s assistant principal, said the administration was excited the kids would be able to learn about Migdal Ohr in the process.

“Additionally,” he said, “every kid who is involved in basketball has the dream of hitting a game-winning shot in the Garden. Hopefully this will allow one of our students the opportunity to make that shot.”

For more information on the game, call (212) 397-3700.

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