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Toronto day school restarts legendary continental basketball tournament

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The TanenbaumCHAT boys basketball team.

What used to be the largest Jewish basketball tournament in North America is making its return to the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (TanenbaumCHAT), after a decade-long hiatus.

The Israel Becker Basketball Tournament was started in 1995, one year after Israel Becker, who graduated TanenbaumCHAT in 1988, died in a car crash. It will run this year from Jan. 20 to 23.

In its heyday in the late 1990s, the tournament attracted 14 teams from all over the continent. But interest in it began declining and after the 2008 tournament, the school decided to cancel the event. Now, after 10 years of dormancy, the tournament will be returning in the same year as Becker’s 25th yahrzeit.

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Last spring, Jonathan Levy, the head of school at TanenbaumCHAT, reached out to the school’s athletic department and a group of alumni who had been involved with the school’s athletics program, to see if any of them would be interested in reviving the tournament. Josh Sugar and Eitan Mammon, two graduates from 1990 who had both played on the basketball team, decided to take it on.

Becker “was a big basketball player.… Eitan and I also played varsity basketball at CHAT and at a young age, you sort of look up to the bigger guys who are older than you. That’s sort of how we remember Israel,” said Sugar. “We thought with both of our kids going to the school, it would be a nice way to give back to: a) the school; and b) the students, who are sort of following in our footsteps.”

The tournament this year will feature nine teams – four girls, five boys – from a total of five schools: TanabaumCHAT and Or Chaim from Toronto; Abraham Joshua Heschel from New York; Bialik from Montreal; and Hapoel Tom from Eilat, Israel. Both the girls and boys teams will play a round robin, which will rank them for the playoff portion of the tournament.

Josh Sugar, left, and Eitan Mammon at TanenbaumCHAT in the 1990s.

Sugar and Mammon said that when they reached out to some schools about participating in the tournament, the schools already had their schedules for the year set. The organizers see the nine teams participating this year as just the beginning and hope to increase the size of the tournament in the future.

“Hopefully this is the start, we get it back up and running to where it was 10, 15 years ago,” said Mammon.

Mammon and Sugar are the main organizers of the tournament, but they want to share the credit as much as possible with the numerous other volunteers and staff who are working to make it happen.

We were pleasantly amazed that within a very short time, the tournament was completely funded.
– Josh Sugar

All of the visiting students will be hosted by TanenbaumCHAT families and the tournament wouldn’t be possible without financial support. The teams pay a small tournament fee, but that does not cover the whole cost of the tournament. Yet with the help of the school, Mammon and Sugar were able to raise the necessary funds from the community.

“We were pleasantly amazed that within a very short time, the tournament was completely funded,” said Sugar. “So what does that tell us? It tells us there is a tremendous appetite from the CHAT alumni and parents and grandparents community to host and restart what was once literally a world-class event.”

Sugar and Mammon are so excited to be organizing the tournament for the students because they remember how much fun their basketball teams had back in the day. That’s why there will also be nighttime events for the different teams to participate in together.

The TanenbaumCHAT girls basketball team.

“It’s always nice to meet kids from different places in the world and that’s what we’re trying to get here,” said Mammon. “Not just ball, but for them to forge relationships with other Jewish teenagers.”

Mammon and Sugar are especially excited for the team from Eilat, who are extending their stay to a week and will be visiting tourist sites such as Niagara Falls.