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Ball Player Attributes His Life Course to the Skills God Gave Him

July 16, 2009 By:
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Tamir Goodman (center) imparts his athletic know-how to campers (from left) Jordan Jacobson, Isaac Levy, Josh Hirth, Eitan Miller and Andrew Wald. Photo by Greg Bezanis

On most days, Tamir Goodman -- once dubbed the "Jewish Jordan"-- was spending six hours or so on the outdoor courts with the campers, pushing them to their limits in drills and intense scrimmages.

But there were no rebounds or layups on July 9, the 17th of Tammuz, which is the traditional fast day that marks the three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B'Av.

Instead, the 27-year-old Goodman was dabbling about the bucolic Haverford College campus. He was winding down his two-week stint as the resident coach of Yesh Shabbat -- a program for Modern Orthodox teenagers from around the country -- which is one of more than two dozen camps run by Main Line owner/director Julian Krinsky.

The 6-foot, 3-inch Goodman was preparing to drive to his inlaws' home in Cleveland, where his wife was due to give birth to their third child. (He made it; two days later, they had a baby girl, Tiferet Chana.)

Ten years ago, Goodman was considered one of the top high school basketball prospects in the country; many thought that the Shabbat-observant young man was headed for the NCAA, and possibly the NBA. His name and image were splashed all over the Jewish press, but even in publications such as Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post.

The Baltimore-area native was offered a scholarship to play for the top-tier University of Maryland team. But because the school didn't schedule its games around Shabbat, said Goodman, he wound up attending and playing for the lesser-known Towson State, also in Maryland. He left after a year, following what he said was a falling-out with the coach.

For Goodman, the incident was "a way for Hashem to tell me it was time to go to Israel."

So he moved there, served in the Israel army, and in 2002 was signed by Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel's basketball powerhouse.

But he never quite made it to the top level of Israeli ball. Two years ago, he joined the Maccabi Haifa Heat; injuries have kept him from getting in much time.

"Three times already, the doctors told me I'd never play again -- and I've come back," he said.

He acknowledged that the latest setback, a badly broken hand, has probably ended his professional career. Since the injury, he's worked full-time for Haifa Hoops for Kids, a group sponsored by the Haifa Heat team and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, N.J., which promotes the game here and in Israel.

This summer, the Israeli organization sent him to Jewish camps around the United States to promote the sport among American Jewish youth, he said. After spending several weeks in Ohio with his wife, Judy, and their newborn, Goodman plans to coach at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, among other camps.

Living the Dream

Goodman, who's made his new home in Zichron Ya'akov, near Haifa, is philosophical about his ups and downs.

He said that everything happens for a reason, and that the decade since high school has provided him with experiences that enable him to teach others. He also said he has fulfilled his dream, playing pro-ball in Israel; to him, it's immaterial whether others think he lived up to expectations.

"Hashem has given me basketball as a skill to inspire others. Through basketball, I can teach kids about Jewish pride, about hard work and about discipline, about reaching your dreams, about being positive and selfless, about dedication and self-confidence," said Goodman.

He said that he especially enjoyed teaching at Yesh, a six-year-old program where he's spent two weeks the last three summers. It offers Orthodox kids a range of programs, including cooking, fashion design and tennis. About half of the 80 youth this particular season chose the basketball track, noted Krinsky.

As Goodman prepared to move on last week, some of the young ballplayers offered emotional farewells.

Isaac Levy, a 15-year-old from Boston, said that Goodman was as much a role model off the court as on, showing that it's possible to succeed in sports while following Jewish tradition.

"His lifestyle encompasses spiritual growth and a relationship with God, as well as basketball," said the teen.

Goodman didn't talk too much about his future plans. He's been taking college courses online, and is about to graduate with a communications degree, he said.

Whatever he does, he promised that he won't be too far from the game he loves.

"Basketball," he said, "is a tool to bring light to the world."

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