Tanenbaum remembers Jewish roots as he hoists NBA championship trophy

A "Jewrassic Park" community viewing party on Thursday night. (Oren Kats photo)

It was an exciting moment – a moment with the eyes of the world upon him –when Toronto Raptors co-owner Larry Tanenbaum lifted the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy and shouted, “Hagbah.”

The Hebrew word likely passed unnoticed by most of the people watching – if they could hear it at all over the din of the celebrations – but those with a keen ear and an understanding of Jewish tradition would have recognized it as a reference to the honour of hoisting the Torah after it is read.

For Tanenbaum, chair of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Raptors, the smile beaming on his face told the story. It was an honour, a pleasure, a relief, a feeling of tremendous accomplishment and a dream come true all rolled into one.

Fans from across Canada made the Raptors their own, holding viewing parties at arenas, in private residences and, of course, in public streets across the country.

At Holy Blossom Temple in midtown Toronto, about 40 people of all ages gathered in the synagogue’s atrium to watch the game on a 10-foot screen.

Dubbed “Jewrassic Park,” a take on the public viewing area known as Jurassic Park in downtown Toronto, the event created a sense of community and had a great atmosphere, said Tema Smith, the synagogue’s director of community engagement.

People munched on finger foods and lounged on the couches and chairs set up in the atrium as they watched the Raptors hold on to win the championship, four games to two.

“We wanted to encourage people to see it as their living rooms for the night,” Smith said. “It’s rare to do something purely based on community and fun, so we did it. It was a really fun event.”

There was also plenty of tension and anxiety as the clock wound down to 0.9 seconds, and the celebrations were delayed as the referees consulted on one last-second foul.

In the end, when it was official, “there was yelling, but maybe less profanity than you’d get at a bar,” said Smith. “People were out of their seats.”

And when Tanenbaum lifted the trophy, there was a real sense of community pride, “even though he’s a member of Beth Tzedec,” she quipped.

Some of the people that gathered to watch the Toronto Raptors game in “Jewrassic Park” last night. (Oren Kats photo)

Meanwhile, about 300 people attended another Jewish community viewing party held at the Promenade Mall in Vaughan, Ont., just north of Toronto.

The event was originally supposed to be held outdoors at a private residence, but was moved indoors when the weather forecast called for rain and thunder, said Lea Hoffman, one of the event organizers.

“We wanted to recreate Jurassic Park that was in downtown Toronto, but for the Thornhill community,” she said.

People of all ages attended, including a good number of non-Jews, and “the atmosphere was epic. I’m still in shock that they won. It really brought the community together,” said Hoffman.

When the final buzzer sounded, “nobody could believe it. It was very surreal,” she added.

Money raised at the event will support Israel-based charity Shalva, which provides care to people with disabilities.

Attendees were also abuzz about the rumour that Tanenbaum planned to take the team to Israel, Hoffman said, referring to a JTA media report.

Citing Israel’s Sport 5, JTA reported that “during a low-key visit to Israel in April, Tanenbaum told several people he met in the Jewish state that ‘If we win the NBA championship, I will come with the Toronto Raptors to visit the Holy Land.’ ”


A source in Toronto confirmed Tanenbaum is exploring a group trip to Israel for the team.