On the eve of another end to March Madness, The Great Rabbino wanted to do something special. So we caught up with Jewish basketball player Ron Garber. Not only is Ron a great guy, and very active in the Twin Cities Jewish community, but he used to play basketball at Michigan, a team that played in the NCAA National Championship last night.
The Great Rabbino: Tell TGR a little bit about yourself.
Ron Garber: I was born and raised in Golden Valley, MN and am a dual American/Israeli citizen. I was a late-grower and was actually cut from my high school basketball team (Hopkins, a powerhouse basketball school in Minnesota) as a senior. I spent the next two years working out like mad, and then accomplished my dream of walking on to the Michigan basketball team for my junior and senior years.
TGR: What was your experience playing at Michigan like?
RG: It was amazing and changed the trajectory of my life. More than anything else, it made me such a better basketball player. I used to play in a Minneapolis-area summer league that all of the local D-3 guys played in, and the summer before I walked on, I was one of the better bigs in the league, but fit in. I came back the next summer after a year of playing against Michigan-level competition and really dominated the league. It was awesome.
It also gave me the opportunity to meet kids with totally different backgrounds than my own and kind of expand my horizons. I became really tight with the guys I played with, and those relationships continue to mean a lot to me.
TGR: Who was the best player you ever played with or against?
[Former Gopher and Timberwolf] Bobby Jackson
. In the summers we used to play pick-up games with him, and it was usually my group of friends against his. We couldn’t ever win because whenever we would get to 9 or whatever, he would just turn it on and take over; and he was unstoppable. I played with and against a lot of good players between my college team and the Howard Pulley pro-am league in St. Paul, but no one could flip that switch like he could.
TGR: Did you continue playing ball after your Michigan days?
RG: I played professionally in Israel for a year after graduating and then came back to the US and played — and continue to play — in leagues, pick-up ball, whatever. I play less than I used to now that I’m getting a little older, and am more into biking, yoga, etc., but I still play in a bunch of pick-up games and in the Minneapolis lawyers league. An old teammate at Michigan just moved to the Twin Cities so I’m sure I’ll play more now.
TGR: What was your Jewish life like growing up? And today?
Because of the Israeli influence in my family, growing up, my Jewish identity was always more about Israel than about spirituality or religion. I always went to Jewish summer camp though (TEKO
in the Twin Cities, and then OSRUI
in Wisconsin) and would visit family in Israel every year or two. I was also pretty active in my synagogue youth group. The best basketball game of my career was the championship game of my ‘Jew-ball league’ my senior year of high school, and it’s the only game in my life that I remember my stat line from. 35 points and 18 rebounds, according to my dad’s box score.
Today my Judaism is still about Israel, and I am very active in organizations focused on the peace process. I’ve been a counselor at Seeds of Peace
the past two summers and am the chair of the Minnesota chapter of J Street
, two organizations that are both focused on making peace, albeit in different ways (J Street is focused on the politics, Seeds of Peace is focused on the people).
TGR: We heard a rumor that you make your own ice cream. Is that true?
RG: Yes! I make some mean ice cream — passionfruit-habanero, apples and honey, and maple-pecan (made with maple syrup tapped from trees on the Seeds of Peace camp) are probably my signature flavors. Look for my ice cream truck/shop (Called either FrozenChozen’s (my nickname at Michigan) or Matok, which means ‘sweet’ in Hebrew) in the next 10-15 years!
TGR: What are you up to these days?
Today I’m a corporate/M&A lawyer at Fredrikson & Byron
in Minneapolis, and try to do what I can — mostly through J Street and Seeds of Peace — to affect the peace process from where I live in Minneapolis. I also hopelessly follow the Minnesota Timberwolves (next year is our year; I said that last year too).
TGR: Anything else you’d like to share?
RG: Michigan 81 – Louisville 74.