Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman has been an unabashed Philadelphia 76ers fan for more than four decades, ever since his father, Rabbi Marshall Maltzman, brought home the team’s coach — and one of the greatest Jewish basketball players of all time — Dolph Schayes, for a Passover Seder. At the time, Sixers-Celtics was one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. Philadelphians loved Wilt Chamberlain and loathed Bill Russell, but saved plenty of venom for Celtics coach Red Auerbach. “I hated his cockiness,” Maltzman recently recalled. “And he broke our hearts every year.”
So Maltzman, religious leader of Congregation Kol Shalom in Bethesda, Md., found himself in a bind of sorts when the Auerbach family called and asked him to preside at the coaching legend’s funeral service. “I was trying not to jump up and down, because I was going to see some of the guys who’d plagued me since my childhood,” Maltzman told the Shmooze.
In the end, the rabbi was able to put aside his personal feelings aside and lead Celtic greats, including Kevin McHale and Russell, in the 23rd Psalm and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. But not without at least one act of devotion to his hometown team: Maltzman conducted the service with a 76ers doll tucked inside the jacket pocket of his funeral suit.
“I felt I owed it to my city and my team,” he said.