A Brief Recollection of How I Came to Realize That There Are No Jews in Mid-Missouri

I remember the moment distinctly. I was sitting in a Baptist church on 9th Street in downtown Columbia, waiting for Rosh Hashanah services to end. We were sitting in a church because the synagogue had no other place to hold services; the congregation wasn’t large enough to actually own an entire building. The rabbi was new to Columbia. He had just moved from Curaçao to lead this congregation, and surely he’d begun to question why he’d left the Caribbean for mid-Missouri. The year was 2005.

On stage, with a cross hanging over her head in Damoclesian fashion, a member of the congregation’s board of directors was giving an especially strange speech. It had started out with an extended history of the life and times of Adolf Hitler, and I do not remember where it went from there. I do remember her conclusion, however.

“Look around us!” she called out. “We are the Jews of mid-Missouri.”

I looked around. There were about 70 people in the audience.

At this point, I realized that my Bubbe’s dream of me finding a nice Jewish girl at school was likely to go unfulfilled.

But every year since, I’ve enjoyed the strange little moments that come with being a Jew in Columbia, Mo. My favorite annual tradition happened today: the morning before Passover, when I go to the local Gerbes supermarket and attempt to buy matzah.

It’s a ritual unlike any other. It usually goes like this:

  • Step 1: Locate the matzah hidden among the leavened, more delicious bread products in Gerbes’ surprisingly plentiful cracker aisle.
  • Step 2: Attempt to purchase such matzah.
  • Step 3: Smile and nod as the cashier rings up the matzah while saying, “Oh, so you’re the guy we bought all these Jew crackers for!”

But today, in the tradition of the wise child, I must ask: why was this year different from all other years? Perhaps because today, I went out of my way to buy Kosher-for-Passover orange juice (though I should note: nowhere in the Torah does it mention Moses telling the Israelites that they had not the time for their juice to be squeezed). Or perhaps because when I passed through the wine aisle, looking for a bottle of Manischewitz, none was to be found.

So I circled the store twice, looking for matzah (and seeing as the search for the afikoman is part of the Passover seder, you’d think I’d be good at finding hidden loaves of unleavened bread by now). None was to be found. On my third lap of the store, a manager stopped me and asked me what I was looking for. I explained, politely, that I was looking for this seasonal product known as matzah.

“Ah, yes, matzah. Now, would that be in the dessert aisle?”

“No,” I replied. “It’s more of a cracker.”

The manager looked puzzled. She called over another manager: “Hey, where’s the matzah?”

The other manager just frowned. “Sorry,” he said. “No matzah this year.”

“No matzah?” I asked. “Did you decide not to order any?”

“No,” he said. “We ordered our usual supply from the distributor. You know, that’s how we get our food here.”

I smiled and nodded, confused at why he thought that I thought that Gerbes had some secret factory in the back cranking out Tropicana and low-grade pretzels and, of course, matzah at all hours of the day.

“But the distributor called us back a few days ago,” he continued. “He said: no matzah this year. But you can check over at the Broadway store. They might have some.”

So I did what I could: I thanked him for his troubles and walked away, wondering all along why it is that even Gerbes answers to a higher authority.

If Newspapers Had Flight Attendants (or: Keep your tray table in the upright and panic position.)

Hello, I’m Dan, and on behalf of your newsroom-based crew, I’d like to welcome you onboard Media Conglomerate Airlines. As we may continue to lose money rapidly during this flight, I would like to remind you of the safety features onboard.

There are two exits onboard this aircraft: buyouts and layoffs. Caution: the nearest layoffs may be directly behind you.

In case of emergency, newsprint will drop from the compartment above you. Though advertising will not be flowing smoothly through its pages, we’ll still continue to search for ways to inflate our revenues.

We have loaded overwhelming debts and rising printing costs onto this aircraft. Our pilot has also informed us that we may be experiencing some Google-related turbulence. So please: keep your seat belts fastened. Things will be getting bumpy.

We no longer serve bonuses or 401(k)s on this flight. However, peanuts are still available as a sign of gratitude for your years of service.

We remind you to please be careful when opening overhead bins. Your department may have been shifted to India during our flight.

So sit back and try to enjoy this Media Conglomerate flight. Even if we don’t crash, you’ll probably feel nauseous anyway.

UConn Basketball to Forfeit Wins? And What Happens to the Teams They Beat?

Eight days ago, Connecticut Huskies forward Stanley Robinson scored 13 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and blocked 4 shots — in 34 minutes — while leading his team to an 82-75 victory in the West Regional final over Missouri.

Robinson’s an unusual story. The Boston Herald reports that he withdrew from the university last Spring and started working at a construction site. This year, he rejoined the team as a walk on. One 2010 mock NBA draft projects him as an early second round pick.

But today I’m reading something that makes me wonder whether or not Robinson should have been allowed on the court at all. From The Hartford Courant’s Jeff Jacobs:

[UConn forward Stanley Robinson] doesn’t have a grade since fall semester 2007. He reaffirmed Thursday that he withdrew from classes last spring. It never was made clear precisely what happened, with [coach] Jim Calhoun once calling it an “academic redshirt.” It was Calhoun who appealed to the dean on Robinson’s behalf to prevent him from failing out…

He’d post[ed] zero grades during a 16-month period in which he played more than 40 games. While it evidently would have broken no rules, it sure would have made the notion of student-athleticism a sad joke.

So let’s go to the NCAA rulebook, bylaw 12.01.1 (“Eligibility for Intercollegiate Athletics”), which states:

Only an amateur student-athlete is eligible for intercollegiate athletics participation in a particular sport.

Which sends me all the way to Bylaw 14.01:

14.01.1 (“Institutional responsibility”) An institution shall not permit a student-athlete to represent it in intercollegiate athletics competition unless the student-athlete meets all applicable eligibility requirements, and the institution has certified the student-athlete’s eligibility.

14.01.2 (“Academic Status”) To be eligible to represent an institution in intercollegiate athletics competition, a student-athlete shall be enrolled in at least a minimum full-time program of studies, be in good academic standing and maintain progress toward a baccalaureate or equivalent degree.

So a quick summary:

Only student-athletes may compete in NCAA events. And a student-athlete is defined as:

1.) Someone who participates in a university “full time” and “in good academic standing” as a student.

2.) Someone who participates in a university as an athlete.

So, assuming that Robinson fits only the second category, based on the reporting from the above Courant article, we’d move on to NCAA bylaw, which lists two different cases for students enrolled less than full time, each with its own penalty.

1.) Student Athlete (SA) competed while enrolled less than full-time due to a “timing” issue, or without the SA and/or the athletics department knowing SA was below full-time enrollment.

Under this ruling, there would be no fine or penalty. But based on what Robinson told The Courant, Calhoun and the school’s dean were both aware of the situation. And as Robinson had not been enrolled in any of the four semesters since (and including) fall 2007, it would appear difficult to argue that there was an issue with “timing.”

Which brings me to’s second situation:

2.) SA competed while enrolled less than full-time and athletics department and/or SA knew or should have known of SA’s enrollment status.

This seems like the more likely ruling, based on the evidence presented. According to the NCAA, the official fine for a team breaking this rule would be to “fine the institution $500 (for each contest and each ineligible SA) and require written notification to conference for a determination of forfeiture.

There is no mention in the NCAA bylaws — nor anyway that Google turned up — with regards to what Calhoun called an “academic redshirt.” I cannot find any proof that the NCAA recognizes such a term, though others have suggested that it may refer to students studying with provisional status.

But here’s where it gets really interesting, especially if you’re a fan of any team that’s played the Huskies in any of the games in which Robinson would be deemed ineligible: the Huskies would likely be forced to vacate those games. Bylaw (b), which deals specifically with violations committed during NCAA championship events, says:

Team Competition. The record of the team’s performance may be deleted, the team’s place in the final standings may be vacated, and the team’s trophy and the ineligible student’s award may be returned to the Association. (Revised: 4/26/01)

However: the NCAA Manual does not specify for basketball how those vacated games would affect the standings for UConn’s opponents. The NCAA only makes such a clarification for football. According to 30.9.2. (“Contest Status”):

When forfeiture of a regular-season football victory is required by the Committee on Infractions, a conference or self-imposed by an institution as a result of a violation of NCAA rules, neither of the competing institutions may count that contest in satisfying the definition of a “deserving winning team.” (Revised: 10/18/89, 10/12/93, 4/20/99, 12/15/06)

So this seems to be the most likely solution, if an NCAA investigation does reveal that Robinson is not an eligible student-athlete: UConn will be fined and forced to vacate games, but the NCAA would not award victories ex-post-facto to teams that played UConn. In short: 16 teams entered the 2009 West Regional, and history may show that no team officially emerged victorious. (Sorry, Mizzou fans.)

Of course, all of this is secondary to the matter of what happens to Robinson and his eligibility. My guess: he’ll save himself the trouble and just turn pro this year. His team’s already under enough scrutiny for other recruiting violations.

And as for that construction job he worked last year? It’s worth noting: the construction company was owned by a former UConn basketball player.

UPDATE: According to a Courant report last August, Robinson said that he was academically ineligible, but Calhoun denied that and said that Robinson was eligible to play, since Robinson was taking online classes. The real question here: will the NCAA even choose to investigate this matter?