Hundreds of Yeshiva University graduates live in Teaneck. But only one of them — that would be Aryeh Halpert — is a member of the YU Maccabees men’s basketball team, the No. 1 squad in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III.
As of December 15, the Macs were enjoying a historic winning streak of 50 games dating back to 2019.
That makes the 6-foot-1 senior guard something of a celebrity in the township’s Orthodox community. His celebrity status has an element of legacy as well.
Mr. Halpert’s grandfather, the legendary Jonathan Halpert, coached the Macs for 42 years, “almost double the amount I’ve been alive,” the grandson noted.
His uncle, Rafi, and his father, Yehuda, also were Macs basketball players. Today, Yehuda Halpert is the rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Shalom in Teaneck.
“I started going to games when I was super young, but definitely from the time I was about 12 or 13 I went to all the games,” Mr. Halpert said.
In the game on December 12 – where YU defeated Medgar Evers College 104-59 for its 13th consecutive win of the season – Mr. Halpert grabbed a key rebound, distributed an assist, and forced a steal.
(In case you’re wondering, as we were, how the men keep their yarmulkes from flying off during games, Mr. Halpert revealed that the secret is clips on the inside from Florida-based Klipped Kippahs – which is not the same product that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett relies on to keep his kippah on his bald head.)
Despite his family history, Mr. Halpert worked hard to get where he is today. As a middle-schooler at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, he didn’t make the basketball team in sixth or seventh grade.
“I was pretty upset, so my dad suggested that I spend time working on my shooting with my grandfather,” he said. “I went once a week to train with him at the JCC and that was a huge factor in my making the team in eighth grade.”
Coach Halpert, who lives in New Rochelle, told his grandson to pursue basketball only if he liked it. And he liked it a lot. In high school, he’d wake up extra early to go to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly to train. He kept up his workouts during his gap year in Israel as well.
He was a sophomore at YU’s high school for boys, Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, in 2013-14, when his grandfather completed his last year with the Macs.
The team’s 2021-22 roster includes two senior players named Halpert: Aryeh from Teaneck and Eitan from Los Angeles. As far as they know, they are not related to each other.
Aryeh Halpert, a finance major and president of the YU Real Estate Club, says the team’s success is due to several factors.
For one, there’s the teamwork-centered strategy drilled into them by award-winning head coach Elliott Steinmetz – hired in 2014 following an international search to replace the retiring coach, Jonathan Halpert — and assistant coaches, including Joseph Schwartz of Englewood.
Another factor, Mr. Halpert said, is the talent of such star players as Ryan Turell of Los Angeles.
Mr. Turell, a 6-foot-7 senior guard, has racked up a long list of honors during his four seasons with the Macs.
So far this year, he has been named the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Division III National Player of the Week, Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Divisions II-III Player of the Week, and Skyline Conference Player of the Week three times, among other accolades.
Mr. Turell, rumored to be in the sights of pro basketball scouts, also has Teaneck connections. His older brother, Jack, lives there. And he spent much of his junior year with Lior and Janet Hod of Teaneck.
“Last year, during covid, I needed a place to stay because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to a full-year lease on an apartment near YU,” Mr. Turell said. “Lior and Janet were nice enough to welcome me into their home in Teaneck.”
The Hods are another legendary YU basketball family.
Lior and his brother Ayal were known as the “Twin Towers” when they played for the Macs in the 1980s, each breaking scoring records. Later, their younger brother, Asaf, also joined the YU basketball squad.
Lior and Janet’s sons, Jordan, Justin, and Tyler, were the first trio of siblings to play in the same NCAA Division III college basketball game — YU’s victorious 73-43 match against Sarah Lawrence College in January 2017. Justin and Tyler still were on the team when Mr. Turell came aboard in 2018-19.
“The Hods have been a second family for me — super supportive and loving and caring,” Mr. Turell said.
He’s now back in Washington Heights, near the YU campus. But his parents, Brad and Laurel, have been staying with the Hods in Teaneck since the first game of the season on the night of November 6 against Lycoming College. They are always in the bleachers, cheering on their youngest child.
“My parents go home for a little bit and then come back. It’s nuts,” Mr. Turell said with a laugh. “They’ve been nothing but super generous and nice.”
At the December 11 game against Medgar Evers, Mr. Turell led all scorers with 38 points. He grabbed six rebounds, blocked two shots, and dished out a pair of assists.
The YU Athletic Department said that no other team in any NCAA basketball division has achieved a winning streak as long as YU’s.
The season continues through the Skyline Conference Championships in February.