I’ve always loved playing basketball. When I was in high school, I played point guard on the team, but I was nowhere near good enough to play in college. Instead I played on a women’s intramural team in university, and my signature move was stealing the ball and running for a layup. My friends on my intramural team used to tease me, “That girl has Bible power!” They would yell down the court as I ran, and we would all laugh. For some of my teammates, I was the first Jew they had ever met, and certainly the first religious one. I was fortunate that the games were on Sunday afternoons, but I always missed Saturday practices. Sometimes the others would grumble that I wasn’t being a team player, but my roommate would stick up for me.

I was the first Jew they had ever met, and certainly the first religious one.

“It’s her Sabbath, guys. Leave her alone. She won’t even turn on the lights in the dorm room. The Jewish Sabbath is serious stuff, trust me.” And so they let me remain on the team, with my “Bible power” competitive streak making up for my missed practices.

This memory came flooding back to me recently when I read the New York Times article, “Northwestern’s Aaron Liberman Studies X’s, O’s and Torah,” with the caption under the photo reading, “Aaron Liberman, a freshman at Northwestern and an Orthodox Jew, is 6 feet 10 inches of lean muscle, topped on and off the court by a skullcap.”

The article describes how Liberman remains dedicated to a Torah lifestyle while playing NCAA Division I basketball. Aaron described his days—waking up each day for an early minyan, and heading straight to the training room. And Liberman was one of the first players ever to wear tzitzit under his uniform.

The article notes, “The life of an Orthodox Jew is one of discipline. Liberman prays three times a day, keeps kosher and travels only by foot on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.” In high school Liberman brought Valley Torah, a small Jewish high school in California without a gymnasium, to its first conference championship and a strong showing in the state playoffs. People nicknamed Aaron the Jewish Dwight Howard.

People nicknamed Aaron the Jewish Dwight Howard.

Bill Carmody, Northwestern’s coach, spotted Aaron first at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas. “He had a motor. He never quit. You could see it in his defense and rebounding,” Carmody said.

Reading about Liberman inspired me in three ways.


Aaron tells the interviewer about the time he spent studying in Israel after graduating high school. For seven months, he spent ten hours learning each day, and then headed to the gym to practice his game. Being able to focus on one goal is admirable; the ability to invest in two seemingly diametrically opposed goals at the same time is amazing. But perhaps, as one famous Orthodox Jewish wrestler (whose name I don’t recall) once remarked, “My religion and sport go together. Fighting helps me focus harder when I learn, and learning inspires me to fight harder.”


Northwestern makes arrangements for Liberman so that he doesn’t have to fly on Shabbat, and the university is also creating a special kippah for Aaron that will match his uniform. This rock-solid commitment to something higher than basketball is perhaps part of what revs Liberman’s “motor” that so deeply impressed Northwestern’s coach when he first saw him play.

Lack of Pretense

He isn’t embarrassed to wear his tzitzit on the court, despite the strange looks he must occasionally get.

Liberman speaks freely about his unique circumstances and religious observance. He isn’t embarrassed to wear his tzitzit on the court, despite the strange looks he must occasionally get.

I remember once wanting to daven (pray) when I was in an airport in Arizona, but I was embarrassed to stand in the corner and say the Amidah. I thought people would think I was crazy if I stood up and looked like I was talking to myself. I even considered pretending that I was on the phone. But eventually, I stood up and davened anyway.

Afterwards, a woman asked me if I had been praying. I nodded. “What were you praying for?” she asked. I thought for a moment before replying, “Everything.”

When I showed one of my daughters this article about Liberman, I asked her what she thought was most powerful about his life. “He isn’t afraid to be himself,” she replied.

And in many ways, maybe that is “everything.” Not being afraid to go out into the world and be our highest selves. Because that is truly what makes us powerful players on the courts, in our homes and in our hearts.