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Cultural Intersection: The Globetrotters in Jerusalem

At halftime I found my way to the stage manager on the sideline and informed him that goose-stepping is inappropriate in Israel. He gave me a look that was a cross between “I’ve got real work to do” and “you people complain about anything.” In short, I did not think the message got through. When the team came back out before starting the third quarter, I called over the Globetrotter “Coach,” Louis “Sweet Lou” Dunbar, Jr., a guy who played 27 years for the Globetrotters and is ten years my senior. Coach came over without hesitation and leaned in for a listen. I said to coach, “You are playing in Tel Aviv tomorrow. You need to understand that your guys should not imitate Nazis in Israel.” “Sweet Lou” looked up at me with the utmost sincerity and suggested, “We should not do that anywhere.” He then held out his hand, shook mine, and thanked me warmly.

At that point, my son, Yehuda, asked me what I had said to those guys, hopeful that I had invited them to come to our house to see “the collection.” While explaining to Yehuda what had transpired, I looked up to see “Sweet Lou” nearby talking to “Hi-Lite”. Not thinking much more of it, I glanced up again to see “Hi-Lite” trying to get my attention. I was taken by surprise, finally focusing on him. “Hi-Lite” smiled, mouthed “thank you” and gave me the thumbs up. At the end of the game, too, as the players were leaving the court, “Sweet Lou” turned to me from a distance and said “thank you.”

I wondered why nobody had briefed the Globetrotters on the local culture. It would seem natural, when going from country to country, to have a liaison explain what might be inappropriate. On the other hand, I am sure the bit with the woman went over swimmingly in Tel Aviv, so maybe it is too much to ask for that sort of cultural granularity. Nonetheless, I came away from the game with a very thankful 13-year-old, with great father-son memories, and happy, knowing that, given the opportunity, the Globetrotters are still fully capable of being America’s ambassadors to the world.

Oh, and I also walked away with a head full of confetti, courtesy of “Hi-Lite”.

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Despite a few uncomfortable moments, I came away from the game with a very thankful 13-year-old, with great father-son memories, and happy, knowing that, given the opportunity, the Globetrotters are still fully capable of being America’s ambassadors to the world.

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