Last Thursday night, a packed room of friends and family members gathered to celebrate the meaningful life of Mitchell Gross, z”l, Menachem Avraham ben Nachman Moshe, a beloved community member and Moriah parent who passed away suddenly during a basketball game in 2008. He was just 39.
Mitch’s name lives on, however, in MGBL, the Mitch Gross Basketball League, which has provided a positive sporting experience for many local children and teens. In fact, the league, based in Teaneck, is now over 1,000 kids strong, and draws from Bergen, Middlesex and Passaic counties in New Jersey as well as Riverdale and New York City.
The event was hosted by the Gross family, including his three children, Alex, Joseph and Jordana, and emceed by Mitch’s older brother David Gross. For many, this marked their first time back at Teaneck’s Richard Rodda Center, where Mitch so tragically passed away.
Speakers included Rabbi Ephraim Simon, Mitch’s rebbe and friend; Ziggy Fried, Mitch’s high school coach and friend; Moshe Wertenteil, Mitch’s friend, along with two of Mitch’s children, Alex and Jordana. Two themes were present throughout all of the speeches: First, that the night was not a memorial but a celebration of the time the speakers had with Mitch. Second, they celebrated
Mitch’s inclusiveness and lovingkindness, as David said so precisely, “Mitchell treated his friends like family and strangers like good friends.”
While the speakers were talking about the life and legacy of Mitch Gross, I was reminded of the mishna in Pirkei Avot where it says asay lecha rav, ukana lecha chaver (Make for yourself a Rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend.) The meforshim ask what is the importance of a friend as opposed to a Rav, that one is told to acquire it (work towards it as opposed to simple having one)? The Ramban answers that a Rav encourages the fear of Hashem, while a friend will lead to the love of Hashem. How do we acquire such friends? By being there for others, by spending time with and and caring for others, that is how we acquire such friends.
The stories told from the podium and those that I have heard over the years about Mitch, z”l, prove that he is one who spent his 39 years acquiring many solid friends. Rabbi Simon told a story of a knock on his door one night at 2 AM. When Rabbi Simon answered the door and saw Mitch there he asked how come he was there at such a late hour. Mitch looked surprised. He answered, “you said you are there for me any time.” As Rabbi Simon pointed out this was classic Mitch. If you needed him he was available to you 24/7 so he figured others would be as well.
Brother David and son Alex Gross expressed their gratitude to the Mitch Gross Basketball League that carries the name of their loved one and his core beliefs. The beliefs are, that in order to play basketball properly; you need to understand friendship, sportsmanship and fair play.
MGBL serves boys and girls in second to eighth grades and high school boys. The league focuses on teaching basketball fundamentals to players at all levels and the value of working together as a team. The league is an enthusiastic and affordable program open to residents of Bergen County as well as Passaic County, Manhattan, Riverdale and Rockland Counties. After general expenses, all profits of the league are donated to local charitable organizations in memory of Mitch Gross, z”l.
Learn more about the Mitch Gross Basketball League at https://www.mgbl.org.
By Steve Gutlove, JLNJ Sports Editor