How Coach Calipari made a lasting impression on one Kentucky Rabbi

By Courtney Mims
on 2024-04-18 21:08 PM

FAYETTEVILLE, Ar. (KNWA/KFTA) – In his 15 years at Kentucky, John Calipari not only made an impact on the basketball program, but also in the Lexington community as well.

One person who he made a lasting impression on was Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, the Director Chabad of the Bluegrass & the UK Jewish Student Center.

Rabbi Litvin posted on X after Calipari announced he was leaving Kentucky, how Arkansas was not only gaining a great coach but a great man as well.

He ran into Coach Cal many times at the Dunkin’ Donuts just off of campus.

“We’d say hello from time to time. Hey, you know, we’re both we’re very well known on campus. Him slightly more than me,” Rabbi Litvin said.

Their conversation changed in October of 2018 after 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Calipari walked straight up to Rabbi Litvin and asked how he was doing after the horrific event and explained how it affected him personally as he’s from Pennsylvania.

“He shared how personally hurt he was and as a leader, how much it bothered him to see that in America. And then he looked me in the eye and he said, ‘Rabbi, how can I help?'” Rabbi Litvin said.

That question took Rabbi Litvin by surprise, but then he had an idea.

“The Festival of Hanukkah coming up in just a few weeks. Could you come light the menorah for our students? This is in the middle of the basketball season. The easiest time for a NCAA coach to simply say no. He was chasing March Madness, as he always is. And he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there’,” Rabbi Litvin said.

Rabbi Litvin was shocked that Calipari agreed to what he had asked, and he wasn’t the only one.

“It was very clear before that when we spoke to his staff, they were like, we don’t do this and it shouldn’t happen. He’s not available, but he will be there,” Rabbi Litvin said.

Coach Calipari, a practicing Catholic, was a man of his word.

His support on that cold and windy night is something the Jewish community will remember for a long time to come.

“That was no obligation he had. It wasn’t about basketball. It’s about who Coach Cal is. There’s a Hebrew word ‘mensch.’ It translates to man, but it’s so much more, it’s everything you want a person to be and it describes Coach Cal perfectly,” Rabbi Litvin said.

(Last updated: 2024-04-18 21:08 PM)