Oscar Edelman’s journey from the GFA basketball court to next summer’s Maccabi Games in Israel, began with a simple suggestion. An AAU teammate said he should check out the tryouts for Team USA's 18U squad in the 2022 Maccabi Games — which bring together the greatest Jewish athletes in the world.
The rest is history.
And history is something that means a lot to Edelman and his family — both the athletic kind and the heritage behind the family’s Jewish religion.
“The only reason I’m doing it is so I can represent my country and my religion,” Edelman said. “It’s really cool, I think, combining the two different sides of my world.”
In a basketball sense, making the team has already paid huge dividends to the Dragon junior forward.
“For Oscar, it’s a huge honor,” said GFA boys basketball coach Mike Jarvis II. “I guess he played incredibly at the tryouts and because he’s made the team, it’s really sparked his recruiting.”
Upon his arrival at the tryouts in Philadelphia, Edelman learned that this would be something unlike any other tryout he'd been a part of.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’m usually the only Jewish kid when I play and now I’m playing with kids wearing yarmulkes, which was really cool. And for the first time I felt short, which was weird.”
Edelman stands at 6-foot-7 (6-foot-9 with the current stage of his hair, he jokes) and he will enter the winter season as a third-year starter on Jarvis’ boys varsity basketball season. Edelman also wears a Star of David necklace to signify his continued pride in his family’s heritage.
While the family remains fully Jewish, on his mother’s side of the family things could have been vastly different.
“My father was not a proud Jew and didn’t raise us with Judaism,” said Bonnie Edelman (nee Silberstein) Oscar's mother. “He wanted to change our last name to Smith or Spencer because he felt the world was such a mean and ugly place and that it would close doors before we could even put our foot in them.”
When Bonnie met her husband, John, who was raised in a proud Jewish family, the heritage of her religion became more important to the family.
“I felt like I was coming home,” Bonnie said. “I could feel good about my heritage. That’s why I love how Oscar's been raised.”
Two years ago, Oscar decided to wear the star around his neck.
His mom smiled, “It brings my heart full circle.”
Bonnie has her own history as a standout athlete. At Connecticut College she played volleyball (as an Academic All-American) and basketball (and still holds the eighth highest field goal percentage in program history). She was also was invited to take part in the Macabbi Games.
“It’s unfortunate because I would have love to have gone,” Bonnie Edelman said. “But, I didn’t understand what it was, and my coach thought it was a joke.”
But there is even more to the family's history in athletics. Bonnie’s dad was a Division I tennis player at Pitt and her grandfather was a three-sport athlete and All-American at Bucknell, where he played football, basketball and baseball.
Oscar — who also plays soccer at GFA and had a spectacular header for a goal in the Dragons’ season-opening 2-1 win over New England Prep School power St. Andrew’s last Saturday — feels most at home on a basketball court. That was immediately noticeable to the Team USA staff selecting the Maccabi Games squad — more than 100 athletes tried out and just 12 were selected.
“Oscar was put on my radar about five or six months ago,” Team USA Coach Matthew Malc said. “When he walked into the gym, he was not what I expected. He’s big and strong and athletically gifted. He impressed us. His versatility and athleticism at the end of the day are the two words that really standout.”
Bonnie Edelman said of her son, “I’m so proud of the work he’s put in to achieving this goal. He gets up and goes to school early three times a week to get an extra workout in. He’s got a work ethic that is second-to-none.”
When Oscar dons the red, white, and blue next summer, “that is the most proud moment I’ll have, for sure,” said Bonnie. “I’ve always been a fan of the Olympics and I tear up watching them. This moment, where I get to see him represent our country and our religion, there is nothing bigger.”
Oscar is excited for the opportunity not just to build his skillset, or to challenge himself athletically, but to also make new connections.
“The biggest thing for me is I want to build a connection with all these kids from all these different places,” he said. “Building those connections will last me my entire life.”