With antisemitism on the rise, the Detroit Pistons are honoring Jewish heritage  

During a time when powerful voices are amplifying dangerous antisemitic messaging, Detroit Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem is proudly telling his story and representing his Jewish faith.

Last month, the Zekelman Holocaust Center honored Tellem and his wife Nancy for their dedication to “ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust empower people today.”

The museum, which is in Farmington Hills, honored the Tellems at its 38th anniversary benefit at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit. With Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Pistons players, coaches and front office personnel watching, Arn Tellem gave insight into his origins and why it’s important for everyone to support the Jewish community in these challenging times.

That’s a main reason the Pistons are holding their second Jewish Heritage Night this Sunday when the Pistons will face the Memphis Grizzlies at Little Caesars Arena. Tickets will include an opportunity to meet the Motor City Cruise’s Ryan Turrell, who was the first Orthodox Jew selected in the G League draft in October. The evening will also include kosher friendly foods, discounted tickets, postgame shots on the court and a six-foot-tall menorah on the concourse.

The evening to honor Jewish heritage is the brainchild of Pistons group sales executive Nikki Wald, who produced the idea last season to acknowledge her faith.

“I noticed that there were a ton of heritage nights, but one was missing,” Wald said. “Seeing your heritage being honored by a large organization like the Pistons is really special. With the rise of antisemitism, it’s a time to stand together instead of fall apart.”  

According to an Anti-Defamation League audit published in April, antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2021. December is the month of the Jewish festival Hannukah, which is another factor in making it an ideal time to honor Jewish heritage.

“Everyone is looking at the Pistons right now as a source of inspiration by respecting the Jewish people and their traditions,” said Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, who is the executive director ChabaD of Greater Downtown Detroit. “A little light pushes out a lot of darkness and this is the message of Hanukkah.

“This is why we like to do these Jewish Heritage Nights.” 

Arn Tellem tells his story

Arn and Nancy’s families were affected by the Holocaust when millions, mostly Jewish, were killed during the Nazi Germany reign of terror.

Arn Tellem told a Huntington Place audience of more than 1,200 attendees that his grandfather, Max, emigrated from Viduklė, Lithuania in 1910. Max, 18 at the time, arrived in Philadelphia alone and ultimately helped bring over three siblings. Two siblings were unable to escape and died under the Nazis.

Max had two sons, Edward and Milton. Milton, Arn’s father, served in the Navy during World War II. Arn’s family grew up in southwest Philly while Max lived in North Philly. Despite living across town, their weekly visits consisted of playing chess and watching the Philadelphia Phillies.

Arn said his biggest test of faith came only days before his 13th birthday in December of 1966.

His father suffered a massive heart attack.

At the service, his grandfather told him two things.

“He was overcome with emotion but managed to say I miss your father and he stared into my eyes and said don’t ever forget you’re Jewish,” Arn said. “Fifty-five years later, the one thing I tell my grandfather is I haven’t, and I won’t.”