Auburn University’s men’s basketball team is hosting more than 150 Jewish high school students from across the country for a weekend of volunteering and basketball.
Pegged as a follow-up to the university’s “Birthright for College Basketball” Israel trip over the summer, this weekend’s gathering is a joint program put on by NCSY, the Orthodox movement’s youth arm, and Athletes for Israel, a nonprofit that brings athletes to Israel.
“The weekend is about showing appreciation to Auburn,” AFI founder Daniel Posner told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, citing the success of the team’s Israel trip.
During the visit to Auburn this weekend, students will participate in a basketball clinic with Auburn coach Bruce Pearl; celebrate Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) with Pearl and the Auburn basketball team; and volunteer at a local food bank and farm for troubled teens. They will also attend the Tigers’ season opener on Monday against George Mason University.
On Sunday, the students will compete in a coed basketball tournament hosted at a local high school, featuring players from Jewish day schools from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida.
“It’s not just a basketball tournament,” Posner said, touting the unique opportunity for students to meet with Pearl, whom Posner called “a true leader of the Jewish people.”
“I owe a great debt to Athletes for Israel and Daniel Posner,” Pearl told JTA. “They helped me live a dream — that is to take my basketball team and my student athletes and my staff to the Holy Land.”
Pearl added that bringing the teens to Auburn is “an opportunity for us to say thanks.”
Auburn’s Israel trip, which was likely the first of its kind for a full Division I college or professional team, featured stops at some of the country’s most famous historical and tourist sites, an interfaith basketball clinic hosted by former NBA player and activist Enes Kanter Freedom, and exhibition games against Israel’s top national basketball teams.
Pearl is one of the more outspokenly Jewish and pro-Israel coaches in college sports. He co-founded the Jewish Coaches Association, which hosts an annual breakfast for Jewish NCAA basketball coaches at March Madness. He also coached in the 2009 Maccabiah Games, which he has called a career highlight.