February 26, 2024
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Athletes for Israel: Bridging Borders Through Basketball

YU Maccabees take heartfelt mission to Israel.

Yeshiva University Maccabees basketball team with Israeli fans.

In a heartening display of unity and compassion, the Yeshiva University Maccabees basketball team embarked on a transformative journey to Israel during the Israel-Hamas War. Driven by a shared passion for basketball and a commitment to community service, the team saw an opportunity to make a positive impact beyond the court. Their mission: to volunteer and support the Israeli community during a crisis while fostering a cultural exchange through the universal language of sports.

While many outsiders felt that the decision to travel to Israel during this crisis was not an easy one, in reality the team and its coaches were more than enthusiastic to go. The team felt a deep connection to their heritage and a sense of duty to assist a nation facing challenges. Arriving in Israel with a blend of excitement and determination, the team members quickly immersed themselves in volunteer activities, including assisting in local shelters and hospitals, running basketball clinics in various neighborhoods around Israel, and providing aid to those affected by the crisis. This hands-on approach allowed the players to witness the resilience and strength of the Israeli people, forging lasting bonds between the North American visitors and their Israeli counterparts.

YU Macs player coaching an Israeli child.

YU player Jacob Rodin from Toronto, Canada said, “The week was incredible. So many ups and downs emotionally. We played in Tel Aviv against [the professional] Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team and the next day we went to see the Hamas destruction firsthand at Kibbutz Be’eri.” The friendly game served as a symbol of solidarity, showcasing the power of sports to build bridges and foster connections between diverse communities. The players, clad in their respective team colors, showcased not only their athletic prowess but also the spirit of camaraderie that unites people from different backgrounds. One of the fans who came to watch the game was David Lasday, one of the founders and forces behind Israel Lacrosse, who said “it was an exciting atmosphere and gave me a feeling of global Jewish community.”

The North American players shared their appreciation for the warm welcome they received in Israel and the resilience of the Israeli people. In turn, the Israeli players expressed their admiration for the YU team’s commitment to volunteerism and their willingness to stand by Israel during a challenging time. “We felt unity, as one people, it was really heartwarming,” said Joel Weinstein, from Memphis, who added “it makes me happy to be a Jew.” Superstar basketball hero Tamir Goodman came by in order to give the YU team a message: “My father taught me to be proud and also to be humble. Let your game do the talking, be a kiddush hashem (doing something which sanctifies God’s name).”

YU Maccabees basketball team member reciting Tehillim in the midst of the destruction at Kibbutz Be'eri.
YU Maccabees basketball team member reciting Tehillim in the midst of the destruction at Kibbutz Be’eri.

 

Beyond the basketball court, the team continued their volunteer efforts, leaving a lasting impact on the local community. Their presence became a beacon of hope and a reminder that, even in times of crisis, solidarity and shared values transcend borders.

The trip was run by Athletes for Israel, a nonprofit started several years ago by founder Daniel Posner who was frustrated with the media coverage of Israel. He understood that the public relations issues were not because Israelis weren’t articulate, but rather because they were subjective and partial. So he created a mechanism to bring athletes, particular university teams, to Israel, so that the non-Jewish players and coaches could see Israel firsthand. Posner said, “the only thing most people hear about Israel is that it is a war zone 24/7. We brought hundreds of players from major universities and colleges to Israel to see what the reality here is. Israel sells itself — the people are gracious and welcoming, the historic and religious sites are inspiring.”

YU team bearing witness to the destruction at Kibbutz Be’eri.

Since the war started in October 2023, Posner has been in touch with all of the previous groups that were part of Athletes for Israel. The nonprofit has been active in packing supplies and aid for the people of Israel, and the players and coaches from some of the teams have come to help out. University of Arizona president Dr. Robert Robbins had come on the trip to Israel and is a strong supporter of Israel against Hamas, including writing a very strong letter condemning anyone who stands for Hamas, saying that it is antisemitic. Many Israel supporters wonder how could anyone support Hamas after Oct. 7. YU player Weinstein said he was “taken back by the destruction done by the monsters of Hamas. It is beyond disgusting.”

All of the players and coaches said that this week of connecting to Israel was filled with love, and that the Israelis are so happy to see others come and show their support. Rodin added that this is a “memory that lasts a lifetime.” He went on to explain that his sister had been on the program March of the Living, which takes teens to Poland for a week-long Holocaust education seminar, followed by a few days in Israel. When he told her what he was doing this week, she responded that events of Oct. 7 in Israel are “monumental in the same way as events were during WW II, and that we need to tell the story for years to come.”

Yeshiva University Maccabees basketball team with the Hapoel Tel Aviv team after their game.

 

The team singing “Hatikvah.”

 

YU team bearing witness to the destruction at Kibbutz Be’eri.

 

YU team bearing witness to the destruction at Kibbutz Be’eri.

For more information about Athletes for Israel, visit www.athletesforisrael.org.


Arnie Draiman is a philanthropic consultant helping people and foundations give their tzedakah money away wisely, efficiently and effectively. He is also a very experienced social media and website guru and enjoys reviewing restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions. He can be reached at [email protected] or www.draimanconsulting.com.

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