May 21, 2024
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Athletes for Israel Scores Slam Dunk

The organization Athletes for Israel is responsible for bringing two of the top U.S. collegiate basketball teams to play a special match in Israel and to tour the country. (Courtesy of i24News)

Two of the top U.S. collegiate basketball teams came to Israel with the goal of bringing a positive message back to their campuses

The organization Athletes for Israel made a slam dunk in the Holy Land, bringing two college basketball teams from the United States to Israel.

The men’s basketball teams from University of Arizona and Kansas State University both had the opportunity to go head-to-head on the courts of Tel Aviv against an Israel Select Team, made up of hand-picked athletes for this specific set of games.

“We gave the fans a little bit of a show, it went down to the wire,” said Ryan Turell, who played on the Israeli side, and is the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA, playing as a forward for the U.S. Motor City Cruise in the G League.

While the competition was fierce, there was a bigger message behind the three-pointers and free throws.

Daniel Posner, the founder and CEO of Athletes for Israel.

“We started Athletes for Israel because the narrative about Israel is often negative in the media. We need to bring people here who are influencers, who are athletes that kids look up to, and they can spread the word,” explained Daniel Posner, the founder and CEO of the organization.

The athletes on the trip are doing just that, with the shooting guard for Kansas State, RJ Jones, telling i24NEWS, “I love Israel right now, I ain’t gonna lie. I was on the phone with my mom the other day saying that I love Israel. So I would love to stay here.”

Ryan Turell playing for the Motor City Cruise, in the NBA G League. (ALLISON FARRAND/NBAE/courtesy of i24News)

Many of the players brought friends and family on the trip, all proudly wearing their Kansas State purple during the game. For most of them, it was their first time in Israel, and they described it as a “bucket-list item.” Many said that being here was even better than they could have imagined, which shows the motivation behind Athletes for Israel is working.

And for some, like Jones, it was their first time traveling outside of the United States—ever.

“Oh man, the trip has been amazing! Going to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, being in Jerusalem, and now here in Tel Aviv. And then we got one more stop in Abu Dhabi,” Jones said.

It’s a momentous journey for Athletes for Israel. Their inaugural Birthright for College Basketball trip took place last summer, when the Auburn University men’s basketball team visited Israel. This year, the organization is building off the past trip and utilizing the Abraham Accords to send teams to both Israel and the UAE.

“Israel just made peace with five Arab countries, one Muslim country and the world needs to know about it. All Israelis know about it, but in the rest of the world, very few people know about the Abraham Accords. Israel wants peace with all their neighbors,” said Posner.

While in the UAE, the teams will visit the largest mosque in the country, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, as well as the country’s Abrahamic Family House, a complex housing a synagogue, church, and a mosque.

For some athletes, the immersive trip is about shifting the narrative around Israel on college campuses.

“I get texts and emails from people every single day saying we should be bringing every single college to Israel. Maybe that’s one of the ways we’re going to combat BDS, I don’t know. But this is one of the ways that we’re going to change perceptions and tell people about what’s really going on and the stories here,” explained Posner.

For other athletes, the trip helps them connect to their Jewish roots.

“Be proud of who you are. All these kids are Jewish and it’s important for us to have Jewish pride, so just be proud of who you are,” said Turell, who has himself become a role model for Jewish athletes all over the world, and after the game, he took time to sign dozens of autographs for his Israeli fans.

All of the athletes say the positive experience they’ve had is one they will share back in the United States. Taking it in turn to fight antisemitism, and promote a better view of Israel, one slam dunk at a time.

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