April 19, 2024
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More Than Just Basketball For RKYHS at Auburn Tournament

(RKYHS) The Auburn University’s Division I men’s basketball team hosted the RKYHS boys and girls varsity basketball teams over the weekend. The RKYHS students joined the more than 150 Jewish high school students from across the country for a weekend of basketball, volunteering and experiencing the southern Jewish community in Auburn, Alabama.

In addition to the two day basketball tournament, the students volunteered in the local community, spent Shabbat on campus and attended the 15th-ranked Auburn University’s men’s basketball team’s opening game against George Mason University on Monday evening. The weekend was a joint NCSY and Athletes for Israel (AFI) trip from November 4 to 7, as a follow-up to the Auburn men’s basketball team’s 10-day trip with their coach Bruce Pearl to Israel this past August.

The weekend started with a visit to the massive Auburn arena where students had the opportunity to shoot around on the court then hear from Coach Bruce Pearl and were welcomed by members of the Auburn University administration. Coach Pearl spoke at length about the team’s trip to Israel, what it’s like to be a Jewish college coach facing antisemitism, how important Israel is to him and how his Judaism influences him as a person and as a coach. He discussed how Auburn has been very welcoming to him as a Jew. The students then watched a video about the team’s Israel trip that was presented on the jumbotron.

Joining RKYHS for the tournament and weekend were from the New York area—HAFTR, DRS, Yeshiva University High School for Girls/Central, North Shore and the Hustle and Heart girls travel team, who were all joined by Beren Academy from Houston, Texas and Katz Yeshiva High School from Boca Raton, Florida.

After a beautiful davening and dinner at the Auburn Hillel with Coach Pearl and his family, students gathered for a tish Friday night. They were joined by players of the Auburn University basketball team who shared their experiences from their trip to Israel, discussed the highlights and spoke about what it meant to them, their reflections and impressions. The discussion then morphed into other questions about college life, what it’s like to be a college basketball player, who their role models are and more. The students formed a bond with the players who joined them for ruach-filled singing and dancing. The students also heard Friday night from Mia Raskin, an orthodox Jewish women’s college basketball player from Binghamton University who spoke about her journey and experience.

On Shabbat day the RKYHS students participated in breakout sessions led by Athletes for Israel following davening. They then had the opportunity to tour the Auburn University campus, before a meaningful Havdala with their fellow students on the trip, the Auburn Jewish community and Auburn Hillel. “It was such a meaningful Shabbat and I truly felt like I made a difference in the Jewish life in Auburn over the weekend,” commented RKYHS senior Alexis Sohnen.

On Motzei Shabbat it was time to play basketball! The RKYHS boys and girls teams competed with the other schools in the tournament. The RKYHS boys team played HAFTR and defeated Beren Academy while the girls faced off against Hustle & Heart and HAFTR.

Sunday began with a session on Jewish leadership on and off the court led by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, senior rabbi at Boca Raton Synagogue. Then the RKYHS students got an exciting inside look, with their fellow day school attendees, at the Auburn Tigers preparing for their season opener at morning practice. In the afternoon, it was the day school kids’ turn to play again as the tournament continued from the previous night. Both the RKYHS boys and girls varsity teams faced off in the single elimination round, with the girls fighting hard in an overtime loss to Kohelet. After forming a bond with fellow students from other day schools all weekend, there was a true sense of sportsmanship that developed as RKYHS students cheered on their new friends from other schools during their games.

Sunday night after the basketball tournament everyone enjoyed an awards banquet. RKYHS junior Coby Brand and RKYHS sophomore Emily Tennenberg were selected as All Stars for the tournament.

The weekend didn’t end after the day school basketball tournament. On Monday, the experience continued with opportunities to volunteer and give back to the local community. RKYHS students headed out to volunteer at the Food Bank of East Alabama and Storybrook Farm which provides animal therapy to children facing challenges.

The jam-packed and memorable Auburn weekend concluded Monday night with the chance to cheer on the Auburn Tigers against the George Mason Patriots at their season opener. RKYHS students brought their ruach and signs to cheer them on and were thrilled to see a win for the Auburn team.

After spending a special Shabbat with players on the team and forming a bond as they got to know them, it was especially meaningful for students to watch them practice and play in their college basketball game as they were able to cheer on players who had now become friends.

“The whole weekend was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember,” commented RKYHS sophomore Sophie Baum.

RKYHS students returned home exhausted but fulfilled by such a rewarding weekend that was more than just playing basketball with other Jewish teens. It was about experiencing a meaningful Shabbat together in Alabama with fellow Jewish day school kids, getting an inside look at a Division I basketball team, getting to know its players and coaches, being inspired by their appreciation for Israel and Judaism and giving back to a community that welcomed the Jewish teens. A fitting conclusion to the weekend was at the end of the Auburn Tigers game Monday night, after his team’s win, Coach Bruce Pearl walked over the section where the day school teens were sitting and enthusiastically chanted his final words to the group, “Am Yisrael Chai!” The teens then broke out in song and concluded the four day trip by proudly davening Maariv all together in a basketball arena in Auburn, Alabama.

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