Bruce Pearl, Auburn follow up ‘Birthright for College Basketball’ trip by hosting 150 high school students


Jacob Gurvis | JTA

Auburn University’s men’s basketball team hosted more than 150 Jewish high school students from across the country for a weekend of volunteering and basketball.

Members of the Auburn University men’s basketball team prepare to celebrate Shabbat in Israel on July 31, 2022. (Courtesy of Auburn Athletics)

Pegged as a follow-up to the university’s “Birthright for College Basketball” Israel trip over the summer, the Nov. 4-6 gathering was 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 JTA, citing the success of the team’s Israel trip.

During the visit to Auburn, students participated in a basketball clinic with Auburn coach Bruce Pearl; celebrated Shabbat with Pearl and the Auburn basketball team; and volunteered at a local food bank and farm for troubled teens. They also attended the Tigers’ season opener on Nov. 7 against George Mason University.

The day before, the students competed in a coed basketball tournament 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,” said Posner, 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.

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