Hoops of Hope: US College Ballers Shine Light on Israel’s Heart

Basketballs were bouncing, and hearts were racing in Jerusalem’s local gym this past Sunday. Some of America’s college basketball stars, from the University of Arizona and Kansas State (both famously known as the “Wildcats”), were there not just for a game but for a mission.

Brought to Israel by Athletes for Israel (AFI), these Wildcats have a purpose: to change narratives. AFI, a laudable nonprofit, is fervently battling antisemitism and shifting the conversation about Israel. How? By partnering with these athletic titans, giving them a taste of the Israeli spirit, and letting them play it out on the court.

Last year, it was Coach Bruce Pearl and his Auburn Men’s Basketball Team who enjoyed the “Birthright for College Basketball.” The success story continues this year, with the Wildcats even extending their visit to the United Arab Emirates, a trip that celebrates the fruits of the Abraham Accords peace initiative.

Israel, with its ancient streets and modern vibes, offered these players a plethora of experiences. Walking through the timeworn pathways of Jerusalem’s Old City, reflecting at Yad Vashem, enjoying the tranquil Dead Sea, and cherishing a Shabbat dinner – the Wildcats experienced the depth of Israeli culture. And of course, there was basketball, with spirited matches against Israel’s top talent in Tel Aviv.

Avidan Rudansky, AFI’s U.S. operations director, shared that many of these players, rooted deeply in their faith, found it surreal to traverse the very lands they’d read about in the Bible. Imagine the power of walking where history was written! Lea Miller-Tooley, the logistical brain behind the tour, echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing how sports are uniquely positioned to bridge these cultures.

Arizona coach, Tommy Lloyd, a beacon in college basketball with his record wins, imparted wisdom to the young Israeli enthusiasts. He emphasized the joy of the game and the value of hard work, sentiments he believes transcend borders.

For the Kansas State team, their trip to the therapeutic Dead Sea was met with excitement and reflection. Partnering for this endeavor was the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem and Sylvan Adams, a staunch advocate for Israel. Their aim? Promoting acceptance and unity through sports. Because, in the grand tapestry of things, isn’t sports the universal language?

Tamir Goodman, a former professional basketball player who now contributes significantly to the cause, beautifully summarized the essence of the initiative: “Sports is the most proven platform that brings people together.”

Asher Fredman, echoing a similar tune, highlighted how the collaboration between the US, Israel, and UAE athletes is a testament to sports being a catalyst for enduring peace and warm relationships.

Rebounding to Unity: The Israeli Spirit

Israel isn’t just about history; it’s about heart. The Wildcats’ visit stands as testimony to a nation that’s more than what often meets the eye. Israel thrives on its innovative spirit, heartwarming hospitality, and enduring resilience.

The athletes’ experiences have transcended the boundaries of the basketball court, allowing them to see Israel’s true essence – a nation built on perseverance, unity, and a desire for peace. And as these young ambassadors return home, they carry with them tales of a land that loves, welcomes, and dreams. A land called Israel.