The Auburn Men’s Basketball program is only one day into their trip to Israel but the impact and experiences so far will be ones that will last a lifetime. From opening the trip on the promenade overlooking the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, to touring the the Old City itself, Bruce Pearl’s squad also had time to take part in Tamir Goodman’s Peace Camp along with having their first practice in the Holy Land.
“I want to thank everyone at the YMCA and I want to thank my new friend Tamir Goodman,” Pearl, who is Jewish joyfully proclaimed. “This is a historic visit and the first time a Power 5 Conference basketball program has been here and this is an inaugural event. Our goal is to try and bring 2-4 teams every August and our media partners will come alongside of us and Complete Sports Management under the leadership of Lea Miller who is the best at putting these kinds of trips and tournaments together. Next year it could be Duke, Florida, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech. Lots of different clubs are interested and when our kids come back and they have experienced this incredible culture and love that we are feeling here, I think this will be a place that a lot of college programs will want to come to.”
Pearl who is making his fourth trip to Israel opened his special Auburn Birthright journey at dusk on Sunday at the Haas Promenade where one can see many of the Jerusalem historical sites, “My next trip here this is exactly what I am going to do, arrive at that time of day as the sun was setting to be able to see the valley and a lot of the sites but to really start with the (prayer of) “Shehecheyanu” more than anything. God sanctifies us, blesses us, sustains us and that was always a prayer we would say on Shabbat and the Holidays, so it was very significant. Of course, the blessing on the wine and the bread and the guys got to see a little bit of the culture. Just the significance of before we do we anything let’s talk to God for a little while and let him know that we are here as they open up our hearts and minds and listen for him.”
Junior center Dylan Cardwell reflected on what the trip means to him as a Christian, “First of all I want to say “All Glory to God” I wouldn’t be here without him. Just the experience alone is an experience of a lifetime. Growing up in Georgia I would have never myself traveling across the sea to go to Israel. It took me surprise just everything here. There is so much going on between the food, music and the drinks, the community and the feel, it’s just an amazing environment.”
“For me spiritually this is the closest I’ve ever been to God, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I just thank him everyday that I can step foot in his Holy Land and the land that he created. It’s just a blessing that not enough people are fortunate to get. I pray that I take full advantage of this and grow through my experiences and get as much as I can because this is the trip of a lifetime. I want to thank BP (Bruce Pearl) and everybody at Auburn and everyone involved. I want to thank God for his grace for blessing us as a team for being over here as well. I want to thank Israel for allowing us to be here.”
Auburn senior Lior Berman who recently captured a Gold Medal with the USA Maccabiah team sees this trip as an opportunity for his team to continue to come together aa one unit, “I am looking feared to have my Auburn team here as I didn’t know the Maccabiah guys beforehand and we got super close. With the Auburn team we are a close group of guys and with this trip we will get even closer as we will be with each other all of the time. We will be experience stuff for the first time and that is a great way to get closer.”
Pearl concurred with his 6”4 guard about the importance of coming together, “Sports brings teams together, universities together and communities together and it brought us together. I am a big believer that we can do more together than apart. It’s also respecting differences. Dylan and I are spiritually different, we are racially different but we have tremors connection as there is so much that binds us in common. You could focus on our differences, but we would rather focus on the things that make us brothers, fathers, sons and whatever it is, that is what we choose to do and together we are badass.”
Having grown up in Boston, Pearl experienced what it was with the help of being Jewish and of course the game of basketball that aided him helping bridge the differences between people, “I had the opportunity to see wonderful ethnicity, the Italian North End, Irish South Boston, the Jewish Ghettoes of Roxbury and the inner city black community not always getting along but each one them being unique and full of grant tradition, I saw racial violence as a kid and tremendous anti-semitism and felt it except when I was on the playground playing shirts and skins. It didn’t matter how you prayed or what color you were. Through my Judaism I’ve tried to bring people together and we can do so much more together than apart. Jerusalem is a living example of what’s possible. If they follow the lead of the people in sports and children we would all get along a lot better.”
For Auburn, Jerusalem is only one stop of a trip that will see the team travel throughout the country as both Cardwell and Berman have an idea or two of which places will be most interesting for the squad and themselves.
“I just can’t wait to see the the guys at the Dead Sea putting the mud on, it’s going to be a good time, it’s going to be hot but it will be with it for sure,” Berman explained with a smile.
Cardwell also mentioned the Dead Sea but had a couple of other places in mind, “The Sea of Galilee is really number one as there was so much that happened there and that is where all the faith stories are at with Jesus and Peter. The Jordan River as well because of how significant it is that John The Baptist baptized Jesus there.”
The big man couldn’t hold back his emotions and continued talking about what he had experienced in less than 24 hours in Israel, “I had no hesitation coming over here and I am reading the Old Testament right now and it’s insane seeing all of this come to life by touring Jerusalem. My first day here I saw the route Jesus went on before he was crucified and seeing the stone he was anointed on. I am just so glad I got to experience this stuff and see the life that Jesus has lived and how its impacted billions and billions of people 2,000 years down the line.”
Another plus of this trip is the chance for the players to see what the Holy Land is really like and perhaps one day have the opportunity to continue their careers as professionals in what Pearl says is one of the best places to play.
“I’ve said it before, Israel is the second best country in the world to play professionally with the United States and the NBA being number one. Israel is number two with the quality of the clubs, the passion and fans it’s also a pretty good place to live and that is one of the reasons why I brought theses guys here so they can lay eyes on it and clubs can lay eyes on them.”
Pearl who really wants to work on getting this project off the ground, sees that there is potential is raising the needed funds in order to take programs from across the United States to Israel, “We are definitely going to work on this and I want to give recognition to Daniel Posner and Athletes in Israeli and Adam Milstein in California. There are definitely the beginnings of those noticing what we are doing in the lines of Birthright. I think that this is something that people will want to support. I can see donors from universities across the United States that will help team go on this trip. It costs more than to go a little closer to home and we have fans that have traveled with us and I think there will be fans from other universities that will travel as well. I could see this similar to spring football and I hope this is going to take off.”
Photos from Auburn’s Monday practice – Credit: Yehuda Halickman