“If you play it, they will come.”
That seems to be the premise behind this weekend’s first ever tri-school basketball tournament, which brings together three area Schechter high schools.
Students from the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, N.J., the Schechter School of Long Island in Jericho, and the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in Hartsdale will compete against each other. The Jan. 4 event, which includes a Havdalah service before the start of two varsity games (one for boys and one for girls), also features kosher pizza and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to encourage socializing.
“The No. 1 reason I wanted to make this happen is that Schechter day schools in general need to do a better job to celebrate what makes the Schechter network unique,” said Rabbi Joshua Rabin, school rabbi at the Schechter School of Long Island. Even though the Schechter students may meet one another through USY or Camp Ramah, said Rabin, “for the future of the Schechter day school and for the Conservative movement, students need to have a broader network of Jewish teenagers in the Conservative movement. A basketball game is the easiest thing to do, with a high likelihood of success. It’s the kind of event that would get the most number of kids for one time.”
Organizers hope that about 200 to 300 students will participate in the event, scheduled from 8-11:30 p.m. As Navah Kogen, coordinator of experiential education at the Golda Och Academy said, it’s not as much about the basketball games as it is about having students “make new connections in the community.” The West Orange Schechter has been committed to providing immersive experiences for more than a decade, including arts trips and a choir Shabbaton event with other schools. “This is another piece in the puzzle,” said Kogen. “It’s another outlet for athletics, another way of being together outside of the school day, and outside of the immediate community.”
For students, there is a definite bonus to the tournament.
“I’m really excited for the game because we normally don’t get to play against another Jewish school in basketball, so this should add another element to the game,” said Josh Drill, a senior point guard from Golda Och Academy. “Along with the competition, there will be a sense of camaraderie between the two teams because of our shared religion. As a basketball player I’m excited because there should be a lot of fans there from the three schools and it will be a good game.”
While Orthodox day schools have many opportunities to compete against one another, it’s a little more challenging for schools like Schechter. In Westchester, for example, Schechter competes in the public school league, “which gives us amazing opportunities, but not opportunities for our kids to meet other Jewish kids,” said Rabbi Harry Pell, rabbi-in-residence at Westchester’s Schechter. “We hope to have more contact through sports with other Jewish kids.”
Rabbi Pell is also concerned that Schechter students don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the larger Schechter world. “We’re in separate worlds,” he said. “We’re hoping that basketball is a glue to get kids from three Jewish high school together.”
Basketball is only the first step in this effort to connect students. Organizers hope to offer other programs in the future that would encompass the arts, or a day of joint Torah study.
“There’s more we should be doing together,” said Ira Balsam, president of the Board of Trustees of the Long Island Schechter. “It’s very important for our kids to see that there are kids very similar to them, that it’s not a lone, little Jewish world. We want them to see that wherever they are, they can live a Jewish life.”