By David Jahng
Students, alumni and university guests took a break from the competition of the National Hillel Basketball Tournament to enjoy dinner as a community Friday night.
After the first day of the eighth annual tournament, almost 700 people filled the gymnasium of Reckord Armory, which could hardly contain the school and cultural spirit brought in by the crowd and competitors.
“It’s an experience like no other, you don’t really get that throughout the year and having this many people together under the Jewish faith is great,” said Mark Schwartz, a member of the Kansas Mclain team.
What had started as just a Maryland Tournament quickly grew intercollegiate, connecting Jews with different backgrounds from across the nation, said Dalia Bauman, co-chair of NHBT.
“Friday night dinner is a time when family and friends come together, and we wanted to do that for our tournament.” Bauman added. “It’s a chance for players to bond off court [and] get to know each other on more than just a basketball level.”
Although the games are intense and competitive , players and participants from all over the U.S. agreed the dinner presented a great opportunity to learn more about their collective culture.
“I feel like I’m at home,” said Zach Silberman, a freshman international business major who played for one of Maryland’s teams. “I’ve got a bunch of people in my community here, it’s amazing, one big giant family.”
As more people arrived alone or in groups, no one felt singled out. Hugs were the most common form of greeting, as guests walked and talked between tables, catching up with old friends and making new ones.
“I feel rejuvenated, because I get a lot of time with friends I wasn’t close to in the beginning. It’s really nice to spend time together and team-bond,” said Katie Fine, a member of the Kansas women’s team.
One of Fine’s teammates, Abby Chargo, said the dinner was a phenomenal, spiritual time.
“It’s very special and powerful, to come here and just be surrounded by people who are passionate about who they are and what their purpose is,” Chargo said. “That’s something you can’t get anywhere else.”
Attendees were served drinks with Challah and salads for appetizers. Their excitement only slightly subdued when main entrees were served. As dinner progressed, anticipation for the rest of the weekend’s game began to rise.
Players and spectators said they were excited to see what the rest of the tournament had to offer, and were glad events like the dinner existed to bring the community together.
“It makes you feel at peace, not having to worry about any anti-Semitism that many may feel at their schools,” Jonah Linder, a member of the Kansas Mclain team said. “It’s great to feel like we’re at home.”