Charles Summers

For Mitzpeh


Freestanding basketball net. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After two years of a coronavirus-induced absence, the National Hillel Basketball Tournament (NHBT) is returning this semester. From April 7-10, Jewish students from across the country will gather on this university’s campus for a weekend-long tournament, including a variety of social events for players and fans alike.

NHBT was founded in 2010 by a student named Rachel Epstein to “bring students together around the inclusive game of basketball.” The tournament is unique in that it allows those participating to keep Shabbat. Games are either before or after Shabbat, ensuring that the entire tournament is accessible for all Jewish students. This coming tournament will mark its 10th anniversary.

“We have over 200 players and over 300-400 total people coming,” Zevi Traum, NHBT’s Director of Personnel and a senior mechanical engineering major, said. “From Maryland, from outside of Maryland, we all come together.”

From the beginning of the fall semester to the middle of spring, Traum’s main responsibility on the board was recruiting players to participate. As the tournament nears, he is now concerned with managing players and team rosters to ensure the games run smoothly.

As a freshman, Traum went to the games as a fan but didn’t initially want to be on leadership. “My freshman year I didn’t even think about applying to be on the board — I immediately regretted it the second I saw what the tournament was like,” he said.

NHBT Co-Chair Ayelette Halbfinger, who has spent months planning the tournament, is enthusiastic to see it through. Halbfinger is currently a junior operations management and business analytics major and got involved in NHBT as a freshman.

“I applied for the NHBT board as a graphic designer,” recalled Halbfinger. “We planned for a tournament that got canceled due to Covid.”

Traum had a similar experience. “My sophomore year I was a member of the recruitment team, and unfortunately midway through our recruitment period in March of 2020 we had to cancel the tournament,” he said.

Eytan Pomper, a freshman kinesiology major, is going to be competing in the tournament for one of UMD’s teams. He met his team through the Maryland Hillel and has practiced with them through his time in intramural basketball.

“Basketball is my favorite sport,” he said. “I just feel like it’s a nice bonding experience between Jews and a fun experience to have for a weekend.”

Pomper is not the only one to note the social aspect of the tournament. There are a number of events the NHBT board planned outside of the games themselves designed to connect Jewish students from across campuses.

“We’ll have Shabbat meals, Friday night and Saturday lunch,” Halbfinger said. “There will be a bar night that’s happening on Thursday when the teams arrive, and we also have a big barbecue.”

Traum said that through these events, leadership aimed “to make the tournament not just about basketball, but about national Hillel.”

Although the tournament was started by UMD students, it has since evolved into something much larger. According to Halbfinger, over 1,000 people from colleges all over the country participated in the 2019 tournament, either as fans or players.

“I think all too often, the differences in observance separate us instead of being ways that we can learn and grow from each other’s experiences,” said Halbfinger. “NHBT is a fun, natural way for these different students to come together and have a really exciting weekend.”


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