Jerusalem Hoopsters Play for Kugel in Inter-shul League

Eight synagogues compete in Jerusalem synagogue basketball league's first-ever finals.

After a tense playoff, the final game was held at the Malha sports hall, Hapoel Jerusalem's home court. Nitzanim won a sweeping victory, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presented the team with the cup. Then, the teams and the audience stormed the court, turned eastwards and said the evening prayers.

This wasn't the only unusual aspect of the game: This may have been the first time in basketball history that the cup prize was a voucher for a Shabbat kugel.

Nitzanim synagogue - Emil Salman - 7.7.2011
Emil Salman

Yesterday's game was the Jerusalem synagogue basketball league's first-ever finals. The league was set up by congregations, with the municipality's support. Eight synagogues competed for the title.

Baka neighborhood synagogue Nitzanim ultimately won, beating out the neighboring Rambam synagogue. It seemed unsurprising that the two strongest teams came from religious Zionism's local stronghold. The rivals were clearly quite close: The son of Nitzanim coach Abraham Zimmering was playing for Rambam.

"I told him not to come home if he scores even once," Zimmering said.

The organizers said it wasn't just about basketball, it was about community.

"In the modern world you can build relationships with people who are not from your immediate environment, but the synagogue is a physical community, not a virtual one," Nitzanim rabbi Shlomo Glicksberg said.

"Synagogue is the first Facebook," said Yair Koren, a member of the Reut synagogue in Katamon and one of the league's co-founders. "There's no place more unifying than a synagogue, it's natural for us to play together."

For Koren, the league also has political undertones. "The religious Zionist community is leaving Jerusalem because of the city's increasingly ultra-Orthodox character, there are no places to have fun anymore. This league created a very positive buzz for the community you want to keep in Jerusalem," he said.

"There's an entrepreneurial spirit in Jerusalem and it's contagious," said Barkat. "It's wonderful to see something like that growing."

Just before he made his way down to the court to hug his players, Glicksberg admitted that the synagogue did not have a trophy cabinet.

"What do you mean?" said someone from the audience. "We'll put it next to the Torah scroll."