May 21, 2019

Maccabi Haifa Visits Sinai Temple Basketball Camp

Under the banner of “Hoops and the Holy Land,” 300 Sinai Temple basketball camp students not only got to meet but also had the opportunity to play with members of Israel’s Maccabi Haifa Basketball Club on Oct. 10.

The Israeli team was in town to play the Los Angeles Clippers in an exhibition game at Staples Center the following day. Students got to take part in the clinic that included basketball drills and a meet and greet with the players, including point guard Amit Alon, center Daniel Koperberg and power forward Roman Sorkin.

“Los Angeles has a really prominent Israeli and Jewish community,” Andrew Holtz, Maccabi Haifa operations manger and scout, told the Journal. “We wanted to try to do some community outreach while we were out here. I started calling all the local temples and [Sinai Temple’s] Rabbi [Erez] Sherman was super helpful and very open to the idea. We saw an opportunity with our free day to take advantage and give back.”

Benjamin Altman, 12, said, “I think it’s a really good experience, meeting people who play [professional] basketball.”

“I really want to meet some basketball players,” said Jonah Houriani, 8, who has been playing the sport for three years. “I want to play some more basketball and maybe learn some new moves.”

Following the hourlong clinic, families enjoyed a dinner and conversation with Rabbi Sherman, American-Israeli Maccabi Haifa owner Jeff Rosen (who lives in Miami), head coach Barak Peleg and team captain Willy Workman.

“It’s been an extraordinary journey to be part of an Israeli business, an Israeli sports team,” Rosen said. “In 11 years, we’ve brought over at least 15 young Americans who make aliyah to play with us.”

Sinai Temple Religious School Director Danielle Kassin said, “Sports and Judaism go hand in hand. I believe very strongly in the values on the court. I love the idea that in Judaism and on a basketball team you have community.”

Kassin spearheaded the social component of the event, which included both the basketball campers and students from Sinai Temple day school making Hanukkah cards to send to Maccabi Haifa’s philanthropic organization, Haifa Hoops for Kids. 

“Haifa Hoops for Kids basically allows us to bring underprivileged children in Israel to the games in Haifa free of charge,” Holtz said. “Throughout the year, our team puts on clinics and after-school programs to keep the kids in Haifa off the streets while their parents are at work.”

The clinic and the dinner were sponsored by Behzad Souferian, founder and CEO of the Souferian Group in Beverly Hills, his mother, Flora Matloub, and the Sinai Temple Israel Center. The Souferian family also raises funds for Haifa Hoops. Souferian and his family fled Iran in 1978, when he was 3, and came to Los Angeles. A scholarship athlete at USC, Souferian was the first Persian Jewish student to play basketball for a major university. He also played professionally in Israel and Germany. He saw “Hoops in the Holy Land” as an opportunity to support two of his passions, the Jewish community and basketball.

“I realized if you could play basketball, it didn’t matter where you came from [or] your background,” Souferian said. “It was the equalizer. I learned what it means to be dedicated, what it means to be disciplined, how to be a hard worker, how to work with teammates, how to develop game plans. A lot of the foundations that I have now in my real estate development company were based off things I learned at a young age from my basketball upbringing.”

“Every year, when we bring the guys to the States and we try to play NBA games, we try to reach out to the community to do as many clinics and create as many bridges as we can,” Rosen said. “To listen to the kids, to hear that thrilling excitement at watching some of our guys play, it’s priceless.”