September 19, 2019

Former NBA Player Visits Sinai Temple Basketball Camp

Former NBA player Mike Sweetney visited Sinai Temple Basketball Camp. Photo courtesy of Sinai Temple

When second- to eighth-grade campers at Sinai Temple Basketball Camp (STBC) took part in slam dunk, 3-point shooting and dribbling contests, they also got some pointers from former NBA player Mike Sweetney, who visited the weeklong camp on Aug. 15 and 16.

Sweetney recently returned from spending eight days in Israel working at a basketball clinic organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh and Israeli American former pro basketball player Tamir Goodman. 

“I watch the news here and you think Israel is this bad place to go,” Sweetney told the Journal, “[but] when I went over there, I was telling everybody, ‘This is one of the most peaceful places you ever want to go.’ People are like, ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s peaceful.’” 

During his time in Israel, the 36-year-old 6-foot-8 former power forward for the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls stayed in Jerusalem, wandered around the Old City and visited the Western Wall. He also traveled to Haifa, where the basketball clinic was held.

“I’m watching Christians, Jews and Muslims, all in the same area, kind of interacting,” Sweetney said. “That blew my mind. I was under the impression if a Jew and a Muslim cross paths, it’s not going to be a good sign. [In Israel] you see they are good with each other.”

Rabbi Erez Sherman, the camp’s co-founder, told the Journal he read an interview Sweetney did with JNS.org about his visit to Israel and invited him to speak at the camp. “For me, it’s bridge-building for our kids to see someone who is not Jewish care about what we do here,” Sherman said.

“I watch the news here and you think Israel is this bad place to go, [but] when I went over there, I was telling everybody, ‘This is one of the most peaceful places you ever want to go.’ ”— Mike Sweetney

Established in 2015, the camp blends Jewish action, tzedakah and caring for one’s neighbor with basketball instruction. This year, approximately 80 kids took part in the camp. Students from Sinai Akiba Academy and Los Angeles Unified School District schools, and even a 13-year-old visiting for the summer from France, were among the campers, along with “littles” from Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA) and special needs athletes from Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN). Sinai offered the camp to the children from JBBBSLA for free.

“Families that can’t afford it, we don’t charge,” said Sinai Religious School Director Danielle Salem-Kassin, who co-founded the Sinai camp with Sherman.

For the kids, though, meeting Sweetney was definitely a highlight. Eleven-year-old Aaron Kashani didn’t hesitate to ask Sweetney to autograph a basketball. 

“It’s fun,” Aaron said, holding his signed ball. “We got to play a lot of games. We learned drills and get to be with our friends and have fun.”