CJL luncheon designed to bring together Jewish athletes at Princeton

Jewish athletes gathered at the Center for Jewish Life on Thursday afternoon for a Jewish Athletes’ Luncheon, the second event of its kind hosted this year. The group of students was addressed over lunch by keynote speaker Howard Levy ’85, who starred as a center for the basketball team at Princeton in the early 1980s. Levy spoke of his experience as a Jewish athlete on campus three decades ago and encouraged students to continually develop their interests in Judaism and athletics. Levy, who retains the highest career field goal percentage of any Tiger, hailed the event as an opportunity to help bring Jewish athletes closer together on campus.

“I never realized until I graduated and played in the Maccabiah games [in Israel] that there had been other Jewish athletes like me on campus,” Levy said. “It’s great that nowadays there are enough Jewish athletes here to be able to have an event like this. Many of them are going through similar life experiences, so this is a great opportunity for them to connect with one another.”

The idea for the luncheon was the brainchild of Rabbi Elie Bercuson of the CJL. Rabbi Bercuson, a lifelong sports enthusiast, noticed in his first semester at Princeton that more could be done to help bring Jewish athletes together. Rabbi Bercuson then connected with Senior Associate Director of Athletics Jerry Price, who shared his vision, and the pair began to organize the luncheon.

“I was introduced to Jerry Price, and we agreed that nothing had really been done before to help connect Jewish athletes at Princeton,” Rabbi Bercuson said. “So we got together and started arranging this event, and Jerry suggested Howard Levy as a potential guest speaker.”

On Thursday afternoon, Levy and about 20 students gathered at the CJL to partake in the event. Levy, who now serves as head coach of the Mercer County Community College men’s team, discussed his Princeton career and encouraged students to combine their interests by participating in the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Thursday also marked the third day of the Jewish festival of Passover, so the guests enjoyed a kosher-for-Passover lunch. Rabbi Bercuson hopes the event will help these students develop a greater sense of the Jewish athletic community at the University.

“Our goal with this is to help students develop those personal connections, especially since there was a time when you could count the number of Jewish athletes at Princeton on one hand,” Rabbi Bercuson said. “I think it speaks volumes to Princeton’s openness and diversity that now it is a normal thing. We just want to ensure that students can be as involved in the Jewish community as they want, even if they are club or varsity athletes.

Michael Katz ’15, a junior on the men’s tennis team, was one of the students in attendance at the event. Katz pointed out that with practice and training occupying a large portion of his time, it could be difficult to remain connected with the Jewish community on campus.

“With extracurricular Jewish groups often meeting during practice times, it’s sometimes tough for athletes to be aware of what’s happening in the Jewish community at Princeton,” Katz said. “It was nice to see the CJL reach out and try to create a community among Jewish athletes.”

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