Bagels and Basketball
Want to watch the big game and help the victims of the Haiti earthquake at the same time?
Check out Bagels & Basketball: Hoops for Haiti, a watch party KU Hillel is holding for today’s Jayhawks’ game with the proceeds from the event going to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief Fund.
When: Doors open at 12:30 p.m. today
Where: Abe & Jake’s Landing,
8 E. Sixth St.
Cost: $2 for students, $5 non-students; activities are $1 each.
The phrase sounds like something you shouldn’t say. Like it’s not right for polite company or un-PC or something that could get you fired if you Googled it at work.
It’s so cringe-inducing, in fact, that despite uttering the phrase every week, Katie Coppaken gets nervous just talking about it in public.
“If you replaced it with another religion it would be really weird, too. Like if you called it ... you know, I don’t want to say it because I’m in public, but you know, any term,” says Coppaken, a Kansas University junior who must say the phrase each Friday night when she walks into Robinson Gymnasium on campus. “When you go into Robinson, you have to say like, ‘I’m here for Jew Ball.’ And then it’s like, ‘Oh God, I just hate that.’”
Well, she hates the name, but she loves the game.
Each week, Coppaken and 40 or so other Jewish students file onto a basketball court and celebrate the Sabbath in the most unusual way — with lay-ups, jump shots and maybe a post-game Shabbat dinner of challah and pizza in a Friday night ritual that has become known as Jew Ball.
Yes, that’s what the players call it.
It’s OK for anyone to call it that, too. The group even has “Jew Ball” emblazoned on T-shirts — accompanied by a kippah-wearing Jayhawk. Not that Coppaken wears the shirt out in public.
“Never! Never! No — it’s a sleeping shirt only,” she says, laughing.
Jew Ball started last year as a project spearheaded by a few interns at KU Hillel, including Coppaken and Aaron Price. The interns were athletically oriented, and Price found inspiration in a Saturday staple at home in Overland Park.
“The basketball league kind of came about (because) back home at the Jewish Community Center on Saturday mornings there would just be pick-up basketball and it not only would be Jewish kids, it would be some of the top high school kids from around the city,” Price says. “It would always be competitive games, and you’d have teenagers all the way up to grownups playing. I thought we’d bring it here.”
And Jew Ball was born in Lawrence.
The league started out on Wednesday nights and was so popular the students decided to bring it back this school year. The only problem? All the Wednesday night court slots were taken — the only night with open courts was Friday night. Only after cementing a 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday spot did Price realize he’d planned Jew Ball for the Sabbath and that it might conflict with weekly Shabbat services.
“I realized it was on Shabbat — Shabbat’s a weekly holiday for Jewish people — and I didn’t know if that would go well with the administrators at Hillel,” Price says.
Turns out that the folks at Hillel actually loved the idea, says Amanda Gropper, program director for the group.
“We don’t feel it’s competition because it’s our students, and so if they feel that they’re recognizing Shabbat by playing basketball, then we think that that’s a great opportunity for them to be a part of the community,” she says.
Indeed, Coppaken says that for her, Jew Ball is often her “Jewish thing for the week” — though she says at its heart, the league is all about the basketball.
“We don’t really do anything Jewish there — I mean, there’s no prayers or anything like that,” Coppaken says. “Everyone being Jewish there gives you the sense of doing something religious, even though we don’t talk about anything.”
That seemingly secular nature has been attractive to some students who have told Price they wouldn’t normally attend religious events at the university.
“It brings a lot of kids to this event weekly that would never go to another Hillel event. So, for Hillel, it helps them out a lot, because it’s getting more students involved that wouldn’t be,” Price says. “KU is a basketball school, so a lot of the students like playing basketball.”
Indeed, freshman Cory Gutovitz says that Jew Ball has been an outlet that has helped him acclimate to the strain of college life by combining two things he loves — basketball and his Jewish heritage.
“I showed up to my first week of it, and it was a lot of fun, good competition,” Gutovitz says. “It was a good outlet at the end of a long, stressful week at school to just go and play some basketball.”