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TORONTO - Before embarking on birthright israel trips within the last two years, Michael Binder and David Goodman did not consider themselves active members of the Jewish community.
"Mike and I hadn't normally done this type of thing before birthright," the 24-year-old Goodman told The Jerusalem Post.
"This type of thing" was the Hoops4Israel basketball tournament they organized in Toronto last Sunday.
The tournament raised close to $100,000 Canadian to help fund a soccer/educational program for disadvantaged Ethiopian youth in Rehovot's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, where many Ethiopian immigrants live below the poverty line.
"It was a great success," the two young organizers chorus, acknowledging they had feared they wouldn't raise half as much.
Says Goodman: "It got to a point somewhere in the middle of the process when things were going really well and we said 'Hang on - could this thing raise $100,000?' And it just turned out really well."
The tournament was the first foray into Jewish philanthropy that either of the two had attempted.
Coming back from his birthright trip last February, Goodman says he felt "a profound connection to the land."
He began to wonder what he could do to help Israel, as well as to get involved in his local community in Toronto.
Armed with the idea for a three-on-three basketball tournament, Goodman went to consult with Canada Israel Experience (a birthright trip organizer) Alumni Correspondent Shauna Waltman. They discussed various ideas for two months last spring, until deciding on the Kiryat Moshe project.
"The program was preexisting, but under-funded," explains Binder, 25, who was also inspired by the fact that a relative had donated a park in Kiryat Moshe. "I thought, if someone can donate an entire park, we must be able to contribute something as well."
Together with some friends, the two set about organizing the tournament, spreading the word using community list-serves, postering and Facebook. There's also a tournament Web site which Goodman designed himself with the help of a tech-savvy friend, which to date has taken in 1,200 unique page visits.
Critically, the two also secured corporate sponsorships for each of the 16 four-player teams. Those sponsorships paid off handsomely in the end, accounting for half of the money taken in.
According to Binder, that money will go to sponsor two soccer teams in the Kiryat Moshe program (the cost to sponsor one team is $25,000), while the other half, raised by the participants themselves, will be put towards a multi-purpose sports facility.
"Hopefully this program will give these kids some confidence and show them that they can do something so that when they get out of the army, they'll decide to go to university or to pursue other goals," says Binder.
As for the tournament participants themselves, the benefits were immediate and clear.
"It was a great success and I'm very proud of being friends with the people who were most highly involved," says player Joseph Wise, who knows the organizing duo well. "They really piqued my awareness of the cause and made me want to get involved as well."
That, says Binder, was always a major component of the project. "The goal was also to get young people like us more involved in the community. A lot of the events that are thrown aren't really of interest, but a basketball tournament is something people will come out for," he says.
Fred Waks, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Riocan, a real estate investment trust which was the title sponsor of the event, agrees.
In addition to his own enthusiasm for the cause (he himself has been to Kiryat Moshe several times in the last two years through his involvement in the United Jewish Appeal), Waks believes that it is vital for young Jews to be active in their own communities. "I see the next generation taking responsibility. As a parent and someone in the Jewish community, there's nothing more important than that continuum," Waks says.
Jack Winberg, CEO of the Rockport Group, another sponsor, has similar words of praise. "I thought it was a wonderful continuation of the brilliance of the birthright concept," he says. "David [Goodman] is a remarkable young man who undertook this. The introduction to philanthropy at the young age of 24 or 25 is a wonderful thing and I fully support it."
That's good news to Goodman, who not only plans to run the tournament again next year, but hopes to double his corporate sponsorships.
He also plans to fly out to Israel in June as a birthright leader and then stay on to help out with the construction of the new sports facility in Kiryat Moshe in July.
"I want to show people that young Jews are capable and that we can be good advocates for Israel and the community in general," he enthuses.
More information on the tournament can be found at www.hoops4israel.com.