In basketball, “traveling” is usually a foul. But the Auburn University men’s team just completed a trip that’s likely to have positive impacts for years to come.
During a 10-day journey through Israel, the Tigers played three exhibition games and saw numerous sacred sites. Head coach Bruce Pearl, who’s Jewish, wanted players to “see their Judeo-Christian roots” and “experience firsthand God’s presence in the Holy Land.” Based on images and descriptions players have shared, those experiences were profound.
Auburn University Team’s Holy Land Trip Includes Baptism in the Jordan River
On August 5, the team shared photos of some players getting baptized in the Jordan River. “Today, we shared a special moment with each other,” the caption read. Players also had the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall, ride a boat on the Sea of Galilee, and sing “Silent Night” together in Bethlehem.
In a post titled “Maccabi Madness,” Auburn University center Dylan Caldwell describes some highlights: “First, we went to see the Mount of Olives, which had the most amazing view. From there, we walked down the mountain and visited the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane, which has been preserved since the days Jesus walked the Earth. We even walked along the Via Dolorosa, which is the historic path Jesus walked before his crucifixion.”
Caldwell’s “personal favorite,” he writes, “was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was buried. It was an amazing sight to see.” He adds, “Walking through the Old City of Jerusalem was a huge blessing — just observing people’s way of life and how they differ to our livelihood back home in the U.S.”
Caldwell also was moved by the “unity” he felt when teams prayed together after games. “Spiritually, this is the closest I’ve ever been to God,” he says.
Auburn is just the fourth college basketball team to play pre-season games in Israel. “A lot of teams take trips that are great,” says ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, but “I think this has an opportunity to be the most significant trip that I’ve ever heard of.” He adds, “For a close program like Auburn to get even closer together and do it in a setting with a backdrop like Israel will have long-term benefits and ramifications that I think none of us can even fathom right now.”
Auburn BB Coach Bruce Pearl Strives for Peace
In previous interviews, Coach Pearl has described why he avoids advice about steering clear of religion and politics. “I’m particularly concerned about anti-Semitism around the world,” he said in 2015. “I just want us to be able to get along and respect each other and love each other and tolerate each other’s differences. And that’s been my life’s work.”