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  • Hillels of Georgia

UGA Charity Basketball Swoosh

Atlanta Jewish Times (November 16, 2022)

When Jeremy Lichtig joined the University of Georgia Hillel as program director seven years ago, he wanted to find new ways to engage the Jewish student body, which accounts for approximately three percent of the school’s entire undergrad population.

With a focus on “interacting with the students where they’re at,” Lichtig, a graduate of SEC-rival Auburn University, reached out to the two Jewish fraternities, TEP (Tau Epsilon Phi) and AEPi (Alpha Epsilon Pi), both of which have superb academic reputations and account for a large portion of the University of Georgia’s Jewish population, about ways to come together.

Lichtig wanted to broaden Hillel’s influence while helping the brothers pursue their collective goal of being philanthropically influential organizations. After different ideas were bandied about, the two fraternal organizations and Lichtig decided to hold an annual basketball game pitting the two houses against one another in friendly competition, the proceeds of which would support a different charity every year.

Understandably, the game had humble beginnings. In 2017, the inaugural event was held at a tiny gym in downtown Athens with one hundred or so in attendance. But over the next couple autumns, the charity hoops game grew more prominent, leading to incrementally higher amounts raised for worthy causes. Until, of course, COVID descended upon humanity, rendering gymnasiums depressingly empty for months on end. As such, for the past two Octobers, there was no Hillel UGA Charity Basketball Game.

Yet thanks to the unswerving perseverance on behalf of Lichtig and UGA’s two Jewish fraternities, the Hillel UGA Charity Basketball Game resumed in earnest this past month, this time benefitting the SherryStrong Foundation whose mission is to educate women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer while also supporting those undergoing treatment. (Each year the two fraternities take turns selecting a charity to get behind and this year AEPi took the initiative to support SherryStrong.)

On Sunday, Oct. 16, over 250 fans filed into the Cedar Shoals High School in Athens to watch TEP take on AEPi. Ultimately, between pre-game fundraising efforts and ticket sales, over $5,000 was raised, marking the event’s most successful year ever.

“It was just a wonderful release for them to be able to play this, for them to be able to raise that amount of money, and it all coalesced into something beautiful,” says Lichtig, who assumed his current post as Hillel UGA campus director in July 2021 after previously serving as Hillel UGA assistant director. “They’ve been waiting two years to do this, so the crowd was way into it. The people that were helping, whether it be janitors, security, they were excited.”

Excitement permeated the UGA grounds in the days leading up to the game. Spearheaded by fraternity leaders, Jacob Katz and Spencer Gordon (TEP) and Eric Becker (AEPi), the two houses not only fundraised impressive sums but also piqued the interest of the UGA Men’s Basketball team, including new head coach Mike White, who likely would have attended had it not been for a prior commitment, but looks forward to doing so next year. Meanwhile, the UGA Athletics Department has grown aware of the charity game, and while it wasn’t directly involved in this go-round, did express interest in having greater involvement in the years ahead.

Lichtig believes the growing popularity of the annual charity game speaks to the fact that Hillel is gaining significant traction on UGA’s sprawling campus, as evidenced by the new Hillel building that will be welcoming students next fall, standing three times as large as the current center, one that has been in existence since the 1950s.

“We try to be a smorgasbord of Judaism for these students,” he adds. “With that, we have grown with the student population here, with the Jewish population here, and that’s why we need this new building.

“With Greek life, it’s a wonderful friendship that they can have with each other. Most of these students came from Atlanta and most of these students know each other outside of Greek life, but it gives them a sense of community. We at Hillel see that as a Jewish community that we need to serve. Hillel is there to make college feel like home and to extenuate the opportunities that they have. We have this wonderful opportunity to show UGA that Jewish students are wanted here.”

The Hillel UGA Charity Basketball Game, played over two 20-minute halves, was a back-and-forth contest with AEPi ultimately prevailing 48-45 in what was perhaps some consolation after TEP won the weeklong fundraising challenge preceding the actual competition.

Game outcome aside, the joint fundraising efforts on behalf of both houses proved to be a smashing success and marked the continuation of a proud tradition of UGA’s Jewish Greek organizations—the sorority SDT is a powerhouse with its annual “SDT Greek Grind” event—having a profound philanthropic impact on the Athens community.

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