Jared Armstrong speaks a lot about “bridging gaps.”
Motivated in part by the Jewish principle of tikkun olam – taking action to “repair the world” – the 27-year-old Israeli professional basketball player wants to connect young people through sports camps.
Armstrong, who lives in Israel but spends his offseason in Philadelphia, held his first basketball camp here in August, two months before Hamas attacked Israel, triggering a war in Gaza. The fighting, he believes, has given the clinics a new urgency, with dramatic spikes in reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia, according to groups that track hate.
“In both communities, I just think it’s a need,” said Armstrong, who is Black and Jewish. “The only way forward is to be able to have dialogue, and to be able to understand each other and create some type of peace.”
Building off that initial camp, held in North Philadelphia, Armstrong, through his nonprofit, JAB Camp, is organizing a 5-day experience in June that will combine basketball drills and games with courses dealing with antisemitism, racism, financial literacy and nutrition.
“The goal, outside of basketball, is pretty much to teach kids things that they can use for their everyday life,” Armstrong told Metro.
“You have to be able to sit in a room and confide and build relationships with other people,” he said. “When you get to the workforce, you’re going to work with other individuals that don’t look like you, and you can’t have this prejudice or racism towards them without even knowing them.”
Kids in elementary and middle school groups will rotate through activities beginning June 17 at the Kaiserman JCC, located off City Avenue in Wynnewood.
Registration opened two weeks ago, and about 15 children are enrolled so far, according to Armstrong. There is no deadline to sign up, but JAB Camp is accepting a maximum of 80 participants.
The cost is $350, though scholarships and financial assistance is available, he said.
“Our goal is to bring kids from all different zip codes and backgrounds,” Armstrong added. “I think the diversity piece is the most important part about camp.”
Armstrong was born in Maryland and relocated to Philadelphia when he was in middle school, living in the Logan neighborhood of the city. He attended and played basketball at Slippery Rock University, a state college in Western Pennsylvania.
After graduation, he received an offer to play in Israel and embarked on a lengthy battle to gain citizenship, through ‘making aliyah.’ Armstrong, whose mother converted to Judaism, believes race played a factor in his struggle, which made headlines in Israel and elsewhere. He eventually gained temporary residency.
Armstrong plays for a second-division team in Ashkelon, a beachfront town not far from Gaza. He remembers receiving a call from his coach on the morning of Oct. 7, warning him to take shelter.
“I remember vividly when a rocket landed – right now I’m looking at the view – like right next to my apartment,” Armstrong said from Israel during a video interview. “I kind of just went into survival mode.”
He drove into northern Israel for safety but had to return to Ashkelon less than a week later to retrieve his passport. Armstrong then spent time in the United States, though he returned to the country three months ago to rejoin his squad, Elitzur Ashkelon, which is playing again following a one-month pause due to the war.
“People are trying to live normal lives,” he said, of life in the coastal Israeli city now.
Armstrong said he recently organized a free basketball clinic for Israeli children displaced by the fighting, and he is planning another event later this month.
“My goal, hopefully in the next few months, is to try to have a camp with Palestinians and Israelis to help bridge the gap in that community,” he said.
For more information about JAB Camp, or to register, go to jabcamp.com.