YOU SHOULD KNOW…Jared Armstrong

Jared Armstrong (Courtesy of Jared Armstrong)

Jared Armstrong was never able to make aliyah. The Black, Jewish, Philadelphia resident tried twice, got denied both times and came away feeling spurned.

He had converted through a rabbi, Michael Beals, in Wilmington, Delaware, even though he grew up Jewish with his mother, Lou Ellen Butler, herself a convert but to a nondenominational synagogue. Israel’s government told Armstrong he needed a denomination. Then it said it didn’t recognize Zoom conversion classes.

In February 2022, Armstrong said he believed race was a factor. But today, that episode is behind him.

At the time, Armstrong wanted to play professional basketball in the Jewish state. A double-digit scorer over two seasons and 50 games at Division II Slippery Rock University, Armstrong had an offer from Hapoel Haifa. Now, he’s playing for Elizur Ashkelon and living in Israel during the season on a special clause citizenship granted by the Ministry of the Interior.

In July, he also ran his first youth basketball camp. Armstrong wanted to build a bridge between his two communities: Black and Jewish. His camp at The Phield House on Spring Garden Street welcomed 33 middle school kids from Philadelphia, New York and Connecticut, among other places. About half were Black and half were Jewish.

“This camp is to bring people from different demographics together,” Armstrong said.

The professional basketball player paid for the camp out of his own pocket and offered sessions on financial literacy, nutrition and dealing with racism and antisemitism. He wants to fundraise to host two Philadelphia-based camps next summer. By 2025, he hopes to be able to hold camps in other locations like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Armstrong has started a nonprofit organization, the Asiel Foundation, to raise money for his training sessions.

He spread the word to the Jewish community through Golden Slipper Camp in the Poconos. He informed the Black community through Beat the Streets, a nonprofit organization that works to “keep kids off the street,” Armstrong said.

“My angle is to not only teach the kids but also to have lifelong friends. I can attest to going to camp and making friends for a lifetime,” he added. “One of my goals is to have them be by each other for a Shabbat dinner or a Sunday night dinner.”

But the camps will not just be open to Black and Jewish kids. Armstrong says they will be available to whoever wants to come.

“It’s important for youth players to work with peers in different demographics, races and genders,” he said.

The 5-foot-10, 173-pound point guard averaged 6.7 points and 2.3 assists in 15.8 minutes per game for Elizur Ashkelon in 2022-’23. He plans on continuing to play pro basketball, too.

“I’m just starting to build my career, and I’m just starting to build off the court with basketball camps,” he said. “I’m trying to use basketball to not only help myself but others.”

Armstrong considers himself lucky. His career is basketball in one way and another.
His sport, like his religion, came from his mother. She played high school basketball herself and was the one who put a ball in his hands when he was young. After that, he was always looking for one.

“It’s always been there, but the love just grew as I got older,” he said. “I am blessed. There’s a lot of people that would probably crave to be in the position I’m in.”

Armstrong admits that he is not “super religious.” But he does say that he looks “at the core values” of Judaism. The one that speaks to him most is tikkun olam. He wants to “work on this camp and bring communities together.”

“Do good by people and you’ll be blessed. Good things will happen to you,” he said.

Armstrong’s goal is to raise $50,000 for future camps.

“Once I put my mind to something, I don’t rest until it’s done,” he said.

But what is done is his attempt to make aliyah.

“It’s in my past, and I’m ready to move on. Go on with life. I use it as motivation,” Armstrong concluded.

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