Competition That’s Good for the Sou

The Bernstein brothers – Howard, Mark, Neil and Larry -grew up in a "nurturing Jewish home" in Northeast Philadelphia where Israel was a "focal point." In fact, an $18 check was written to every Jewish organization that asked, and playing sports and being competitive was a way of life, according to Howard Bernstein.

Since 2002, he and his brother, Mark, have put passions for Israel, tzedakah and sports together to help raise funds for Israel at a basketball tournament called "Points for the Promised Land," and a day of family fun dubbed the "Milk and Honey Games."

Chaired by Howard Bernstein, the games are sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Lubavitch of Montgomery County.

"They are modeled after a camp color war," Bernstein explained, "with families competing on the 'Milk or Honey' teams in games such as soccer, baseball, tug-of-war and races to win the 'Yiddishe Cup.' Each family, no matter the size, pays $118 for a day's entertainment."

The games, which also offer lunch, snacks, T-shirts and entertainment at no extra cost, will be held this year at Willow Grove Day Camp, 3400 Davisville Road in Willow Grove, from 12:30 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9. The 'Milk and Honey Games' have raised more than $65,000 to date, with the funds being used for security support in Federation's Partnership 2000 community, Netivot/ Sedot Negev.

"Israelis are heroes on the frontlines," said Bernstein. "The funds the games raise gives them some sense of safety, such as alarms in school rooms and emergency-response equipment."

This year, the funds will go to the Klein Sports Center in Tel Giborim, a neighborhood in Tel Aviv and one of Federation's Project Renewal communities.

In the Basketball Arena
Mark Bernstein co-chairs "Points for the Promised Land" with Philadelphia 76'ers play-by-play announcer Mark Zumoff, credited not just with lending his name to the program, but offering help with everything from program design to media exposure.

"The teams, with names like 'Mashuganahs,' 'Baldy and Friends' and 'Main Line Maulers,' play a 12-minute, three-on-three, single-elimination game," described Mark Bernstein. "Everyone is guaranteed two games; the emphasis is on fun, not winning."

To date, 138 teams have raised approximately $110,000.

Funds are given to terror victims and causes like the Jewish Agency for Israel's Victims of Terrorism Fund, Camp Koby (named in memory of slain Israeli-American teenager Koby Mandell) and for extending the camp season in Netivot/Sedot Negev to keep children safe.

These initiatives have been identified as priorities by Federtion's Center for Israel and Overseas.

The tournament will be held again in 2006 "at the height of the basketball fever of March Madness," said its co-chair.

Both brothers agree that the events are a chance for people not otherwise engaged in the Jewish community or connected to Israel to do so in an entertaining, "nontraditional way."

They also feel that the games' sponsors and volunteers are key to their success. At the same time, Howard Bernstein pointed out the encouragement and support of his wife, Freda, and of Mark's wife, Karen, noting: "We couldn't make it happen without them!"

Is it unusual that the brothers are heading sporting events that encompass the community for the good of Israel?

"Not really," replied Mark Bernstein. "It would be strange if we didn't. It's natural to work together, and we both have a deep commitment to Israel and to building community."

To learn more about participation in the "Milk and Honey Games," call 215-646-4500, Ext. 101.