They were not chosen because of their athletic prowess but because of their Jewish student populations, but UCLA and the University of Florida, who will compete for the NCAA men’s basketball championship tonight as the culmination of "March Madness," are two of the 12 universities coast-to-coast that comprise the Orthodox Union’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program.
One of last year’s finalists, the University of Illinois, also is a JLIC school, meaning that three of the last four competitors for the NCAA title have combined first-rate basketball with Jewish learning at a high level. In addition, The University of Pennsylvania, another JLIC campus and the perennial Ivy League champion, was in the tournament this year and qualifies almost every year.
JLIC -- a cooperative effort of the OU, Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the Torah Mitzion organization -- places a young Orthodox rabbi and his wife on secular campuses to provide the atmosphere of the yeshiva for non-Orthodox and Orthodox students alike. Besides the schools named above, JLIC is also found at Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Brandeis, New York University, Brooklyn College, The University of Maryland and Rutgers.
"Basketball championships are ephemeral while the study of Torah is eternal," declared Rabbi Menachem Schrader, Founding Director of JLIC. "When the excitement of the championship game fades, the excitement of Torah study will live on for UCLA and University of Florida JLIC students every day of their lives."
And then, with a twinkle in his eyes, Rabbi Schrader said, "University presidents who want to go to the Final Four should bring JLIC to their campuses."
Rabbi Schrader can be reached at email@example.com.