Meet James: PPI–ME’s Newest Fellow

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The obligatory “meet our new fellow” basketball action shot

Hi everyone! I’m James Levine and I’m the newest member of the PPI Middle East Team. I landed in Tel Aviv last Friday night and I’m looking forward to sharing my personal insights on what I’m seeing and experiencing as a PPI International Fellow living in Jerusalem. To better understand my perspective and where I’m coming from, I thought it might be best to share how exactly I ended up here.

I’m originally from Natick, Massachusetts, a suburb located just outside of Boston. Growing up in Natick, I developed a love for basketball and I played for various recreational, travel and AAU teams, which my dad usually coached. In high school, I played for the varsity basketball team at Natick High School and I set my sights on continuing my basketball career at the NCAA Division III level.

After graduating from Natick High School, I attended Haverford College where I played on the men’s basketball team all four years, and was a captain my senior year. Off the court, I majored in political science and I was introduced to ideas that I never knew existed.

During my time as an undergraduate, Haverford persistently promoted the ideal of being a global citizen. After taking classes on post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice with a globally minded and socially-conscious professor, Anita Isaacs, the idea of global citizenship began to resonate with me and fundamentally shaped who I was and how I thought. As graduation approached, I decided to spend my first post-graduate year teaching English in Barcelona after spending the first 22 years of my life in the United States.

My year in Catalonia was incredible. I was able to improve my Spanish, learn Catalan, coach basketball (shout out to Dani Ortega!), appreciate a different culture and ultimately better understand what it’s like to live abroad.

While I was having fun in Spain, PPI was always in the back of my mind. I read articles about Jay Wright and Brett Brown visiting PPI, and I loved the idea of working at an NGO like PPI that sees basketball as a means of bringing people together.

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Molt bé! That’s me (in the sweat pants) embracing Catalan culture and helping out with Castells, or human towers, with the Minyons de Terrassa

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The squad at Club Esportiu Maristes Rubi, with my good friend and co-coach Xavi

Ultimately, becoming an International Fellow is a dream job for me. It combines effecting social change on an international level through coaching basketball. I fundamentally see the game as a form of civil society and as a space where people can come together to share ideas and experiences regardless of their backgrounds. Even more, the game of basketball has given me so much (e.g. lifelong mentors, my best friends, a closer relationship with my dad), and I want to share my love for the game with kids who are willing to learn.

So, last week, after I almost missed my American Airlines flight to Ben Gurion Airport because of terrible traffic in the Ted Williams Tunnel, I was picked up in Tel Aviv by International Fellow Latoya Fisher. Now I’m living in Jerusalem where I’m coaching basketball and writing the occasional blog post.

I’m excited to soak up as much information as I can over the coming days, weeks and months about Israeli and Palestinian culture, society, and history. Also, I’m hoping to learn Hebrew and Arabic over the next two years, so if any readers have friends who would like to help out an outgoing American, send them my way!

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