Thursday, February 25, 2010
Channeling Sandy Koufax.
Close, but not quite. This was basketball, not baseball. It wasn’t a star pitcher who refused to play on Yom Kippur, it was the “613’s” – the girl’s basketball team from Northwest Yeshiva High School. The “613’s” decided to forfeit a championship game rather than to risk their health by trying to play basketball on the Fast of Esther.
The Northwest Yeshiva High School is located on Mercer Island, WA. It shares a building with my first congregation in Seattle, Congregation Shevet Achim, so even though I have no connection to the Yeshiva as such, I do feel connected to the team and certainly to the community. Daughters of friends make up the team.
What happened? First of all, the girl’s basketball team made history for being the first Jewish school in Washington history to qualify to play in a state basketball tournament. They lost their first game – against Sunnyside Christian – on Wednesday, so they were next pitted to face St. John-Endicott for the consolation prize on Thursday.
But Thursday was the Fast of Esther, before the holiday of Purim. From sunrise to sunset, we don’t eat or drink anything, joining our fast with that of Queen Esther’s, as she prepared to save the entire Jewish people back there in Persia, 300 – 400 BCE.
So there was the problem: could the girls – should the girls – try to play a high-energy game of basketball while fasting? The answer from the Yeshiva’s head, Rabbi Bernie Fox, was no. Playing the game without being able to rehydrate would be "an unacceptable risk" for the players, he said. They chose to forfeit the game instead.
What’s interesting – although certainly not surprising, if you know Rabbi Fox, his Yeshiva and the Seattle Jewish community at all – is that it never occurred to them to break the fast so that they could play. That wasn’t even considered.
They did try to get the game day or time changed, but you know how bureaucracies are. The WIAA – the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association – who runs the games had a litany of reasons why that couldn’t be done. You know the drill: “it would be unfair to the other teams whose schedules would be affected.”
Yada yada yada. Same old, same old.
Okay. So this became, as educators say, a ‘teachable moment’. "What we hope to accomplish when we educate our children," Rabbi Fox said, "is that the ethical and moral essence we teach them -- whether they be of a secular, humanistic morality or a religious morality -- that they will extend those lessons beyond their home and school into their life and actions.
"If we're loyal to our values only in the confines of our school or our private home, then we've taken the whole meaning away from them."
The girls agreed. "It's really cool to be here, first of all,” sophomore Julia Owen said. “We worked really hard to get here, to qualify for state.
"But we're also very happy to be able to show that our religion is very important to us. Although it's hard because it would be great to get the chance to continue, we're not wishing we could ignore the fast and play, because observing the fast is important."
So what did the girls do? The dressed in their uniforms, went out onto the court, shook hands with the opposing players, congratulated them and wished them the best. Then they forfeited the game.
Today these girls stand tall – as does the Northwest Yeshiva High School, as does the entire Jewish community of Seattle. Kol hakavod. You made one ex-pat very proud of you.
Shabbat shalom, everyone, and Purim someach!