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A court docket of options – eJewish Philanthropy


As 2022 was coming to an in depth, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff convened an essential roundtable to sort out antisemitism in america. And only a week later, the Biden administration dedicated to deal with this quickly rising downside on the highest degree of presidency, establishing an interagency committee aimed toward combating antisemitism. As federal leaders set out on this important work within the new yr, there may be additionally a possibility — for religion leaders, nonprofits and whole communities — that entails the constructive energy of sports activities to unite, somewhat than divide.

As a rabbi for the final 13 years in Los Angeles, dwelling to the second-largest Jewish inhabitants in america, my equal passions for sports activities and religion go hand-in-hand. Rising up an observant Jew in Syracuse, NY, I performed varsity basketball. My teammate—and co-captain—was an African-American Seventh Day Adventist. The 2 of us have been of various religions and races however shared a standard ritual; we might not compete on the Sabbath. When sport schedules couldn’t be modified, our teammates would go to us in our respective religion communities and realized our customs. It strengthened their very own religion and dedication to what they believed, a mutual respect that constructed deep relationships that lasted a long time later.

Whenever you spend your childhood on a basketball court docket, on a baseball diamond and in a sanctuary, you meet folks of various races, folks of various non secular beliefs, and individuals who you’ll in any other case by no means work together with in day by day life. Variations disappear when the sport is tied, and the final word aim of profitable causes colour blindness. Collaborating in sports activities supplies this distinctive house. And when the sport ends, and we return to our properties, colleges, homes of worship and insular communities, we have now a possibility, an obligation really, to proceed this work off the court docket as effectively.

As ESPN commentator Seth Greenberg as soon as instructed me, “The locker room is a sanctuary.” It’s a place the place we share our tales, trials and tribulations, achievements and successes. It’s a place the place gamers and coaches expertise moments of deep prayer, not asking for wins, however somewhat giving due to a Increased Supply for the present of the sport, and the house to fulfill the opposite.

In different phrases, the seek for the fashionable sanctuary should embrace the sports activities world.

For the final two years, I’ve hosted the podcast, “Rabbi On The Sidelines, The Intersection of Sports activities And Religion.” Week after week, I’ve interviewed skilled athletes, Corridor of Fame coaches, nationally identified broadcasters, house owners and followers about their private non secular journeys, and the challenges on this planet that retains them up at evening. Not one visitor has denied the presence of religion of their sport, and the ability it has to deliver individuals who would in any other case by no means work together to moments of understanding and love. Look no additional to the unity of religion demonstrated by the American folks over Damar Hamlin’s tragic harm. New York Occasions columnist Ruth Graham wrote concerning the bond between soccer and religion, the necessity to have God by our aspect, on and off the sphere.

Whereas concepts are born in pulpits, actions are carried out on courts and fields, or in a stadium. Our neighborhood at Sinai Temple is blessed to benefit from the alternatives we have now to deliver these two worlds collectively.

Lots of of kids from round Los Angeles come collectively at Sinai to play basketball every year. Youngsters come as strangers from synagogues, mosques and church buildings. The competitors is fierce, however the friendships fashioned stay even stronger. The week ends with an awards ceremony over a Sabbath dinner, the place we break bread, and brazenly focus on the way in which by which an orange ball introduced us collectively as one.

Simply months in the past, 100 Jewish, Christian and Muslim youngsters got here collectively for a basketball clinic, hosted by NBA veteran Enes Kanter, and G-League participant Ryan Turrell. It was a second that transcended religion and race.

Coach Bruce Pearl, head coach of the nationally ranked Auburn College basketball workforce, just lately spoke from our pulpit in opposition to antisemitism. Final summer season, together with ESPN’s Jay Bilas, Pearl introduced the Auburn College basketball workforce to Israel, displaying them a land stuffed with wealthy non secular custom of the Abrahamic faiths. By expressing delight in his religion, he permits others to share theirs too.

And simply weeks in the past, throughout a firestorm of antisemitic tweets and non-apologetic apologies by New Jersey Nets guard Kyrie Irving, Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley on “Inside The NBA” on TNT and ESPN’s “NBA Right now” had the braveness to host me as a religion chief, as I inspired the nation to make use of America’s video games to deliver folks collectively and never divide this nice land of ours.

Tweets and phrases can result in harmful actions and penalties. But, the answer doesn’t at all times need to be put down. Relatively, it should additionally embrace find out how to elevate up. Sports activities present an untapped alternative to do exactly that.

As People, our non secular lives are sometimes tied up within the groups that we root for (and do not root for). Sports activities and religion are collective experiences the place completely different generations sit collectively to root with and for one another. A sacred neighborhood is created the place we should pray and play. Once we do each, this world shall be a significantly better place than it’s as we speak.

Whereas some could ridicule a rabbi who makes use of sports activities as a software of engagement, bringing the secular world into sacred areas, I solely ask them to witness what may be completed when religion communities use a ball, a court docket and a discipline to introduce themselves to one another. I hope others will think about using the ability of sports activities as a automobile to unite and discover widespread floor.

Play ball!

Rabbi Erez Sherman serves as one of many rabbis of Sinai Temple, one of many oldest, largest and most numerous synagogues in Los Angeles. He additionally hosts the podcast: “Rabbi On The Sidelines: The Intersection of Sports activities And Religion.”

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