Op-Ed: Repent or play
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 02:09
On the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people, I must compete in a NESCAC soccer game. While I do not consider myself a devout Jew, my Jewish identity has been solidified throughout my time at Tufts University. I regularly attend Reform services at Hillel, converse with my rabbi and take Judaic Studies classes. On campus, it is apparent that Tufts is a university with a large Jewish population (around 30 percent). Hillel, Chabbad and Meor are popular organizations on campus, and Judaic Studies is one of the most popular cultural departments. Without the Jewishness of Tufts even in question, I find it disturbing that a NESCAC soccer game has been scheduled for the holiest day of the year three years running (and I assume in years past). On a day of repentance, I am requested to run. On a day of fasting, I am expected to be fast. On a day of atonement, I am asked to attack.
When I brought this issue to the attention of my coach, she was extremely helpful and supportive in trying to change the date of the game. While I am appreciative of the effort put into a schedule change, this should be a non-issue from the start. There is even a weekend without a game this year, yet year after year our schedule is released and there is a conflict. Why is Yom Kippur such an afterthought? How can it be that a league so dedicated to academics is so ignorant to the beliefs of its players? Would a basketball game ever be scheduled on Christmas? A lacrosse game on Easter?
The very notion of playing a team sport on a day of self-reflection and forgiveness is sinful. This day is set aside, once a year, as a day of repentance. I am torn by the commitment I made to my team and my religious duty as a Jew. The traditions of Yom Kippur state that there is to be no eating or drinking after sunset. Yet I must fill myself with carbs and protein the night before my game, I must eat a hearty breakfast before my game, drink water throughout the game, and replenish my body afterwards as well. Under Jewish law I am not permitted to wear leather shoes on this holy day, yet I must fill my leather cleats, lace them up and compete. There is to be no bathing or washing on Yom Kippur, yet after ninety minutes of play a shower feels necessary. Anointing oneself with perfume or lotion is forbidden on Yom Kippur, yet I must lather my body in sunscreen and Icy Hot for protection and relief.
So why not sit out, you might suggest? If the handful of Jews on the team were to sit out, we would lose a group of vital players. In a 14-game season every game counts, and missing a game seems sacrilege. When faced with the conflict of observing Yom Kippur or pitching the first game of the 1965 World Series, Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch.
The NESCAC’s core values pride themselves on diversity and respect. As an athlete I should not have to make the decision between honoring my commitment to my team and honoring my religious duty. These core values include a commitment to “providing equitable and fair competition among members of the conference, and to observing the highest ethical standards in conduct of Conference business and in the interactions among member institutions.” Scheduling a game on the holiest day of the year for a group of student athletes seems wrong. The three activities that are allowed by Jewish law on Yom Kippur are to pray, to repent and to give to others. But the NESCAC has other plans for my Saturday.