Balancing Judaism & Football
As a high school athlete, most people don’t think about how being a Jew might affect your experience on your team. During the fall sports season, however, being a student-athlete interferes with Jewish life often.
I am the quarterback on my Junior Varsity football team. We start practice in July, running drills once a week. In early August, we start full-padded practice every day in preparation for our first game at the end of the month. The season consists of nine games and runs through mid-October. And for those unfamiliar, there happen to be a lot of Jewish holidays that occur between July and October, which can lead to religious conflicts.
The High Holidays are an extremely important part of Jewish life, and something I look forward to each year. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and like most Jewish holidays, different people relate to it differently. For me, it’s filled with joy, delicious and symbolic foods, and is a special time for gratitude. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. In my family and reform synagogue, it’s a day to reflect on your past mistakes and a reminder to work on yourself.
The Jewish High Holidays are smack in the middle of football season.
Neither of those days are days that you want to play football on. Especially since you refrain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur. It’d be almost impossible to stay upright during football practice when you haven’t eaten anything all day.
Last week on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I dressed up in the morning and headed out to services. When I got back home, I ate lunch, changed from a nice and clean button-down shirt into my dirty practice jersey and pants, and went out to go play some football. When I came back, I had a nice Rosh Hashanah dinner– with all the fixings– with my parents and brother.
Yom Kippur starts at sundown on Wednesday, September 15, and ends around sundown on Thursday, September 16. My public school doesn’t hold classes on Yom Kippur, but Wednesday– which is Erev Yom Kippur– is looked at as a regular school day and we are scheduled to have a game. To me, it shows that public schools obviously don’t take Jewish holidays into account, although a football game would never be scheduled on Christmas eve or Easter weekend. Thankfully, they didn’t schedule the game for Thursday, when I would’ve been fasting and barely been able to stand, much less play an entire game of football.
Despite the separation of Church and State, the public calendar in the United States is based on the Christian calendar. Christian holidays– in school and everywhere else– are the default. Holidays such as Passover, Sukkot, and Hanukkah are still usually school days and sports definitely don’t stop for any of our major holidays.
It’s really unfortunate that most public high schools don’t think about Jewish students and the choices and sacrifices they are asked to make. And it isn’t just Jewish students. Muslims, Hindus, Druids, and other non-Christian students are often overlooked when schools make their sport’s calendars. The Jewish Calendar happens to be a particularly busy one– we have many holy days of celebration and commemoration. It can be tough for any minority student to balance their religious and cultural identity with life as a high school athlete.
As for me, I’m handling it well enough. Both of these aspects of my life are important to me. Conveniently, my family doesn’t go to synagogue particularly often. Even during the High Holidays, we go to services in the morning, which allows me to play or practice in the afternoon. Since COVID is still around, my extended family hasn’t gathered for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, so that hasn’t interfered with football either. It’s not exactly an ideal situation, but I know there are plenty of schools across the country that don’t recognize Jewish holidays at all.
I know life as a Jew is forever and high school only lasts for four years; that doesn’t make choices between attending practices or services any easier.