MAKOM brings Jews and Sports to life!
This semester, I’ve decided to take a few Lambeau leaps of faith by teaching electives for our MAKOM Hebrew High program that do not revolve around music. I’ve loved teaching History of Israeli Music, JJGlee and even Modern Jewish Music a few years back. What else could I teach about you ask? Well, as you could guess, Jews and Sports! No, this is not a class on memorizing the top Jewish baseball players by position (although I do recommend the book The Baseball Talmud for that), but rather an exploration into how sports have shaped our cultural our identities, for better or for worse.
As I’ve tried to figure out how to frame our sessions, two books on my bookshelf have become more and more helpful: Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports by Dr. Jeffrey Gurock and Ellis Island to Ebbets Field by Peter Levine. Both works speak to the history of sport as an avenue to acculturation and the sensibilities we must have to those who paved the way for us to live in a world where you don’t have to choose one religion, be that Judaism or Sports (one could argue that sports is in fact a religion- its sacred sanctuaries, places of worship, fanatic followers,set of rules, personalities worth emulating etc).
The class’ opening session was modeled after a Jews and Sports class taught at Temple University by Rabbi Rebecca Alpert. I made reference to a scene from the movie Airplane (also made reference to in the documentary Jews and Baseball).
Rabbi Alpert had been surprised that the stereotypes she thought might still exist were no longer prevalent among her students. Our MAKOMers, did feel that a strong stereotype still exists. What ensued was a brief discussion on how stereotypes are formed and how we can find ways to get rid of them.
Living in Jacksonville, we still experience many of the issues brought up by Gurock: “The problem for Judaism with this belief system has been that, until very recently, the sports world’s clock, calendar and social group dynamics were highly inimical to the religious sensibilities of many Jews and most certainly their rabbis. When Jews were chosen in, they were admitted at the expense of their religion. Game or practice schedules that clashed with the Sabbath or Jewish holidays were an issue for all that hallowed that day.” Our Sunday sports leagues here in town have aided in this effort, but major sporting events and especially High school events (be they sports, theatre etc) are all on Shabbat. This will definitely be a fun topic to discuss….
Be it Samson battling the Philistines or a Jewish sportsman who wanted to feel like a Hellenized man in ancient Greece, sports have always acted as a gateway towards acceptance in society. Even if you can’t play every sport, our society makes it known that you must be in the know about sports. As clergy, sports metaphors and references in sermons or even in dialogue with students, makes us “legit. ” How can we make that bond between Judaism and Sports stronger so its not “pick one or the other.” I won’t give too much more away, but I’m looking forward to a semester of spirited discussion and learning.