As 2022 was coming to a detailed, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff convened an essential roundtable to deal with antisemitism in america. And only a week later, the Biden administration dedicated to deal with this quickly rising downside on the highest stage 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 chance — for religion leaders, nonprofits and whole communities — that includes the optimistic energy of sports activities to unite, moderately than divide.
As a rabbi for the final 13 years in Los Angeles, residence 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, N.Y., 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 typical 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 endure many years later.
While 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’d 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 purpose of profitable causes shade blindness. Collaborating in sports activities gives this distinctive area. And when the sport ends, and we return to our properties, faculties, homes of worship and insular communities, we’ve got a chance, an obligation really, to proceed this work off the court docket as nicely.
As ESPN commentator Seth Greenberg as soon as advised 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 moderately giving due to a Increased Supply for the present of the sport, and the area to satisfy the opposite.
In different phrases, the seek for the trendy 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, homeowners and followers about their private non secular journeys, and the challenges on the planet that retains them up at night time. Not one visitor has denied the presence of religion of their sport, and the facility it has to convey 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 damage. New York Instances 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 on pulpits, actions are carried out on courts and fields, or in a stadium. Our group at Sinai Temple is blessed to reap the benefits of the alternatives we’ve got to convey these two worlds collectively.
A whole lot of youngsters 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 overtly talk about the way in which by which an orange ball introduced us collectively as one.
Simply months in the past, 100 Jewish, Christian and Muslim kids 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 staff, lately spoke from our pulpit towards antisemitism. Final summer time, together with ESPN’s Jay Bilas, Pearl introduced the Auburn College basketball staff to Israel, displaying them a land crammed with wealthy non secular custom of the Abrahamic faiths. By expressing satisfaction 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 Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley on “Inside The NBA” on TNT and ESPN’s “NBA At this time” had the braveness to host me as a religion chief, as I inspired the nation to make use of America’s video games to convey 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 must be to place down. Moderately, it should additionally embrace the way to carry up. Sports activities present an untapped alternative to just do that.
As Individuals, our non secular lives are sometimes tied up within the groups that we root for (and don’t root for). Sports activities and religion are collective experiences the place totally different generations sit collectively to root with and for one another. A sacred group is created the place we should pray and play. After we do each, this world will probably 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 instrument of engagement, bringing the secular world into sacred areas, I solely ask them to witness what will be finished 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 facility of sports activities as a car to unite and discover widespread floor.
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.”