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Shabbat conflict sidelines Orthodox hoops squad

 
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Chris Cole, the coach of the boys’ basketball team at the Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, says his squad is peaking, coming off its 27-point victory in the state tournament quarterfinals.

Apparently the Stars, who with a record of 24-5 are having the best season in school history, will not be able to show off their game in the rest of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) 2A tournament.

The semifinals are being held on Friday night and the finals on Saturday afternoon, conflicting with Shabbat. Beren’s appeal to change the starting times was rejected Monday by the association. Beren thus was forced to forfeit.

Beren, an Orthodox Jewish day school with 67 students in its upper school, had asked the association to adjust the start time of Friday’s game to earlier in the afternoon and, if necessary, begin the championship game on Saturday evening.

The quarterfinals game against Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School of Kerrville on Feb. 24 had been played earlier than scheduled to accommodate Beren, and the other three semifinalists in the 2A category — schools with enrollments of 55 to 120 students — reportedly were willing to follow suit.

“Just as TAPPS doesn’t schedule games on Sunday in deference to Christian teams, we expected that as a Jewish team, there would be grounds for a scheduling change,” Beren’s head of school, Rabbi Harry Sinoff, told JTA.

TAPPS, however, would not acquiesce, prompting Beren to withdraw from the competition. On Monday, TAPPS changed the tournament bracket on its website, crediting the Kerrville team with the victory and advancing Our Lady of the Hills Catholic to the semifinals against Dallas Covenant on Friday.

TAPPS director Edd Burleson, who declined to respond to inquiries from JTA, told The New York Times that changing the scheduling for Beren would create problems for other teams.

“When Beren joined years ago, we advised them that the Sabbath would present them with a problem with the finals,” Burleson said. “In the past, TAPPS has held firmly to their rules because if schedules are changed for these schools, it’s hard for other schools.”

Conflicts surrounding high school sports or academic competitions and Shabbat observance that have cropped up periodically over the years often have been resolved to the satisfaction of Jewish teams.

In February, the wrestling team from the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, like Beren a Modern Orthodox day school, captured a regional wrestling title by winning a match originally scheduled for a Saturday afternoon. Ida Crown’s coach successfully petitioned the Illinois High School Association to have the match delayed until after sunset.

In 2009, a mock trial club from the Modern Orthodox Maimonides School in suburban Boston reached the national championships in Atlanta only to discover the competition was scheduled for a Saturday. The organizers initially balked at a request to change the schedule, but the school enlisted a prominent Washington attorney and persuaded the Justice Department to write a letter on its behalf.

Two days before the competition, the mock trial group reversed its position, permitting Maimonides to schedule part of the competition on Thursday.

For its part, Beren has managed to bring considerable outside pressure to bear on TAPPS.

Articles about the Shabbat conflict were published this week in the daily newspapers The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as on the ESPN website. The local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League weighed in, sending a letter to TAPPS urging the association to accommodate Beren.

Beren continues to hold out hope that TAPPS will reconsider and permit the team to play. Sinoff said an informal community task force has been working behind the scenes to reach an accord.

And the basketball team, which had never before competed in a state championship, launched a Facebook page and a Twitter campaign to rally support.

“We’ve had a really good year,” Cole said. “We’re always hopeful, obviously, but we’re really playing our best basketball.”

JTA Wire Service

 
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Israel eases conversion procedures

Orthodox rabbinic group Tzohar claims victory

On Monday morning, Rabbi David Stav’s inbox was overflowing.

During an interview at a Teaneck cafe, he apologized for looking at his phone as the messages came pouring in. (He was in the area after spending Shabbat at Manhattan synagogues; he is scheduled to be scholar in residence at Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah in February.)

But that morning — well, afternoon, Israel time — the Sephardi chief rabbi of the State of Israel — Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef — had denounced Rabbi Stav by name in a radio interview, and his friends were letting him know.

Rabbi Stav heads Tzohar, an organization of Israeli Orthodox rabbis that tries to bridge the gaps between Israel’s established Orthodox rabbinate — which regulates marriage and divorce in the country — and the secular public.

 

Masa-ing English in Israel

Local grads teach and learn from their enthusiastic students

When Benjamin Winik of Haworth finished his bachelor’s degree in political science at McGill University in Montreal, he considered teaching English in France for a year. Then he received an email from Taglit-Birthright Israel — he’d participated in a free Birthright tour of Israel in 2010 — informing him of the possibility of teaching English in Israel through Masa Israel Teaching Fellows.

“I liked how the program in Israel sounded; they give you a lot more support,” said Mr. Winik, now 24. “Moving to a foreign country is never easy, so you need that support system.”

 

NCJW immigration panel decries “broken system”

Participants praise President Obama’s executive action

President Obama’s recent speech on immigration — and his decision not to deport some 5 million people — most likely was driven, at least in part, by the advocacy efforts of groups such as the National Council of Jewish Women.

The Bergen County section, which held a forum on immigration reform last Tuesday, was in the process of sending a letter to the president when his formal statement was issued.

“It was a packed house,” Bea Podorefsky of Teaneck said of the forum, which drew 300 attendees. She and fellow NCJW member Joyce Kalman chaired the event.

“We prepared a letter for attendees to sign urging the president to take some action,” she said, joking that one of the program’s panelists, Rabbi Greg Litcovsky, said she must have had a “connection” to a higher power, given the president’s subsequent action.

Ms. Podorefsky said that the forum’s goals were “to educate ourselves, to educate the community at large, and to work together with our coalition partners.” The coalition, created around last year’s NCJW forum on human trafficking, consists of 24 organizations, ranging from Project Sarah to the Palisades Park Senior Center.

 

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