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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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The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

Noted chef to help raise funds for ELEM

Organization for at-risk Israeli teens raises consciousness in Bergen County

In 1982, a group of professionals and volunteers took note of the fact that Israel’s population of at-risk preteens and teens was not only growing but also sorely underserved.

In response, that group — Israelis and Americans — created ELEM/Youth in Distress.

Efrat Shafrut, the group’s executive director in Israel, said the organization now works with at least 20,000 kids each year. She estimates that there are more than 200,000 at-risk 12- to 18-year-olds in Israel.

“We work with immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia who moved here over the last 10 or 20 years, single-parent families, the poor, people with drug problems, prostitutes, Arabs, Bedouins, ultra-Orthodox religious kids, whoever needs help,” Ms. Shafrut said. The goal is to “extract them from their situation and help them find their place in society.”

 

What’s it like to be Jewish in Great Britain?

A visiting Brit, former Board of Deputies head, talks about similarities and differences

In a way, British Jewish life can seem to us, here in the United States, to be an alternative universe version of our life here.

Most British Jews have backgrounds similar to our own — most are the descendants of eastern Europeans, some of whom can be traced back three or four generations, others who are Holocaust refugees or survivors. A smaller number of them are Sephardi.

British Jews celebrate the same Jewish holidays, speak the same language, share many Jewish and general cultural references. They even can trace their mythic origins in their country to the east side of its biggest city — Manhattan’s Lower East Side for us, London’s East End for them.

There are many differences as well, though. To begin with, we do not say a prayer for the Queen during our prayer services. Our community is much larger — they have fewer than 300,000, representing about .4 percent of all Britons. (That’s roughly the number of Jews in northern New Jersey.) We have somewhere between 4.2 and 5.3 million, depending on which definition of Jewish the statistician uses. That’s about 1.8 percent of all Americans. They have those lovely, dancing, enviable accents; we plod along in our flat heavy Americanese.

 

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Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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