May 30, 2024
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Inside the Lines With Bruriah’s Student Athletes

It’s where leaders emerge, mentors are found and essential life skills are honed. It’s where collaboration is fostered, friendships are cultivated and support networks are formed. It’s where perseverance is born, appropriate responses to adversity are refined and self-esteem rises.

Harvard recruitment material? Perhaps. Finishing-school website? Could be. The courts and fields on which our student athletes compete? Definitely!

It’s where commitment and sacrifice are coupled with discipline and passion in a sports environment.

Like most yeshivas, Bruriah fields the range of junior varsity and varsity sports teams that includes basketball, soccer, softball, swim and volleyball.

The challenges that come with being a student athlete in a yeshiva are enormous. For players to be successful, it is essential that they balance the rigor that is the long school day with the commitment to their teams and home lives. They must juggle their dual-curriculum workloads, two to three hour practices, meets, long commutes home and personal calendars.

While this year Bruriah celebrates its most successful sports year in history—its basketball and soccer teams having made appearances in the M.Y.H.S.A.L. championships and its softball team having made it to the playoffs—what stands out most about a student athlete’s experience has little to do with what happens on the court.

Challenges notwithstanding, organized sports remain a popular mainstay of the schools’ culture. When asked “What positive impact has being on a sports team had on you?” Bruriah student athletes and alumni echoed many of these thoughts and shared additional ones.

Where leaders emerge, mentors are found and essential life skills are honed.

Leaders and mentors emerge in the form of captains and other athletes who simply know how to get things done on and off the court. On the court they organize and energize the team. Off of it, they act as the voice of the team. “Being on a team teaches people how to be leaders, help others and listen,” said Bracha Jachter, a senior from Teaneck (volleyball). Added senior, Sarina Karfunkel from Passaic, “The returning soccer players welcomed me as a freshman, not only teaching me tricks on the court, but tricks for life as well.”

Some of those tricks include capitalizing on strengths and identifying purpose so that players serve their roles in ways that only they can. “My skills were far from the only things that grew and improved throughout my sports career in Bruriah. What purely started out as an outlet, became a window to myself and personal development as well as a hands-on classroom that taught me lessons for life. Not only did I develop deep bonds with coaches and teammates through sports, but I also learned trust, true teamwork and respect. Most importantly, I learned to believe in myself and my abilities.” Lauren Szpilzinger (’12) from Teaneck (basketball, softball). Additionally, any pre-game time together is an opportunity for a team to perform a critical analysis of the competition.

Where Jewish values translate to the fields.

To go a step further, Bruriah players deliver a dvar torah regarding shmiras halashon (watching one’s language and how one relates to others) before their games to help them keep a healthy perspective. All are tools student athletes can utilize in their high school and college classrooms.

Rabbi Chaim Hagler, assistant principal at Bruriah, reinforced the idea that Jewish values translate to the sports environment, “Middos is an area of growth you can improve on the court. If in the heat of a sports game you can maintain your composure, then you have truly learned a great middah of self-control.”

Where collaboration is fostered, friendships are cultivated, and support networks are formed.

Healthy sports environments are conducive to a variety of opportunities, including how to communicate effectively, relinquish self for team and build a network of trust. Players will go so far for their teams as to give up playing time during the finals to a player who they think will better serve the team. “On both the basketball and soccer teams I play on, I have learned the valuable skill of teamwork; being there for my teammates both on the court and off, as well as trusting them to be there for me too,” said Teaneck senior, Avigayil Wiener (basketball, soccer). Added Yakira Moskowitz (volleyball), a junior from East Brunswick, “The game obligates you to communicate with your teammates. Trust is a main part in volleyball.”

Sharing a single purpose with others who look out for the players’ and team’s well-beings was summed up by Rachel Hershkowitz (’14) of West Orange (basketball, soccer), “The love of competition with friends and a unified purpose needed to get to the finals is the ultimate expression of ahavas Yisroel.”

Where perseverance is born, appropriate responses to adversity are refined, and self-respect is strengthened.

We see shy girls finding their voices on the softball field, girls from unstable environments creating reliable support networks on and off the soccer floor and other student athletes developing grace in victory and defeat. “Being on a team helps to develop important teamwork skills, while learning how to make a commitment and balance multiple responsibilities,” said Aviva Jacobs, a senior from Teaneck (volleyball, softball). She continued, “It’s not only about learning to become a unit, depending on each other and working together towards a common goal, although that too is significant…it is also an outlet through which I can get to know people in other grades through non-academic related activities. In my experiences, contributing to and accomplishing something as a team has allowed me to change my outlook on certain ideas and for others to have a positive impact on me as a person as well. I have made lasting relationships with girls older and younger than me through being involved, and I am still in touch with them today.”

Wiener added, “Another important thing I’ve learned from my experiences is that once the psychological block of a previous mindset is removed, anything is possible.” Finally, Bruriah alumna Miri Korbman (’10), (basketball, softball), stated that “being on sports teams enhances a kid’s self-respect while teaching her to respect others. It’s a fantastic way to release pent up energy and emotion amid the chaos of teenage angst. The court (or field) is the best place for kids who don’t necessarily shine in the classroom to shine and succeed and feel triumphant and capable.”

On courts and fields that breed encouragement, “can’t” isn’t in the vocabulary. Once a player steps inside the lines, she has committed to work, sweat and think her way through adversity. “Through basketball, I learned that hard work and perseverance can conquer all,” said Hershkowitz.

Where lifelong benefits begin.

Students understand that they will be competitive athletes at this level for just a short time. For the majority of their lives they will live the lessons they learned from being on an organized sports team. From the pool or the soccer court of their high-school years, to the operating room, courtroom, homes and communal lives of their adult years, the life lessons gained are transferable at each turn. Korbman summed it up this way, “The team aspect teaches you that the impact you make has ripple effects, and that every individual action has consequences for others; it teaches us how to feel responsible for others and act in a way that will benefit others.”

It’s where anything is possible and transformation happens.

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