May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

If you’ve been following my story you know that the date of the Olympic Marathon for women was switched from Sunday to Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to Saturday night) when they decided to move outdoor distance events to Sapporo. I publicly expressed my disappointment and shared that I would not be able to compete on my Sabbath but I still hoped to qualify and represent Israel. In January I was blessed to run a 2:32 marathon and moved up to be ranked #76 worldwide (Olympics will take the top 80 women in the field). I hoped to run the actual standard of 2:29:30 in April but then corona hit, all races were cancelled and the Olympics got postponed.

I thought that the cancellation of the games would give me a chance to ensure that the women’s marathon was not rescheduled for a Saturday again and I immediately contacted the technical delegate to share my dilemma and request accommodation. Unfortunately my request was turned down.

I tried to discuss my options with other committees for Olympics but I didn’t get much support. Everyone I spoke to pretty much told me I had no chance…and there was no point in trying to advocate on my behalf. Not only that, they almost made me feel bad for wanting to observe Shabbat. “I mean how religious are you, really?” I got asked. “There have been other religious athletes before who were able to find ways around this. I’m sure you can get a rabbi to give you a loophole.”

While previously I had felt proud to stand up for my values, suddenly for the first time in my life I began to doubt myself. “I’m inconveniencing others….they think I’m crazy. No one understands me…maybe I don’t have a right. I don’t want people to think I’m asking them to bend over backwards for me.” And the truth is, I don’t. I have never ever asked for special favors. I have never assumed that I should be treated any differently than anyone else and I would never want anyone to “bend over backwards” for me.

But after reflecting on these conversations, I realized this is not just about me. This is a lot bigger than me. And so even though all these discussions made me feel uncomfortable about standing up for my religion and question whether I should even bother… I realized that now more than ever I must speak up and stand up on behalf of religious values. Whether you understand religion or not, whether you think it’s a personal preference or not, I believe we need to respect and show tolerance and accommodation for religious people just like any other issue that comes up—gender, women’s rights and race.

I believe the climate in society right now is uniquely suited to make this change. We are all striving for greater tolerance and acceptance of others, we are seeking to bridge the gaps, to understand each other even though we may come from completely different backgrounds, we support diversity and love. Being religious may not be trending these days, but it’s just another aspect of diversity. Somehow it seems that when it comes to religion (and especially when you’re a Jew) it’s frowned upon and we’re told to fit in and not do things differently.

This week I chose to go public with my request and I am grateful for the support of Akiva Shapiro and the Gibson and Dunn law firm. I know I have not yet qualified for the 2021 games (the ranking system doesn’t carry over) but I am not in a position to wait. They submitted an incredibly eloquent letter to the IOC, explaining my request in the context of the Olympic Charter which lauds the practice of sport as a human right, to be guaranteed “without discrimination of any kind.” Additionally “The concept of reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and observances is a well-established principle under U.S. law, which provides a readily applicable framework for balancing individual rights against countervailing considerations and practicalities.” In previous Olympic games, the IOC has already endeavored to make reasonable religious accommodations for Olympic athletes. In 2012, when the Olympics coincided with Ramadan, the IOC formed a working group on the issue, special arrangements were made for alternative mealtimes for Muslim athletes, and endurance events were scheduled early in the day.

As hard as it was for me to go public, I realized that if I myself was beginning to question whether I should stand up for my religious choices (and I am a proud and passionate observant Jew), how much more difficult this must be for the average Jew. There are so many issues that Jews are presented with and tested on a daily basis and I don’t think any human being should ever have to feel bad about upholding their religious values, even if they might have to ask others to accommodate them.

I know that if any other religious athlete couldn’t participate in an Olympic event in their field because of a scheduling conflict, I would do everything I could to support them. I believe the Olympic games can accommodate religion and sport in a way that is beneficial to all athletes.

Whether my request is accepted or not, I am hopeful that speaking up about this issue will give other religious athletes (and of course any other field—performers, lawyers, scientists) the confidence to stand up on behalf of their values and beliefs. May we each continue to be the change the world so desperately needs and spread love, acceptance and appreciation for every individual no matter how different we are.

By Beatie Deutsch

 

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