February 26, 2024
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The ‘Jewish Olympics’ and Shabbat

The 20th World Maccabiah Games are less than a year away and will be held in Israel next summer. Coach Josh Pransky from Yeshiva University is coaching the U18 boys soccer team, and his assistant coach is Justin Greenberg from Los Angeles. The U18 team at the last World Maccabiah Games, in 2013, won the silver medal and both coaches are hoping for a strong repeat performance.

But the on-field play will be just one aspect of the highly competitive tournament. Coach Pransky is Orthodox and shomer Shabbat, and has had many experiences in the soccer world as an observant Jew on and around the field of play. One experience last summer involved three coaches — a German, a Brit and an American — all trading information about how Coach Pransky kept his kippah on, all without asking him for the details, while he stood right next to them.

But these are not the kinds of issues Coach Pransky has when he coaches the Maccabi USA teams in international tournaments. While most Maccabi USA participants are not Orthodox, as Coach Pransky explains, there is incredible support for the shomer Shabbat contingent. For example, the tryouts for Maccabi’s soccer teams will be held on two successive weekends in January — one in Philadelphia and one in Los Angeles. Both are two-day tryouts and both will overlap with a Saturday. But for anyone who is shomer Shabbat, they will make accommodations and, for Coach Pransky, Maccabi USA went a step further.

“Since I am coaching the U18 team,” Pransky told JLNJ, “they worked the schedule so that five of my six tryout sessions across both weekends avoid Shabbat (my assistant coach will cover the one I cannot make). For anyone who has ever managed a team, coordinating one team’s schedule is hard enough; dealing with hotels, fields and six session times across four days in two cities, for five different soccer teams, is next to impossible. The Men’s and Women’s Open teams as well as the Boys U16 and Girls U18/U16 are all trying out at the same place and time as our Boys U18. But they did it. I have an incredible amount of gratitude to all the people who were sensitive to my needs to be shomer Shabbat.”

“Whenever the issue of Shabbat has come up during my association with Maccabi USA, they have always been extremely helpful. When I was in Chile at the Maccabi Pan American Games last December, numerous people stepped in to chaperone my U16 soccer team over Shabbat so that I could walk to synagogue and eat Shabbat meals with the other shomer Shabbat participants and their families.”

According to Pransky, this sensitivity has always been the case. “Literally from my very first interview with Maccabi USA, the attitude has been, ‘You are shomer Shabbat? What do you need from us so that Maccabi does not encroach on your observance?’ It has been an incredibly warm community.”

Shomer Shabbat players should expect a similar response. At the Pan American Games in Chile, most of the players on both the Junior and Youth Boys Basketball teams were shomer Shabbat. When applying to play for Maccabi USA, one of the questions you are asked is if you are shomer Shabbat. A quick follow up email to the main Maccabi office will put you on a first name basis with helpful staff that will guide you in making sure you have the proper accommodations.

Keeping Shabbat in Israel next summer should be easier than it was at the Pan American Games for Pransky, but there was one element he wasn’t expecting in Chile that even Maccabi could not have predicted. “We had this unbelievable conversation in Chile at the hotel. The rooms were key card access only, and I spoke to one of the desk clerks about having someone from the hotel open my room for me on Shabbat. As I was explaining it to him, he said, ‘Don’t worry, I know all about Shabbat. My grandfather was Jewish and escaped to Chile during the Holocaust. He married a Chilean woman when he got here but he always made sure to teach us about Judaism. I will make sure everyone here at the hotel knows exactly what they need to do for you so you can keep Shabbat.’”

Applications are still open for all sports at www.MaccabiUSA.com. Information about the tryouts for the soccer teams can be found on this page.

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