May 28, 2024
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Third Grader Knows When to Get Off The Field

Did you dream of being a musical sensation when you were a child? Or a ballerina? Or a professional athlete?

Binyamin Wenger of Bergenfield loves football and says, “I wish one day I could be in the NFL.” The third grader who attends RYNJ is not sitting and waiting for his football dreams to come true. He is a two-year veteran of the Bergenfield Bears football team. Binyamin, who is 8-years old, was the first Orthodox boy to join the league (two other boys joined as well, but dropped out after one year). This year Binyamin’s little brother is also in the league.

Binyamin loves the contact element in football. He says, “I am a big guy, and I like to tackle people.” Binyamin is the tallest and biggest kid in his class and is also very athletic. Ronit Wenger, Binyamin’s mother notes that her son plays in the Mitch Gross Basketball League and on the PAL baseball team. Chris Brooks, Binyamin’s coach says, “He’s the best. He can be outstanding. He is stepping up to the physical demand of football.” By the way, Binyamin is a two-way player. He is a center when his team is on offense and plays nose guard when his team is on defense.

While Binyamin loves being part of the Bears, there are certain challenges he and his family face. The biggest challenge is the league’s schedule. Binyamin has the skill level to be on the A team. However, the A team plays six of its eight games on Saturdays and Binyamin won’t play on Shabbos.

When asked why he won’t play on Shabbos, Binyamin said, “Cause I’m Orthodox, and we don’t play organized sports on Shabbos.” While his parents were the prime decision makers on this, Binyamin dealt it with rather easily. Ronit, who said she and husband Amnon talked about it with Binyamin at length beforehand, noted, “I don’t think he thinks about it on Shabbos.” She added that Binyamin is excited to check email after Shabbos, so he can read the message he gets about the results of the game. Fortunately, the B team plays the majority of its games on Sunday and Binyamin plays in those games. “It [the decision not to play on Saturday] wasn’t hard ’cause I got to play on Sunday.”

The challenge goes beyond the games on Shabbos. Binyamin is the Bergenfield Bears version of Jackie Robinson. His religious commitments make him different from the rest of the team. Overcoming this difference and fitting into the team was initially a challenge. Besides figuring out how to pronounce his name–they call him Bin now–the other kids were not sure how to approach Binyamin and he them. Ronit says, “He was shy at first. He had to learn how to make friends that were not like him.” However, Ronit adds, soon enough the other boys warmed up to Binyamin, and he became part of the crew. Part of the reason this transition occurred was because they saw Binyamin’s commitment and skill.

However, Binyamin’s teammates didn’t understand why he couldn’t play on Saturday. Binyamin notes one exchange he had with a teammate. “He said, ‘Why don’t you play on Saturday games?’ and I said we’re religious. They kept asking and the coach explained.” Coach Brooks knew there would be issues when Binyamin joined the team, but was happy to handle the challenge. In fact, he wanted it. He said, “I actively looked to recruit through that community. I wanted to bridge the gap between the Jewish and non-Jew community.”

Coach Brooks, who noted that Binymin’s schedule has not been a distraction at all, is happy to be able to accommodate the Wengers. He adds, “Sports doesn’t involve faith or religion. It’s just a bunch of kids having fun.”

Binyamin is not the only one who is breaking ground. Ronit says, “It’s a different mom experience being the only Jew. People are not talking about Shabbos or shul.” Many of the parents have noted that Binyamin is the only Orthodox kid to play in the league. This has drawn questions about her religious affiliation and traditions. These conversations come from curiosity and are helping to bridge the gap between the communities. In fact, one parent said to Ronit, “You’re so normal.”

While Binyamin and the other boys love playing in the league, it is a tremendous time commitment. The preseason starts in August, and the league runs through mid-November. During the season, the team practices every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for 2.5 hours, and they have a walk through on Friday. Practice is more intense during preseason. However, it’s not only about football, Amnon says. “Coach Brooks tells parents that kids should not come to practice if they don’t do their homework.” Discipline is certainly required!

Binyamin is gaining self-discipline, among other things, and is flourishing in the league. He recalls his favorite memory. His team had to win in order to make the playoffs. “I scored a safety and my team won by two points, 15-13. If we would have had a tie, we wouldn’t have made the playoffs.”

Binyamin’s big moment came in a game that was supposed to be played on at Saturday, but got pushed to Sunday due to rain. That was surely one prayer answered. Now, if only Binyamin’s favorite NFL team–the Jets–could have a few prayers answered.

To learn more about the league or contact Coach Brooks, go to http://www.eteamz.com/bergenfieldjuniorfootball/

By Larry Bernstein

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