When thirteen teenage boys decided to stand up for Shabbat, they never dreamt that their story would make headlines, uplift people around the globe, and be the cause of a visit, orchestrated in part by the OU, from Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and from White House Director of Jewish Affairs Jarrod Bernstein.
“We are so proud and inspired that we have been able to make a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) through the medium of a basketball tournament,” says Samantha Steinberg, Director of Admission and Marketing at Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, Texas. “We feel like this was an opportunity to inspire the world and show that there are still kids who care more about Shabbat and being Jewish than basketball. More importantly, we realized that the world respects you when you stand up for your beliefs.”
The Beren Academy high school boys’ basketball team had high aspirations for this year. The team was playing extraordinarily well and the athletes were showing their individual talent. This year, they hoped, was going to be their time to shine.
As the team continued to win games throughout the basketball season, it became clear that they could go the distance. But when they saw that theirsemifinal game was scheduled for a Friday night, after Shabbat had begun, they knew at once that no matter how much they wanted to prove their basketball prowess, Shabbat came first.
“The boys on the team have truly experienced a life changing episode,” says Steinberg. “Through all the media, questions, and national attention, theyhave had to look within and process their own feelings about celebrating Shabbat. Each of them has become stronger and more committed.”
Almost immediately, the school requested from the league that the game time be changed to accommodate the students’ religious beliefs. The league rejected the request, but when the story began garnering national attention, the league revisited the appeal. In the interim, the Orthodox Union’s political department worked with local leaders to contact elected ofificals such as Senator John Cornyn, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and even the White House to alert them to the situation.
The league once again rejected that petition and it was only when parents threatened a lawsuit that the league backed down. The big story, however, wasn’t that the Beren basketball players were able to ultimately participate now that the game was slated for earlier in the day (winning that game, but being defeated in the championship game which was moved to after Shabbat). The big news was that teenage boys were absolutely willing to let their basketball dreams fall by the wayside in honor of Shabbat.
“Basketball is an extremely important part of my life. I play every day,” says Beren senior Ahron Guttman. “However, it doesn’t define me; being Jewish defines me.”
Throughout the last few weeks, the Beren Academy has been inundated with visits from prominent leaders. State Senators Rodney Ellis and Dan Patrick spoke to the students and Jarrod Bernstein paid them a visit as well. He informed them that Jack Lew, White House Chief of Staff, is an observant Jew and reiterated that being Jewish does not stand in the way of greatness. The OU was also instrumental in bringing Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst to meet with the basketball team and share his thoughts.
“Each visitor expressed to the boys that they won the moment they stepped on the court,” says Steinberg. They all shared the conviction that “the ultimate score didn’t determine their being champions, but rather that they stood up for their beliefs.”
For more information about the Orthodox Union’s Political Activity visit www.ou.org/tuition.
For more information on Beren Academy and Jewish life in Houston, go to http://www.berenacademy.org/admission/moving-to-houston.html.