Judaism and Sports: More Alike Than You Might Think
For me, sports and Judaism have always been connected. I know, I know: Judaism and sports, you say!? But as it turns out, they go together well.
My own story begins when I was young. I worked with my mom as a teacher’s aide in the kindergarten class at my synagogue; I was also a 12-sport athlete throughout high school and played for a competitive soccer club almost every weekend. I went to college to become a physical education teacher, a choice I made because of my love of sports and working with kids – but a choice also built around my experience working at the synagogue. From the very idea of my sports career there was a Jewish connection; although it was subtle then, it is obvious to me now.
It was a subtle partnership at first, but now I find myself inspired with opportunities to integrate the two all the time. I find myself more deeply connected with not only my sport, but also my Judaism, and the new friendships I’m finding through both. I have found new opportunities to further my career and professional goals with a dual purpose and passion.
Both Judaism and sports, on their own, can create an instant community for participants wherever they go. In each, connections are made based on previous experience and shared values that make friendships easy between two people or a large group. Judaism provides that cultural and spiritual connection, based on traditions and a historical journey that we all learn about and connect to; sport is a similar concept, a set of rules, strategy, and skill that everyone on your team understands no matter where they come from. Combined, with the bond of both sports and Judaism, we can create deeply meaningful experiences and friendships that impact participants throughout their entire lives.
Indeed, I love being a part of the kehillah (community) that both Judaism and sports provide. It makes sense, then, that one of the best moments of my life was learning of the opening of a Reform Jewish sports camp in Greensboro, N.C. I applied with an email that said, “I teach, I coach, I love summer camp, and I’m Jewish. Please hire me!”
The most enticing part of URJ 6 Points Sports Academy was the possibility of pursuing all of my professional and personal passions at the same time. I had lived my Jewish live separately from my teaching and sports life. But now I could be Jewish and play sports – and teach and coach! Every friendship, every training session, and every Shabbat service has been enhanced because I spent time with other Jewish athletes who understood the most important elements of my being. Bottom of Form
Most recently, I had the opportunity to extend Jewish sports experience to Israel. This winter, I was able to travel to the Holy Land with Israel Lacrosse to share the game of lacrosse with 70 other Jewish athletes, including two 6 Points campers. Every day was spent in Israeli schools teaching kids how to play the game, and though I don’t speak fluent Hebrew and they didn’t speak English, we found that communication was easy through sport. We organized drills and games, laughed and smiled, and played basketball, soccer, and lacrosse for hours – all with kids we had never met before in a homeland we all instinctively share. During the final leg of the Israel Lacrosse trip, our two campers, Gina and Julie, represented Israel in international play against the Netherlands and Belgium.
When I arrived home, I immediately wanted to be back in Israel. My connection to Judaism, sport, and new friends had been overwhelming and inspiring again, just like my first moments at 6 Points five years ago.
Israel Lacrosse recently hosted a showcase event in New York, where I was able to play for Israel’s Womens team in a showcase event and was reunited with friends from my Israel trip; Gina and Julie even flew in from out of state to attend the event and play for Israel’s U-19 team again. Israel Lacrosse also announced their official roster for the 2015 FIL Women’s U-19 World Cup and International Festival of Lacrosse, revealing that Gina will represent Israel in Scotland this July.
As for me? I plan to continue my relationship with Israel Lacrosse with future trips to help spread the game I love around the world. Almost everything in my life revolves around Judaism or sport – and now, I now get to experience them together.
Jackie Gordon is the head lacrosse coach at URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Greensboro, N.C.