Tuesday, July 27, 2010

life can be tough for jewish jocks

The date for Starcrossed, Seattle's biggest cyclocross race, has been announced.
Starcrossed attracts cyclocross racers from all over the country, including national and international stars who compete for UCI points (earn enough of these and you might get invited to Worlds).

This year, Starcrossed is on Saturday, September 18. This also happens to be Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. So if you're a dedicated cyclocross racer and you're also an observant Jew, well, you're kinda screwed this year.

For observant Jewish athletes, this is nothing new. Hank Greenberg is probably the most famous Jewish athlete who had to choose between his profession and his faith. In 1934, the Detroit Tigers were very close to winning the American league pennant, and Hank was a star hitter for the team. But he felt torn about having to play during the High Holy Days. After talking with his rabbi and thinking hard about it, he reached a compromise: he played on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and helped his team clinch the pennant, but he did not play ten days later on Yom Kippur. The Tigers won the pennant, and Greenberg was lauded by the press for both his outstanding play and his decision to stay away from the ballpark on the holiest day of the year.

But that's baseball, a sport loved by and populated by no small number of American Jews for generations; and this is bike racing, a sport populated historically by working-class European Gentiles in which observant Jews figure almost not at all at the professional level. Put it in the Pacific Northwest, the most UN-religious part of the country, and you have a calendar conflict that is pretty much a non-issue, a yawner, nothing to be concerned about.

Still, if I were a professional cyclocross racer and I had to choose between my faith and my job, it would be tough. And I know I wouldn't -- couldn't -- compromise like Hank Greenberg did.


Kelly Carlisle said...

First of all, bravo on this post. I feel pulled in both directions with you, for you. Whatever choice you make, be gracious with yourself in the process. You are one fabulous person, but you are only one.

Second, I'm sad to say that I'll be out of town next week and unable to watch you race. But after I return from my conference, I do intend to have that cup of coffee with you. There's so much catching up to do!

bikelovejones said...

It's not so much a choice for me -- I generally try not to race on Shabbat (Saturdays) when possible, and I would never race on a major holy day. Plus, I'm committed to racing as locally as possible; so a trip to Seattle wasn't going to be a priority for me in any case. But whenever I see something like this, it's hard for me NOT to scratch my head and wonder, "can't these people look at a calendar?"

I'm fortunate that both of my chosen race series (PIR STXC and Cross Crusade) take place on days other than the Jewish sabbath. But what about people who feel committed to both their sport and their particular faith path? How do you reconcile racing on Sundays if you're a devout Christian and want to go to church before hitting the race course?

Coffee. Yes. SOON, please.

lynnef said...

The Portland to Centralia 200km is ALSO on September 18th. I thought that would be great fun, until I checked the calendar...