If sports don’t just build character but reveal it, then the Beren Academy’s wild and improbable ride to a championship high school basketball game in Texas (even if they lost) revealed something extraordinary about that small Houston yeshiva and the American spirit’s admiration and respect for Jews who respect themselves and their Judaism.
Before the games were rescheduled, Beren withdrew from a statewide tournament because the semifinals and finals were scheduled for Shabbat. The school didn’t even see that as a dilemma but as a Kiddush Hashem, a glorification of God’s name. They reacted with only dignity, the peace that comes with knowing that to live by the code of one’s integrity makes one invulnerable to temporal pressure. The reaction? Not only universal admiration but support for the games to be rescheduled away from Shabbat. Support came from everywhere, from dusty Texas towns to distant European capitals. The yeshiva found itself supported by NBA insiders such as ex-Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, Texas elected officials, sports columnists, cheering girls with surnames of Gomez and Valdespino, rival schools and the Union for Reform Judaism.
The Houston Chronicle compared the schoolboys’ willingness to place Shabbat over a championship game to Sandy Koufax’s choice to miss the first game of the World Series when it fell on Yom Kippur, “one of America’s native morality takes,” said the Chronicle.
But, added the Chronicle, “the real lesson, nearly half a century later, is that perhaps Koufax should not have been put in such a dilemma,” nor Beren, as the games could have been rescheduled. Said the Chronicle, “America’s strength comes from its diversity. And part of making that diversity work is a healthy respect for what others keep sacred.”
The team still is talking about that great Shabbat they had on the road, awaiting the finals after Havdalah.
That Beren lost the finals? Well, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
Just a few weeks ago, even before the tournament, the Orthodox Union recommended Houston as a great place to raise a Jewish family.
We didn’t know the half of it.