At 14, Ackerman spends three or four days a week at clubs around New York City — with her parents’ approval.
Table tennis clubs.
A freshman at Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (aka “Central”) in Holliswood, Queens, she is developing a reputation as a rising star in competitive Ping-Pong (a name devotees of the sport rarely use), and as the “Sandy Koufax of table tennis” (she never competes on Shabbat).
“I will always stick with my No. 1 priority” — her religious faith, says Ackerman, who defaulted on a 2012 match in the U.S. National Championships, rather than play on Shabbat, resulting in a lower ranking.
She takes part in training and workout sessions at clubs around the city several days a week after school, two to three hours each time, giving up such pursuits as “shopping, hanging out with my friends … I definitely gave up a lot.”
Since taking up the sport six years ago, in the basement of her family’s West Hempstead home, she’s gained a following in the Orthodox community, and qualified as one of 16 women, of all ages, to participate in this year’s trials for the U.S. team in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil; she didn’t make the team. Now she’s focused on the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
When older, she may become a doctor or lawyer. “Something to give back.”
Traveling for tournaments, Ackerman is often invited to speak at local Jewish schools and synagogues. Last month, she and her nationally ranked, table tennis-playing brother Akiva — and the rest of the family — were invited to speak and play over the week of Passover at a local resort.
Her message is simple: “I try to inspire. I tell people, ‘Put in the time and the effort. Dream big.’”
Role Model: Ackerman calls her late grandfather, Rabbi Fred Ackerman, director of marketing at the Woodmere Rehabilitation and Health Care Center and a founder of Ackerman’s Funeral Chapel in the Bronx, the person she most admires. “He was always helping people.”
Table tennis hustler: Fans of Ackerman have set up exhibition matches against tennis star Rafael Nadal, a coach of the New York Cosmos soccer team, and chef Bobby Flay, all competent Ping-Pong players. She smoked ’em all.