Passover or tennis? Passover or politics? Passover or crustaceans?
Members of the Jewish community are this year facing — and in increasing numbers, protesting — the need to make such choices at Passover.
Newspaper and Web sites around the country have reported a wide range of conflicts for Jews who wish to observe the holiday, which coincides with events scheduled in apparent disregard for the Jewish calendar. This year, the Jewish community is fighting back.
In Florida, a group of senior tennis players opted to drop out of a United States Tennis Association tournament taking place over Shabbat and the first two nights of Pesach. In Washington State, Jewish activists questioned the wisdom of state Democratic Party county conventions being held on the first day of the holiday. In Louisiana, the Hillel chapter at Tulane University asked the student government to move Crawfest, a “Music Festival and Crawfish Boil,” set for Passover. (“Because crawfish is not a kosher food, some believe that the Jews attending Crawfest would not attend a Passover seder,” a Tulane newspaper observed.) In other venues from around the country, parties, rock concerts, a debate tournament and a drama competition on Passover have drawn the criticism of Jewish spokesmen.
In Boston, a nationally prominent sporting event takes place on Monday, the second day of Passover. For traditionally observant Jews, that means no Boston Marathon. For less-observant Jews, that means a marathon with some compromises. One running rabbi told CNN that he would do his pre-race carbohydrate-loading, a marathoner’s ritual, with matzah instead of chometz.
These conflicts happen every year, but American Jews now seem more willing to take a public stand, says Steven Bayme, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Contemporary Jewish Life Department. “There is a greater recognition that one thing uniting the Jewish people is a sense of time, a sense of the Jewish calendar.”
“I’m not a devout Jew,” says Barry Schuler, one of nine tennis players who dropped out of next weekend’s Super Senior Section championships in Daytona Beach in order to spend the holiday with family. “I’ve never missed a seder. Passover is a time for families to get together.”
Schuler, 63, a retired guidance counselor from Jericho, L.I., says he and his fellow senior athletes were upset by the USTA’s apparently indifferent attitude. “You can go down to the local store and buy a calendar that shows when Passover begins.”
“When — hopefully inadvertently — events are in fact scheduled to conflict with Jewish observance, and cannot be re-scheduled, Jews should see the situation as an opportunity to stand up on Jewish principle and to live by Jewish priorities,” says Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel of America.
Schuler says his decision to forego the tennis tournament has earned the approval of his sports-minded friends. “I’ve had people come up to me from all over — a 100 percent positive response. People are happy that we’re not going.”