By Laura Seymour
This past week, our JCC Maccabi athletes have been competing in Boca Raton, Florida with over 1,000 others. In addition, other JCC Maccabi Games are happening across the country. Next summer, in 2015, our community will be hosting the games and we are gearing up. The Games and all athletic events are wonderful times to practice important Jewish values. Here are a few with a “sports” twist to think about:
Kavod — Respect
This is one of the most important Jewish values for us to remember. In sports, there are many different people to show respect to: respect for our teammates, our coaches, our referees, our “fans” in the bleachers and for ourselves. What does “kavod” look like for each of these groups? What are the ways to show respect? Is good sportsmanship a sign of kavod? Why or why not? Showing respect and honoring those we play with makes the game a positive learning experience for all. In Pirkei Avot it says,“Who is honored and respected? One who honors and respects others.”
Shmirat Lashon — Guarding Your Tongue
This is a very important value in life and certainly in sports. The rabbis teach us so many lessons on the importance of watching our words — both the ones we say and the ones we listen to. In the heat of a game (or in the heat of anger), we often say things that we wish we could take back, but once the words are out, the damage has been done. We all know this, but it is so hard to control. Today in professional sports, there are many examples of athletes saying inappropriate things on the court or in the media. What does that say about the person who says things without thinking? Why is it so hard to control our words? Let us practice the skill of “guarding our tongue” as well as the skill of “guarding the ball.”
Dan L’chaf Zechut — Give the Benefit of the Doubt
This important Jewish value has to do with how we treat others in all areas of our lives. Today we would say it means “giving someone a break.” Instead of jumping to conclusions about why someone acted in a particular way, stop and look for the good within them. Even in sports, we are quick to judge other players (even on our own team), the refs and sometimes our coaches. Stop, think and try to look from a different view —“give someone a break.” What are some examples of this value in sports? What does it mean to judge people? Do we judge people by their clothes and other exterior things? Why?
Rodef Shalom — Seeking Peace
When involved in competition, we sometimes forget the spirit of the game. This value reminds us that even in competition we must keep the value of peace in our minds. In Hebrew, “shalom” is understood to be not the lack of conflict but the presence of a sense of well-being and fulfillment. Sometimes people feel that in sports, your opponent must be your enemy. Is that true? Why or why not? What does it mean to compromise? Can you play a game without keeping score? Why or why not? Can you compete peacefully? Sometimes when we compete, we feel upset or let down when the game is over. Let us play with the desire to seek fulfillment!
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.