Blog  Bringing a Sports Perspective to Prayer

Bringing a Sports Perspective to Prayer

by Rabbi Jason Bonder, Assistant Rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Tempe

All week, on the field and on the court at 6 Points Sports, we reinforce the idea that we as Jewish athletes can bring our Jewish ideals, values, and identities with us into our sports. On Shabbat during 3rd Session, I reminded our athletes that this is only half of the equation. As the sun began to set behind the trees in our outdoor wooded prayer space, I encouraged us all to bring our full selves to our prayers. So many of our Jewish athletes see the world through the lens of sport. I reminded them that they could bring that perspective into their prayers.

One of the ways I tried to highlight this connection was by describing the Barchu as the “ready position” of prayer. To demonstrate this concept, we first had the soccer players rise and show us what a ready position looks like in soccer. Then the basketball players showed us their unique stance, then the baseball players, then the tennis players. After we each demonstrated what we did in our respective sports, I explained that our ancient rabbis instituted a “ready stance” for prayer as well. With our feet together, standing upright, our prayer leader bends at the knees and then at the hips. With the words “Barchu et Adonai ham’vorach” – they invite us into prayer. We then mimic that physical response by bending at the knees and hips.

Through physical movement, both on the field and in the sanctuary, we are reminded of the power of the body. Our posture can prime our brain for whatever is coming next, regardless of whether what is coming our way is a fastball, a slide tackle, or a moment of deep introspection and praise.

I watched as all of our campers shifted from athletic stance to prayer position. I wore a grin of satisfaction as our athletes made this connection. But another shift was just beginning. As my mini lesson came to an end, our campers became my teachers. As our song leaders began to play their beautiful music and call us into prayer, the campers’ stances shifted once again. Instead of the upright posture with their arms at their sides, our campers put their arms around one another, swaying back and forth.

In that moment, they reminded me that perhaps the most powerful part of being in the ready position, in competition or in prayer, is that unshakable feeling that your community is ready as well. Arms wrapped over shoulders, this group of campers became a cohesive unit poised to accomplish a singular goal. In this moment, it was not to score a goal or get a W. Instead, they stood together ready to create profound meaning through prayer and taught me an unforgettable lesson in the process.

I believe that through the ancient wisdom of Judaism, these campers are going to grow into phenomenal teammates and they will accomplish great things in the world of sport. And for this particular group of athletes, I believe that it is the lens of sport that will make the mystery of Judaism much more understandable. Each Shabbat at camp, as we prepared to praise the One who is forever praised, our campers brought their full selves into their Jewish practice. I believe that the 6 Points Sports community, the Jewish People, and our entire world, will be stronger because of them.

Jason Bonder grew up with two major passions in life – Judaism and sports. Those two passions combined when Jason had the opportunity to play in the first, and only, season of professional baseball in Israel. Even though the professional league folded, the feeling of combining his secular and religious passions has never faded. Rabbi Jason hopes to show people of all ages how ancient texts and traditions do not have to be at odds with their secular interests and passions. Rabbi Jason is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA. He earned his Master’s Degree from the Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, and his Bachelor’s Degree, Magna Cum Laude, from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. He and his wife, Rina Lebovitz, are currently being taught how to parent by their young son, Mark.

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