I have never classified myself as a sports fanatic. While I enjoy playing certain sports and watching various sporting events, I am not one to attend games with my face painted in the colours of my team. However, there have been two sporting events or more precisely two sporting champions who have recently given me reason to reflect on the concepts of pride and Jewish identity. The first involved watching a recent soccer game featuring A-league Israeli soccer star, Tomer Hemed, who currently plays for Wellington Phoenix, and the second was following posts about Israeli marathon champion Beatie Deutsch, who also happens to be a mother of five children and Modern Orthodox in observance. Observing these two athletes independently have inspired me and I believe have the potential to inspire others.
Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to board a bus, along with some Moriah students and members of the Jewish community, to Wollongong to watch a soccer game featuring Tomer Hemed (I am grateful to the JNF for partnering with us and the general community in this initiative). His team, Wellington Phoenix were playing against Adelaide United. In total there were maybe 60 ‘Tomer’ fans in the crowd but we were lucky to sit next to a large (and very loud) Mexican group who were also supporting Wellington Phoenix. I say lucky because they brought a whole orchestra with them including drums, saxophone and vuvuzelas (which are not included as part of an orchestra and for good reason). Between us, Wellington were well supported, although, truth be told, we were really there to support Tomer and the Mexicans, to support Ulises Dávila. I did feel a little sorry for the rest of the team throughout the game as only 2 names could be heard on our side of the stadium.
While the game itself was not thrilling, with both teams scoring one goal each, being so close to the action was quite exciting. The screams as both teams advanced towards the opposing goal area did have most of the fans jumping out of their seats, me included. However, it was the final minute of the game and the minutes after that really had an impact not just on me, but on all of Tomer’s supporters. With one minute to go, Tomer was invited to kick a penalty shot which he did with confidence and skill. It was this kick that won the game for his team. Tomer and his teammates ran over to his supporters who were all lined up along the fence just meters away and while we were happy to celebrate the team’s victory, there was only one member of the team whose hands we wanted to shake.
It was Tomer’s actions during this victory celebration that really made an impact on all of us who were right there watching this. Tomer grabbed an Israeli flag from one of the fans and proceeded to place the flag over his head like a tallit, cover his eyes and recite the Shema. In the centre of Wollongong, in the middle of WIN Stadium, as thousands of fans were cheering, Tomer, draped in an Israeli flag began to recite the Shema. None of us were expecting to see this. In a post-match interview, Tomer was asked to explain his ‘goal celebrations’ and he said that he prays every morning, and this was his way of expressing thanks to G-d for having scored the winning goal. As his teammates exited the field, Tomer honoured his supporters with photograph opportunities and signed flags for anyone who asked. He then hugged his wife and daughters and encouraged his girls to run around on the field. All of us who had shlepped to Wollongong were certainly not disappointed. The game finished with a win, but it was Tomer’s pride in being Jewish and that stole the show. Fearless and undaunted, he proudly demonstrated his love for and commitment towards his religion, people, and homeland.
Beatie Deutsch rose to fame when she became a serious contender for the 2020 Olympics. A religious woman, living in Jerusalem, Beatie runs with long sleeves, a skirt and her hair covered, observing the laws of modesty. Beatie only began training at the age of 25. She trained four days a week for four months and she placed sixth in the 2016 Tel Aviv marathon, and since then she hasn’t stopped running. She is also an advocate for Beit Daniella, making it her mission to help children struggling with mental issues by raising money and giving these young children a voice. In 2019, Beatie was named one of the 50 most influential Jews by the Jerusalem Post.
Beatie fought to change the date of the Olympic qualifier as it was originally a Saturday, and she would have had to forfeit. She won, and the date was changed. Only three weeks ago, Beatie’s chances of becoming an Olympian came crashing down. Recovering from an injury, she was not able to qualify. Despite her disappointment she writes “Perhaps I needed to experience failure in this public arena to remind myself and all of us that life is about highs and lows. The obstacles that cause us to fall then become steppingstones from which we are able to grow even stronger”. Beatie admits that despite this setback, she will keep trying and has set her sights on representing Israel in the 2022 World Championships.
Beatie’s courage and messages of hope caught the eye of Adidas, the second largest sports manufacturer in the world, who asked her to partner in an advertising campaign. Being a religious woman, Beatie consulted her mentor and Rabbi who said “what an incredible opportunity you have to bring more light into this world. Others will hear of your story and be inspired by your commitment to your faith”. Today, massive billboards all over Israel display a photo of Beatie running in her outfit with the slogan ‘impossible is nothing’.
Both Beatie and Tomer are more than just sports stars. Through their mastery on the soccer field or running track, they continue to inspire us, and in so doing, allow us to develop a sense of pride not just in their messages of hope and encouragement but also in the fact that they are both deeply spiritual and remain steadfast in their commitment to the values of Torah and mitzvot.
We can learn from them about developing our pride in the College and all we strive to achieve both in and out of the classroom. Last week, we acknowledged our Hans Kimmel prize winners through a very powerful and emotional assembly. A highlight was having Holocaust survivors in the audience who were the very subjects of these major pieces of work.
On Lag Ba’omer, we raised close to $5000 to be donated to Zichron Menachem, an Israeli based organisation, providing support for any young person in Israel under the age of 25 living with cancer, as well as their parents and siblings. Many of our students also had their hair cut, filling numerous large bags which will be donated to the Alopecia Foundation. A total of 11 wigs will be made to support those suffering from Cancer and alopecia. Last week, our Pink breakfast event raised $7000 for Breast Cancer research.
We also held a very successful Lag BaOmer bonfire celebration for Year 10, with 40 students joining the celebrations and creating some interesting marshmallow smores. This past Friday night, close to 60 Year 12 students came together for a very special Friday night Shabbat service and dinner. Like the Lag BaOmer event, students came not because they were forced, but rather because they wanted to.
On Sunday, 44 Year 9 students returned from their week-long, Adam Ve’adama Northern Territory trip. Despite the rugged outdoor conditions, students (and staff) loved the trip and wished it could have been extended (some parents would have also appreciated an extension). Another 25 students will be heading to Darwin towards the end of the term for a similar experience.
This coming week, all staff including admin, IT and maintenance will participate in our biennial Yom Kesher day. Yom Kesher serves to promote Jewish learning and align staff to our unique ethos. Our staff (and Year 12 students) will be exposed to a variety of local and interstate Jewish leaders and thinkers who will educate, entertain and engage their audiences throughout the day. With four sessions and five streams per session, participants will have the option of choosing their session of interest. Sessions will include topics such as why are there no leaders? Israeli politics, Judaism and Psychology and Science, nonsense and religion. The final presentation will include a cooking demonstration, a krav maga session, Israeli dancing and a yoga/meditation workshop.
At Moriah, there is a great deal to be proud of and this is just a small snapshot of the events over the past few weeks of which I am extremely proud. Every day there is reason to feel an immense sense of pride. Our challenge is to focus on our achievements, on the good that we do and on the incredible opportunities we provide our students and staff. In so doing, we, as a school community deserve to feel proud of our accomplishments and need to encourage others to do the same.
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.