The Jewish Daily Forward explores the journey of former ultra-Orthodox Jews to a life beyond the insular communities they were raised in, with an interesting feature focusing on a group who have picked up sports that they had previously been banned from playing. The Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis reports:
In a crowded meadow in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a group of 20-somethings swarmed a soccer ball like a bunch of sixth-graders at recess.
A few knew how to dribble, but some could barely kick. One tried to tell the goalie that he wasn’t allowed to pick up the ball. Errant passes peppered nearby groups lounging on the grass.
The players looked pretty much like any other group in the park on a balmy Sunday evening. The difference? The pick-up game players are all former ultra-Orthodox Jews making up for lost time.
Sports are generally not allowed in ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities, where many believe that time wasted on sports will be better spent learning the Torah. But a New York-based non-profit is helping former Hasids to enter and explore the mainstream life beyond their ultra-religious communities. Footsteps members meet every other Sunday in Brooklyn neighborhoods to play soccer or basketball.
The Forward described some errant throws, “bad soccer passes and Frisbee tosses threatening to land on or near other people’s heads.” But the players persisted until they felt more comfortable with the sport.
“I could probably hold my own in a real game [now],” said Sol F., 22, who just moved out of his parents’ home in the Satmar community of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
For Sol, who is one of the organizers of the games, the playing is also an act of rebellion.
The games were coed, which was a matter of principle for Sol. He says he lived for too long with Orthodox edicts about separating the sexes.
“To me, not coed seems like another [Orthodox] idea,” he said.