Being the picky eater that I am, keeping kosher for Passover was never all that easy for me. I did it for a year or two as a young teenager, but the stint was short-lived. Surprisingly, though, what ended my two-year streak wasn’t a craving for a juicy bacon cheeseburger on a warm, toasted bun (so many Jewish dietary rules, so easy to break them all at once…) but rather the fact that I was an athlete.
I was a runner throughout high school and had a particularly sluggish workout one day. The obvious cause was that I hadn’t been eating well for a few days since Passover had begun. For picky eater whose diet was heavily based on white carbohydrates, finding acceptable meals had been difficult. I was talking to my coach at one point that day, and basically our conversation boiled down to this: If I wasn’t going to be eating properly, I shouldn’t be practicing. Not that my coach was going to kick me out or anything, but it wasn’t safe, and it wasn’t healthy. So that was the end of that.
While this hasn’t been an issue for me in the years since, there are plenty of people out there with more varied palettes and more willpower than I, and some of them play sports here at Columbia.
So, what do you do when you’re a college athlete with a commitment to both your religion and your team? Keeping kosher for Passover or attending a Seder instead of scheduled practice aren’t World Series- or Yom Kippur-level decisions à la Sandy Koufax, but they’re still important choices, and choices our peers have to make every year while most of us simply curl up with our homework, whether it be here at school or back home for the weekend if we’re lucky.
What it comes down to is that the college athletic calendar simply doesn’t allow for students to respect both their religions and their teammates at the same time, at least not to the extent that they may wish they could.
Like the Christian players on the baseball and men’s tennis teams who, in all likelihood, weren’t able to attend church on Easter Sunday because of competition, my guess is that the Jewish student-athletes with weekend matchups and travel weren’t able to attend Seders with their families on Friday or Saturday night, either.
The Jewish student-athletes also have the added strain of deciding whether or not to keep kosher for Passover—a weeklong event starting this past Friday night at sundown. So what’s a Jew to do?
I was unable to survey all Jewish student athletes over the weekend—sorry to disappoint—but my guess is that, for the vast majority, keeping kosher for Passover is unrealistic.
If there are a few who are able to do it, kudos! But I assume many run into a similar situation to the one I did back in high school: Keeping kosher for Passover can easily interfere with athletics. How are you supposed to carbo-load before a track meet when you can’t eat pasta? I’m sorry, but swapping out pasta for matzo is just not a fair trade. Similarly, what do you do when sandwiches are provided for lunch between games in a doubleheader and you need to keep your energy up? The reality is, you eat.
One lucky thing about Passover is that it moves around (because the dates are based off a lunar calendar). So in years when the first and second nights occur on practice days, there’s actually a possibility to slip out early, assuming your Seder is close by enough. For athletes who celebrate Easter, though, the Sunday thing has got to be a constant drag.
So we’re left with the question: What’s the solution? Unfortunately, I don’t think there is one. It’s impossible for the athletic calendar to respect every single holy day of every single religion, and so in the end, it respects very few of them. It doesn’t really please anyone, but it doesn’t offend anyone, either. What we’re left with, though, is a full athletic calendar that regrettably forces athletes to choose between their teams, their families, and their faiths.
Victoria Jones is a Barnard College senior majoring in French.
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