It is my philosophy that baalei teshuva should not abandon everything about their past when they become observant. Some life experiences from ‘pre-teshuva’ days are valuable when one is observant too. I use my experiences a rugby player to make this point in a somewhat lighthearted way. As winter settles in here in Chicago, I thought I would write about rugby and the weather.
Rugby is not a game for the timid. That is maybe why it is played in the winter. Which in South Africa is from about May until September. Now winters in South Africa are a lot, lot milder than here in Chicago. I used to swim in the ocean in the middle of winter, growing up in Port Elizabeth. However, it still gets cold, wet and windy. When you only have shorts and a rugby jersey to wear, it can be pretty miserable out there on the field.
In Cape Town, where I played my most competitive rugby, we would often play in driving rain and be covered from head to toe in mud for most of the game. I remember, lying snugly under the covers in my bed in my dormroom at the University of Cape Town, in the late afternoon, looking out at the pouring rain and summoning up superhuman effort to get dressed and walk up to the campus rugby fields to practise for two hours. Week after week, month after month.
Where did that determination come from? I’ll tell you. I loved the game. I loved the challenge of working together as a team, developing a game plan to overcome our opponents. The weather was immaterial. If it had ever snowed in Cape Town, I probably would have gone out to play also. On the other extreme, in Israel at the two Maccabi games, held in the summer, we played in 100 degree burning desert heat. That didn’t stop us either. We just drank water at every opportunity.
In Judaism, likewise, others would say there are overwhelming obstacles. It’s too hard, too much effort. It’s much easier to take the snug, warm, ‘under the covers’ option. And I would say in return, ‘What obstacles? I don’t see them. I’m more focused on the beauty of raising a Jewish family, spending Shabbos with them and with friends, of learning the beauty and depth of the Torah and sharing it with others, to notice any obstacles.
It’s an honor and a privilege to be a Jew. Whether it’s snowing outside or not.