When asked how observant I was growing up, my answer was always, “I am Conservative.” I came from a home that valued religion by placing a major emphasis on the importance of being a Jew—and my parents maintained traditions, holidays, music, foods, and prayers.
In the community I was raised, there was a large Jewish population. It seemed I shared similar customs, rituals, and life events with my classmates and friends from school. But at the same time, I competed at a high level of soccer, where the teams I played for were made up of girls from all different areas of the state. It always seemed I was the only Jewish player.
This was especially challenging leading up to the High Holidays. Though it was typical for our township to shut down in observance of the holidays, it was not so for other areas. That meant my travel soccer practices and games were still being scheduled on the holiest days for Jews. My family believed we did not work or play on those days, so it was without question that whatever sports commitments we had, we were to miss.
I didn’t know any differently. My parents declared this the rule, so I abided. This carried on to college, where even in the biggest of games, I did not participate. And, I respected their way. I never deliberated on this… until now.
Fourteen years ago, while a sophomore at Michigan State University, I developed a significant eating disorder. As I battled to overcome it, I found a new appreciation for the sports community (I still played soccer), the university, and the people in that special place.
This past spring, I was informed of my selection as the recipient of the 2017 Nell C. Jackson Outstanding Alumna Award. This award is presented annually to a varsity Spartan alumnus whose career and personal accomplishments since graduating from Michigan State exemplify a profound commitment to professional achievement and community service.
It was beyond exciting and gratifying when I received the letter. But, as I continued reading the details, I prayed the date noted would not conflict with the holidays. It wasn’t so. The acceptance of the award would take place during a fall football game, which happens to be on Yom Kippur–the most important holiday of the Jewish year.
Really? When looking to schedule such a special event, didn’t they look at a calendar? And, if so, why were the Jewish holidays not considered when finalizing a date? There are so many Saturday football games. Why, of all Saturdays, does it have to be on Yom Kippur?
Up until the last minute, I had a difficult time replying to the invitation. On one hand, I feel so incredibly guilty that after all these years of sacrificing athletic commitments for the Jewish holidays, I would suddenly make an exception. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly believe that Michigan State provided me the resources and opportunity to battle an eating disorder, overcome it, and come out stronger and happier. And, finally, it is because of the school I began this new career path: I am now on a mission to share my journey through writing and speaking–in hopes of educating and raising awareness about eating disorders, body image, and exercise, while inspiring those who may be struggling to keep on fighting.
I always say, “There are exceptions to every rule.” And, though, I know I am going against what my family believes, what I believe, and even what I hope my children will believe, I can’t help but feel that attending this extraordinary event is the right thing to do.
It is a way of expressing my gratitude to MSU–not just for this incredible award, but for saving my life 14 years ago. And, I get to accept it and show my appreciation on the Michigan State University football field. I don’t think it gets much better… that is, unless it was scheduled on a day that was not Yom Kippur.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.