Early Thursday morning at a Jewish high school here, Elan Kainen donned the prayer shawl that had been a gift from his maternal grandfather and recited the prayers of the Shacharit service. Nine hours later, he went through another ritual, one involving pads, cleats and a helmet, as he suited up for what might be the final game of his high school football career.
The Hurricanes of Scheck Hillel Community School were going up against a conference rival, the Berean Christian School Bulldogs, with a spot in the postseason playoffs hanging in the balance. For Elan and his teammates, who attend one of the only Jewish religious schools in the nation to play varsity football, Friday evening is for Shabbat dinner. Their gridiron action takes place under Thursday night lights.
For Scheck Hillel’s team, the fall football schedule bends in deference to the string of holidays that run from Rosh Hashana to Simchat Torah. Before getting the usual locker-room exhortation from their coach, players hear a d’var Torah, a sermon about the week’s Torah portion, from a rabbi. At home games, the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” is played over the stadium loudspeaker.