A few years ago, there a buzz about a frum teenage ping pong champion, Estee Ackerman, from West Hempstead. There was talk about her trying out for the United States Olympic Team for the 2020 Olympics. If she had made the team, she would’ve been the first orthodox member of the United States Olympic Team. I believe this paper previously published a story about her. I had forgotten about her story until I read an article in the Jewish Home. It mentioned that Estee was ready to try to make the Olympic Team, but the trials were from Thursday through Sunday. The United States Table Tennis committee was unwilling to make allowances for her so she would not have to play on Shabbos. Estee decided that Shabbos was more important, and did not participate in the tournament. She gave up her dream to make the Olympic team in 2020 because it conflicted with her religious beliefs.
It is unfortunate that this story did not get the media coverage it deserved and that I just found out abut it a year later. I figure that if she had tried out for the team and made it, it would have been a big story, since she would have been the first orthodox member. It is unfortunately not surprising in American society today that a person standing up for their religious beliefs instead of chasing their dream is not newsworthy.
What Estee did was a big kidush Hashem. She is a role model not only for teenage girls but for all of us. Although we may not have to make a choice as significant as Estee had to, frequently we are put in situations where we must make choices. Sometimes it is not easy and you may have to give something up. However, as Estee showed, you must make hard choices and have the proper priorities. If my girls were still in high school, I would have reached out to their school to try to bring Estee in to speak about her experience and the choice she had to make. I hope she is making the rounds speaking to Jewish high school students about her experience.
As Town of Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin stated: “She admirably stuck to her faith and did not compete in the Olympic trials… We applaud both her commitment to her religion and her superior ping pong skills.”
What is disappointing about this story is that the committee was not willing to accommodate her. Why couldn’t they have a game on Friday before Shabbos and Saturday night after Shabbos? What happened to the idea of religious accommodation? If she were a member of another religion or another ethnic group or LGBTQ, would they have treated her differently? There is a history with the United States Olympic Committee and their treatment of Jews. In the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, the two Jews on the 100-meter relay team, were not allowed to participate even though they made the team and were in Berlin.
Estee indicated in the article that she is looking forward to trying to get on the team for the 2024 Olympics. It is up to the Jewish community not to stay silent this time. We must put maximum pressure on USA Table Tennis to make sure that she has a chance to qualify for the US team. She should not be forced to give it up because they do not want to schedule matches that do not conflict with her religious beliefs.