Kol Hakavod: Jewish Team from Beren Academy Refuses to Play On Shabbos, Loses Trip to Semifinals


beren-academyThe Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals this weekend in Dallas. But the team will not make the trip.

The Beren Academy players are shomer Shabbos and do not play from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Shabbos. Their semifinal game is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.

“The sacred mission will trump excellence in the secular world,” Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren’s head of school, said Monday in a telephone interview.

The school filed an appeal to change the time of the game with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or Tapps, the group that organizes the tournament. On Monday morning, representatives of the school were notified that the association’s nine-member executive board had rejected the appeal.

“When Beren’s joined years ago, we advised them that the Sabbath would present them with a problem with the finals,” Edd Burleson, the director of the association, said. “In the past, Tapps has held firmly to their rules because if schedules are changed for these schools, it’s hard for other schools.

“If we solve one problem, we create another problem.”

Membership in the association is voluntary, Burleson said.

“If the schools are just going to arrange their own schedule, why do we even set a tournament?” Burleson said. “Over a period of time, our state tournament, which is a highlight of our association, deteriorates to nothing. That’s the whole point of having an organization.”

Conflicts between religious beliefs and scheduling are becoming more commonplace because of the nation’s changing demographics, said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Some associations are rethinking who their constituencies are,” Gordon said. “As pluralism works its way through American sports, we’re going to see more and more situations like this one.”

Several of Beren Academy’s opponents this season agreed to change the time of their games to avoid conflicts with Shabbos, the school’s boys basketball coach, Chris Cole, said.

Cole, the team’s coach for 10 years, said many of the players on this season’s team, which is 23-5, had been playing together since grade school.

“We have a pretty mature group of guys,” Cole said. “They knew this could happen down the road.”

Beren Academy has an enrollment of 274, with students from 18 months to 18 years old. The upper-level school has 71 students.

This would have been Beren Academy’s first trip to the state semifinals. (The tournament is separate from the larger one run by the University Interscholastic League for the state’s public schools.) Zachary Yoshor, a 16-year-old junior on the basketball team, said this season’s success was a result of the players’ working together for so long.

“Our record has never been this good,” Yoshor said. “We’ve been able to win against teams that we’ve never beaten before. I’m appreciative that we’ve been able to play this far.”

The appeal request proposed that the team drive from Houston to Dallas on Thursday night, spend the night and play the semifinal game earlier on Friday, school officials said. Beren Academy’s opponent would have been Covenant School, from Dallas. Our Lady of the Hills, the team from Kerrville that Beren Academy defeated in the regional final, will replace Beren Academy in the state semifinal game.

“There isn’t any more for us to do,” Sinoff said. “We want to be in this year, but if not this year, next year.”

Mark Buchine, whose 17-year-old son, Isaac, plays for Beren Academy, said he still planned to head to Dallas with hopes of a resolution that would allow him to see his son play this weekend.

“It’s disappointing,” Buchine said. “I think the kids will be disappointed, too, but the team has this attitude of when there are bad calls, you just move on.”

{NY Times/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Beren Acadamy, you are the winners in my book. You have made Jews all over America very very proud of you. We all envy how much reward is waiting you in Olam Habo for your courageous stand. Kol Hakovod !

  2. Mi Ke’amcha yisrael!
    A true kiddush hashem!
    Jews from all walks of life can each make a kiddush hashem in their unique way. Those from Beren Academy have just done so, and they deserve our support, congragulations, and appreciation.

  3. Kol Hakovod. That shows true Jewish courage & is a big kiddush Hashem. Who else these days would make such a sacrifice? Mi k’amcha yisroel!

  4. I too am extremely proud of the students and staff of this wonderful school. Each year I have the zchus of preparing for them The Student’s Yoman. I have found all the staff especially Rabbi Pollak to be very warm and caring towards the needs of their student’s. With such great mechanchim, is it a wonder that their student’s shine so brightly and are merited in performing such a Kiddush Hashem?

  5. Beren Academy, you have made a truly great Kiddush Hashem. You have shown the true spirit of Jewish courage and loyalty. Please know that, in this tournament YOU are the real champions.