by Seraj Jones
Jewish high school Herzlia High is facing a moral dilemma as its victorious under-14 soccer team is expected to participate in the Kay Motsepe provincial finals on a Saturday, the day of the Jewish sabbath.
Nahum Prince, head coach of the recently crowned Western Province regional Kay Motsepe Schools champions, told amateur football website ‘No Bones with Jones’ that the Vredehoek school was in talks with the powers that be over a possible change of date for the Western Cape finals.
He said the holy day of Shabbat fell on the same day as the showpiece in Saldanha Bay on September 22.
Herzlia, debutants in the under-14 section, were the surprise package when they lifted the regional trophy against all odds at Elsbury Park, in Matroosfontein, last week to progress to the provincial finals next week.
“At this moment we are currently undergoing a contest for the actual dates of the tournament, because Herzlia is a Jewish School and on Saturday we have a Shabbat which means we have to rest, and we cannot do anything on that day as it is our religious day.
“So, a lot of my boys and their parents have been going back and forth on this matter. From me as a coach, I just said that as a school we have to deal with this. So, in the Western Cap we have been battling now to have our religious day, which is the Saturday. We cannot play any games on that Saturday.
“Other than that, I have just been telling my boys to ignore any of the admin of the tournament and only to focus on themselves. That is what I am trying to push on the field,” Prince said.
Shabbat is a weekly day of rest, observed from sundown on a Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Safa Cape Town’s general secretary for school sport in the Western Cape, Ian Pakoe, indicated that out of respect for the Jewish faith he had roped in Justin Asher, who served on the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies.
“I got him on board so that we could take all the necessary precautions as we didn't want to insult Herzlia. We work with all clubs and schools as a region and try to accommodate them where we can. It is now in the hands of the province,” Pakoe added.
Asher, a former pupil at this school and a local soccer administrator, explained that Herzlia had engaged the Western Cape Education Department on the matter in search of common ground and alternative solutions.
“One must also bear in mind that all the nine regions have already made provision for the final matches to be played that Saturday and to halt proceedings at the 11th hour will surely be a logistical nightmare.
“It was proposed that we move the game to the Sunday… The challenge you face on a Friday is that it is mosque and the Sunday it is church,” Asher said.
“The Saturday it is shul (Jewish church or temple) right, and that is the big thing. One of the things of Judaism is that you are prohibited from working or playing soccer over the Saturday and that is the challenge that Herzlia faces.
“I think they (Herzlia) have also accepted that and again I speak from my understanding of the situation. It will be a real pity if they cannot participate in the finals.
“It will be very unfortunate for the players and the coach and everybody else, but they also understand with respect, they entered this thing and maybe part of the conversation will be: ‘Alright guys let's look forward, let's look to next year. Let's make sure that these things, not just the Shabbat, but this weekend’s Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – is taken into consideration.
“The Yom Kippur fast starts next Sunday. The following weekend is the start of the festival of Sukkot and the weekend after that is the festival of Simchat Torah. So, there are lots of festivals this month,” Asher explained.
Asher also had high praise for the “sensitive manner” in which Safa Cape Town handled the situation.
“I must highlight that I was rather impressed with the way Safa CT has engaged with Herzlia and it opens up a great dialogue if not a solution for right now, then at least a discussion for the future. It is very important to acknowledge this.”
The Western Cape Education Department's co-ordinator for school sport, Lionel Davids, told website No Bones with Jones that he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“What I can say is that we are starting at 11am next week Saturday with our first match,” Davids confirmed.
* Jones is a amateur football writer journalist and has a website: www.noboneswithjones.co.za