A 1-0 victory for modesty, but 0-3 in the basketball standings.
Those were the results this week for the Israeli women’s national team that competed in Poland in the European championships. The Israelis lost their three opening rounds games, eliminating them from further competition.
But it was questionable whether one of its players would play in Poland in the first place.
Naama Shafir, a star player at the University of Toledo, had petitioned the FIBA basketball organization to let her wear a T-shirt under her jersey. Shafir, a point guard who is Orthodox, dresses that way in her collegiate games to maintain a level of modesty during games; she does not play with bare shoulders.
FIBA originally said no, requiring all players to wear identical uniforms – in other words, no T-shirt. “Insensitive,” said her team; rabbis and Jewish organizations took up her cause.
Then a compromise was reached – Shafir was allowed to wear short, skin-toned elastic sleeves under her jersey.
“This was a creative solution,” said David Kufeld, a star player for Yeshiva University in the late 1970s who was the only YU athlete – and, as far as is known, the only Orthodox player – drafted by a National Basketball Association team. He lasted less than a week at the Portland Trailblazers training camp.
An accommodation to his Sabbath-observant requirements would have been unlikely had he made an NBA team’s roster three decades ago, Kufeld said.
Shafir’s ability to play successfully in college (she recently led her team to a championship in the women’s NIT playoffs) and reach a sartorial compromise for the European championships reflects “a little more sensitivity these days” in sports circles. When he competed, including a professional stint for Israel’s Maccabi Ramat Gan team, there was less respect for religious practice. “You had to conform.”
“It’s a positive development that the [Israeli] national team was sympathetic to her,” Kufeld said.
The debate over Shafir’s garb came at the same time that several Muslim athletes in other sports were banned from taking place in international competition in garb consistent with their faith’s practices of modesty.
“There are limits,” Kufeld said – a compromise is not possible in every contest between athletic performance and religious beliefs. “It doesn’t always work as far as being able to find a solution.”
Shafir’s success on the court places second to her value as a role model, he said. “In her own way, she’d doing a great Kiddush Hashem [sanctifying God’s name],” Kufeld said. “She’s taking a stand. It is refreshing that she was playing for something more than mere victory. She comes out of this with her ideals intact.”
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