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Israeli basketball star feels at home in Ohio for Passover

UT's Shafir to be with friends

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    Sharon Ravin holds a flag for Naama Shafir during a UT game. Ms. Ravin said it "makes Naama feel good to see a Jewish flag. She took a big leap of faith coming here because she probably didn't even know where Ohio was."

    <The Blade/Lori King
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naama-shafir-passover

University of Toledo's Naama Shafir, a junior women's basketball guard and Orthodox Jew, will travel to Cleveland to celebrate Passover with friends.

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sharon-ravin-israel-flag

Sharon Ravin holds a flag for Naama Shafir during a UT game. Ms. Ravin said it "makes Naama feel good to see a Jewish flag. She took a big leap of faith coming here because she probably didn't even know where Ohio was."

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Of all Jewish holidays, Passover stresses family and home the most. But when the holy day begins at sundown on Monday, University of Toledo basketball star Naama Shafir will be 6,000 miles from her family in Hoshaya, Israel.

The 21-year-old UT junior and Orthodox Jew will feel at home, however, when she celebrates Passover with friends.

“I’m going to Cleveland,” she said. “There’s a family there that I know that I spend most of the holidays with.”

Her host family, the Goldbergs, immigrated from Israel about 20 years ago, she said.

“It’s a lot like Passover at home because they are from Israel,” Ms. Shafir said in a phone interview last week.

Passover, which will be observed on Monday and Tuesday, celebrates the ancient Jews’ escape from bondage in Egypt, according to the biblical book of Exodus.

The centerpiece of the weeklong holiday is the Seder, a traditional family meal that is rich in symbolism.

The Seder includes, for example, bitter herbs or horseradish to represent the bitterness of Egypt; a potato or parsley dipped in salty water to symbolize the ancestors’ anguish, and wine to represent liberation.

For Ms. Shafir, Passover “reminds me how everything started, it kind of gives you a taste of the stories from the past,” she said.

While she misses being with family for the holiday, she realizes that she is in Toledo and the United States only temporarily.

“It’s weird but it’s OK, it’s OK,” she said. “I know I’m going to have a lot more years to be home with them.”

Ms. Shafir, who scored 40 points in leading the UT Rockets to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament title earlier this month, is believed to be the only female Orthodox Jew to earn an NCAA I scholarship.

She said she enjoys being able to raise awareness of Orthodox Judaism in America.

“I get to explain it to a lot of people, because a lot of people ask,” Ms. Shafir said. “I’m happy that I can help a lot of people get to know about it.”

Some people who have learned the most are her UT teammates and coaches, most of whom will visit Ms. Shafir in Israel this summer.

“That’s a big thing for me and my teammates. I’m just happy about it,” she said. “They will get to know where I’m from, where my family is from, how different it is for me. It’s just gonna be cool.”

Rabbi Edward Garsek of Congregation Etz Chayim, Toledo’s Orthodox synagogue, said Ms. Shafir is a wonderful role model and ambassador for her faith.

“So many Jewish people are able to display their pride in her because she’s Jewish, and she’s from Israel, and because she is observant of Jewish law. People can see that one can be Orthodox and at the same time show their love of sports and athletics,” he said.

“She is very sweet and modest and humble, and she does anything but draw attention to herself,” Rabbi Garsek said.


Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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