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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Shafir stays true to beliefs

Toledo junior, team find balance

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Naama Shafir scored 40 points against USC. She was allowed to play because basketball is recreation and does not violate Sabbath restrictions. Naama Shafir scored 40 points against USC. She was allowed to play because basketball is recreation and does not violate Sabbath restrictions.
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A little more than an hour had passed since she scored a career-high 40 points and helped the University of Toledo win a Women's National Invitation Tournament championship when Naama Shafir stepped into a cool evening breeze outside Savage Arena and began the 20-minute walk home with roommate Melissa Goodall.

Because of religious rules, Shafir wasn't permitted to ride back to her apartment in a car. She wasn't even allowed to sign autographs following the historic 76-68 victory Saturday over Southern California.

As an Orthodox Jew, Shafir has grown accustomed to this routine, and even the program's first national postseason title wasn't going to deter her from her beliefs.

From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, Shafir observes "Shabbat," the Jewish Sabbath. During that time, she isn't permitted to engage in any type of work. No using electricity, no driving or riding in a car, and in Shafir's case, no talking with the media, which meant she couldn't discuss her thoughts after UT's win over USC — a contest that saw her score 23 points in the second half en route to collecting tournament MVP honors.

According to Jewish law, there are 39 types of work, but nothing written about basketball.

Growing up in Hoshaya, Israel, Shafir engaged in all sorts of games with her family and friends on Shabbat, including basketball, but it wasn't until she started playing for junior national teams in her early teens that the question was raised about her playing basketball on the Jewish day of rest.

"I asked a rabbi in my town, somebody who I trust, what I was allowed to do," Shafir said Monday in her first public comments since the WNIT title game. "He said I could play, but I wasn't allowed to practice. So ever since, that's what I do."

To accommodate Shafir, the Rockets scheduled their workouts all season long around Shabbat, practicing on Friday afternoons before sundown and Saturday nights after sundown.

And fortunately for the Rockets, that's the only significant sacrifice they had to make since Shafir was able to compete in games on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.

This season, Toledo played in 15 games that fell on Shabbat and posted a 13-2 record in those contests. It's safe to say that mark may have been a little different had the Rockets not had Shafir on the floor.

"The only thing I miss is shootaround before Saturday games," Shafir said. "And I walk to Saturday games, but it's not a big deal."

The primary reasoning why she's permitted to play on Shabbat, Shafir said, relates to basketball being considered recreation, not work.

"A lot of people ask me that question," Shafir said. "There's nothing wrong with [playing basketball]. It's not work. It's fun for me. The reason why I can't practice is because it is preparation for a game, and that's work."

After making the decision to leave Israel and come to Toledo to play college basketball almost three years ago, Shafir has stayed true to her religious beliefs, and she credits her coaches and teammates for creating a support system enabling her to honor her unique obligations.

"I'm so happy that I can do it, that I can still play basketball, do what I love, make the decision that I want with my career, and still follow my religion," Shafir said. "That was the question that I had before I came here: ‘Can I do it? Am I going to be able to work it out?'

"But I'm so happy that I came, and again, everybody around me has played a big part in helping me do it."

Celebration to be held
A community celebration to honor the UT women's basketball team's WNIT championship will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at Savage Arena. Doors open at 5.

Coaches and players will speak about the postseason run, and highlights from the six WNIT victories will be shown.

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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