Jacob Steinmetz, a 12-year-old blossoming baseball star in Brooklyn, New York, loves his sport and his Jewish faith, but being committed to both requires an unusual compromise.
When his team, the Brooklyn Bluestorm, plays on Saturdays, Steinmetz must walk around 3 miles from a hotel to the game, the Forward reports. Motorized travel is forbidden on the Sabbath in the Jewish community, and observant members must rely on their feet to get them wherever they need to be from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
Steinmetz's Saturday walks have inspired his teammates, who offer to bring his gear with them or walk along side him.
"It's really nice that they go out of their way. It makes me feel they really want me there. They understand why I have to walk, and they're offering to help," Steinmetz told Forward.
His story is a bright spot in what's becoming a contentious debate over the appropriate balance between Sabbath observance and youth sports.
"Religious groups report increasing difficulty convincing families that are willing to spend half a day traveling to a 9-year-old's softball or soccer game to make time for worship services," the Association of Religion Data Archives reported in 2013.
Many of the pastors who participated in a recent survey of shrinking congregations blamed youth sports for their attendance woes, and some have tried to form their own sports leagues in order to keep young people involved in church life, the article noted.
Some Sabbath observing families opt out of weekend sports all together or require their kids to pick worship service over a game whenever there is a conflict, as the Deseret News reported in June.
Suzy Covey, who observes the Sabbath on Sunday as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told the Deseret News that her daughter's teammates have been understanding of their family policy, noting that other kids aren't as lucky.
"There are certain clubs that won't take you if you're not going to play on Sunday," she said. "It's unfortunate because we're making the kids make a decision about their beliefs at an early age."
Although youth sports have been a sticking point in Sabbath-related debates, observers don't escape schedule conflicts as they age. Many adults must bring up their Sabbath goals with their employers and hope that they won't be scheduled or required to be online.
When trying to make Sabbath observance work in a modern world, compromise is key, said Mark Fowler, deputy chief executive officer of Tanenbaum, to the Deseret News in April.
"The employee can make a request and the employer, looking at the reality of the amount of work, schedule challenges and who can step-in, can counteroffer," he noted.
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