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Israel Tennis Star Stops Game Before Yom Kippur

Israel Tennis Star Stops Game Before Yom Kippur

David Sela made a clear statement that nothing is more important than his Jewish identity.


Israeli tennis star David Sela was playing to win last Friday as the sun was setting in Shenzhen, China, ushering in Yom Kippur. Sela, 32, is Israel’s top men’s singles tennis player. He was competing in the quarter finals in the ATP World Tour for tennis pros. That afternoon, he had lost his first set against Alexandr Dolgopolov, the top-ranked Ukrainian male tennis player, but then he defeated Dolgopolov 6-4 in their second set. Playing hard in the middle of the third set, Sela checked his watch. Then he walked over to the judge and told him he was forfeiting the game because Yom Kippur was about to begin and he would not play on Yom Kippur. In so doing, he sacrificed not only $12,000, but, more important for a tennis pro, he sacrificed 45 ranking points, which altered his world ranking.

His brother Ofir later explained in a social media post that David is not particularly religious but as a representative of the Jewish state, he respects the holiness of Yom Kippur.

What would make a Jew who is not particularly religious and whose life since the age of 15 has been devoted to winning tennis tournaments forfeit an important match?

Anyone who has ever spent Yom Kippur in Israel has experienced the utter uniqueness of this holy day. Israel is the only country in the world that closes its international airport one day a year – on Yom Kippur. Israel is also the only country in the world that ceases its television and radio broadcasts one day a year – on Yom Kippur. In this country of constant religious quarrels among Jews, the only thing that we Israeli Jews hold in unanimous agreement is the sanctity of Yom Kippur.

To shine a light into this deep and mysterious commitment, one must understand that in Judaism the ultimate Divine punishment is not death. Rather, on a national level, the ultimate punishment is exile from the Land of Israel. On an individual level, the ultimate punishment is kareit, which means being spiritually cut off from the collective soul of the Jewish People.

Although every soul is unique, all Jews are a cell in the meta-soul of the Jewish People, a collective spiritual entity that binds together all of us on the most sublime level. Even the most grievous sins of murder and adultery do not cut off a Jew from his or her soul connection to the group soul of the Jewish People.

This means that even the most wayward, dishonest, or promiscuous Jews are still Jews as long as they cling to their Jewish identity. Yom Kippur is the signature of Jewish identity. It is the statement – whether at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv or on the tennis courts of Shenzhen, China – that whatever else I am, my deepest, indissoluble identity is that I am part of the Jewish People.

In clinging to his Jewish identity, David Sela understood that it is worth more than even the greatest championship.

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October 3, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Anonymous, October 11, 2017 7:36 AM

Proud of u....

(8) Anonymous, October 9, 2017 5:36 AM

The last sentence brought it home

I loved this quote, "In clinging to his Jewish identity, David Sela understood that it is worth more than even the greatest championship." That notion is so true!

(7) Anonymous, October 3, 2017 9:58 PM

Kol haKavod!!!!

DAVID SELA - you brought tears of joy and proudness to our eyes when we read about the important decision that you've made - and having chosen what is most important! Kol HaKavod!!!

We are not into following tennis and have never even heard about you before this event - but with this decision you definitely gained a new follower! I am WELL past the age of posting posters of my heroes against my walls, but if not for that, I can assure you that this decision of yours would have put your poster on my wall for sure! Instead, I have put your poster on my heart wall and will always cherish what a hero and example to follow you are even when the stakes are high! Todah rabah!

(6) Anonymous, October 3, 2017 5:26 PM

Way to go, David, OMV"S/

We're all proud of you!

(5) Anonymous, October 3, 2017 5:14 PM

Wish my son felt that way

My son, his wife & children are visiting the US over the chaggim. On Yom Kippur while I & my husband were fasting & in shul, my son who feels it’s vacation time took one child to an amusement park & his wife went with other children to the zoo on Yom Kippur. My son was born in Israrl & although not religious, he used to fast on Yom Kippur. I couldn’t believe how he has changed. His wife was born in former Soviet Union & has never been religious. I really hurt that he not only didn’t observe Yom Kippur as an Israeli Jew, but he is teaching my grandchildren that Yom Kippur is not anything more than a vacation day. I admit that I grew up very Reform & never fasted and even went to work on Yom Kippur, & now I’m baalah teshuva & finally taking Yom Kippur seriously. Kol Hakavod that David Self is showing how to take Yom Kippur seriously & setting an example I hope my son & grandchildren will follow. I know Hashem is patiently waiting & so will I.

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