Let Shira Play Basketball!
Sport is one of the great equalizers. I often speak about my time in competitive swimming, and all that it gave me. There are really no limits to the values one can learn from team sports. We learn discipline and hard work, as well as how to work with others. We learn how to accept defeat and how to be gracious winners. Unfortunately, for members of the Israeli Youth Basketball Association, they are also learning how to exclude female players. It seems that for some the value is simply: "No girls allowed."
We have heard the reasons for this outrage before, but rarely in situations that affect people so young. The regulations of the Israeli Basketball Association state that although teams are mixed (boys and girls) until the players are 12, if an Orthodox group doesn’t want to play against girls because it offends their religious inclinations, the girls should be banned from the game, or their team would forfeit. This extreme interpretation of modesty has now been extended to ten-year-old girls, and as usual the Israeli authorities capitulate.
One victim of this surrender is Shira Greenbaum, age 10, from the town of Ra’anana, who only wants to play with her local team. There are not enough girls for an all girls league, so Shira and other girls were being integrated into mixed teams. These new teams were supposed to compete in the league. When the coach of an opposing team realized that his players would have to face a mixed team, he demanded that only boys would be allowed on the court. Shira’s coach refused to play without her and, as a result, her team lost.
Shira said, “I don’t understand why they won’t let me play. Boys who don’t want to play against me because they are afraid of touching or bumping into me should just get off the court.” Imposing the religious prohibition against any physical contact between unmarried members of the opposite sex in the past was not relevant to people in this age group.
The Israel Religious Action Center’s legal team has filed two appeals with the Israeli Youth Basketball Association to end this unfair practice, and to allow Shira to play with her team. Every time secular and religious moderates allow the will of religious extremists to prevail coexistence suffers. In this particular case, children suffer.
Shira Greenbaum has gone though the humiliation of being told she cannot play a sport she loves and is now dealing with the stress of a public legal battle. Our legal team is doing everything they can to help her and other girls like her. We are committed to cheering for Shira on the sidelines very soon.
Anat Hoffman is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.