I’m not sure how it happens exactly, but at some point, every young Jewish American sports fan learns about Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.
I mean, I don’t remember my father or mother sitting me down and regaling me with Greenberg or Koufax tales, but just as sure as I knew I was getting pizza the night Passover ended, I knew that there were prominent Jewish athletes who once chose their religion (or their culture, or their guilt, or whatever) over their profession by skipping games on Yom Kippur.
Now, October hockey doesn’t quite have the allure of October baseball, and Jeff Halpern doesn’t quite have the celebrity of a Koufax or Greenberg, but when the Caps center sat out a Yom Kippur game in 2005, I’m guessing plenty of area Jews took notice. And with the Caps’ 2011 home opener scheduled for the night Yom Kippur ends, some Jewish Caps fans have asked me about Halpern’s plans.
“I won’t skate that morning,” the Montgomery County native told me on Thursday. “I’m ok to play. It’s sundown to sundown.”
Indeed, depending on your exact location and customs, the holiday ends around 7 p.m. on Saturday, the same time the Caps’ game against the Hurricanes begins. Halpern did not want to get into the exact details of how he would observe the holiday, but he told Coach Bruce Boudreau last month that he would miss the team’s customary morning skate on the first day of the season.
“It’s fine,” Boudreau said Thursday. “I talked to him a few weeks ago about it, and I asked him how he felt about it. If he felt he had to miss the game, he would have missed the game, but if he feels he just has to miss the morning skate, then he’ll miss the morning skate.”
Halpern said if the Caps’ opener had fallen on Friday, when 12 NHL teams start their season at the same time many Jews will attend Kol Nidre services, it would have been “a different story.” And while he asked for some privacy concerning his own religious beliefs, he explained why he had missed that 2005 game.
“I just feel like I owe it to a lot of people that mean a lot to me,” he said. “It’s almost to uphold their beliefs as well, to honor them and do things that serve as an example for them, and for other people.”
Then there’s the fasting thing. Many Jews give up all food and drinks on Yom Kippur, but it’s probably not realistic for a professional athlete to jump out on the ice against the best hockey players in the world without having consumed anything for 24 hours. Boudreau said he was sure Halpern would be prepared to play on Saturday, and the center agreed.
“I think I owe it to my teammates and this organization to make sure that I’m ready to play,” Halpern said, again declining to get more specific than that. “Especially with religion, everyone has their own way, and we can all be under a big umbrella.”
And so all that was left, I guess, was to ask Boudreau whether he typically fasts for Yom Kippur. The coach smiled and gestured to his midsection.
“I haven’t fasted too much, evidently, in my life,” he said.