It’s fall 2018 and two freshman student-athletes are still acclimating to Grounds, their new teammates, and the University’s certainly temperamental dining experience.
Martin Weisz, then a freshman, a 6-foot-6, 325-pound offensive guard from West Palm Beach, Fla., Wakes up at dawn, juggling his busy class schedule with grueling practices and serving by vacuuming intermittently – inhaling pounds of food to maintain its massive frame. Then-rookie Arizona Ritchie, a second baseman from Stafford, Va., Experiences the off-season routine of college softball for the first time, trying to make a good impression while competing with her teammates for a spot. departure on the diamond.
Fast forward to their fourth year on the pitch – Weisz is now medically retired from football, retaining his scholarship as a data analyst for the football team, and Ritchie is preparing for his final season with the Cavaliers. As the two walk side by side on Rugby Road on a bright Tuesday morning, Weisz in a suit and Ritchie in a robe, they discuss the details of their first club reunion for the organization they just founded.
What brought these two together, you will ask? Well, it’s probably Weisz’s dad who expresses it the best.
âThere is a joke my dad used to tell me,â Weisz said. “Ask the librarian for the thinnest book in the library – it’s a list of professional Jewish athletes.”
It might be a joke, but Ritchie found this aphorism too true as she navigated her new life in Virginia.
âIt was really hard to find other Jewish student-athletes,â Ritchie said. “Martin was the only one I knew in my first three years.”
Ritchie and Weisz were both born and raised Jewish, however, from an early age they did not always end up in Jewish environments. At Benjamin School, Weisz remembers her Christian teammates bowing down before each game to recite the Lord’s Prayer, while Ritchie occasionally found herself isolated in high school where she and her sister were two of the only Jewish students in all of them. ‘school.
During their teenage years, as they began to separate from their teammates on their respective fields, the attacking goalie and second baseman realized they had the chance to play the sports they loved after the secondary school. At the same time, they each knew their circumstances were unique – growing up none of them had any athletes they could admire, which reflected not only their passion for the sport, but also their lifestyle. and their Jewish faith.
âHonestly, I had no Jewish athlete to admire,â Ritchie said. “I don’t even think I could name you one [Jewish] athlete at the moment.
Weisz echoed the same sentiment, but in recent years he has found solace in the story of two Jewish NFL players, Mitchell and Geoff Schwartz, who hold the same position as he and his younger brother.
âI read their book, ‘Eat My Schwartz’, about their Jewish childhood journey [where they] talked about Yom Kippur [and shared] a lot of similarities between me and my little brother’s stories, âWeisz said. âI wouldn’t say I admired them, but it’s always cool to know that there are Jewish athletesâ¦ here and there making waves.
Much like the Schwartz brothers, Weisz and Ritchie were each year forced to face their conflicting religious and sporting responsibilities on important Jewish holy days, such as Yom Kippur.
In Jewish tradition, there are two great feasts, one of which is Yom Kippur – a day of atonement. The other is Rosh Hashanah, which serves as the Jewish New Year and falls 10 days after Yom Kippur. During this holiday, which takes place in early fall, it is customary for many American Jews to attend church services and visit family members – as on another important holiday, Pesach or Pesach, which takes place in the spring. Likewise, Yom Kippur and Passover come with mandatory dietary restrictions, the former requiring an almost 24-hour fast from sunset to sunset and the latter abandoning all leavened bread and grain for an entire week.
For Ritchie, his experiences on this vacation evolved throughout his four years in Virginia.
“I think it was a progression – at first I was a little nervous talking about how I wanted to handle [the High Holidays]”said Ritchie.” This year has been a great year and I think I have become more connected with my religion, and I spoke to my coach and told him that I wanted to skip classes for services. “
As for Weisz, his way of handling religious obligations also changed during his time on Grounds, although much of this can be attributed to his medical retirement.
âI always trained on those days,â Weisz said. âNow, being in a less crucial role, I may have missed them for the high holidays. “
Weisz also joked about the difficulties maintaining a calorically abundant football diet while observing a vacation with dietary restrictions.
âPassover has always been fun because the food they gave us had so much real bread in it that I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t eat this, I have to eat matzah,'” Weisz said. .
Yet at times like these, when their religion forced them to deviate from the norm, the fourth two years noted that they had unique opportunities as teachers.
âI’m very open with my faith, like I’m a proud Jew and all my friends know that,â Weisz said. “It’s great because I believe I’m the only Jewish football player, so anytime someone had a question related to Judaism or Israelâ¦ they would always come to me for their first point of contact.”
For many American Jews, sharing vacation details is often the only time they find themselves expressing their religious identity.
âEveryone knew I was fasting yesterday in training,â said Ritchie. “I’m proud of it. I try to spread it because I think a lot of people don’t know about Judaism.
A dream for nearly every athlete, last summer Ritchie had the opportunity to represent the Israel National Softball Team on the diamond. Not only has Ritchie gained valuable experience playing against some of the best athletes in the world, but she also cites her time with the team as a period of extreme growth in her Jewish identity.
âWe got closer so quickly,â said Ritchie. âWe just have the same experiences. We all mentioned that we had never played this sport that we love so much with other Jews. A whole team of Jews who are like you and who have the same roots linked us very quickly. “
Upon returning to Grounds this fall, Ritchie was determined to become a more active member of the Jewish community during his final year in Virginia. Fortunately, she had a friend in Weisz who also wanted to contribute to the community and make the university a more comfortable place for Jewish athletes in the years to come.
With the guidance of Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of the Charlottesville Brody Jewish Center, the Jewish Student-Athletes Club was born.
“[We were] try to see if there are other Jewish student-athletes or [athletes] trying to learn more about the Jewish faith, âWeisz said.
According to Rubin, there are approximately 1,000 Jewish undergraduate students at the University. Yet of those 1,000 students, the Brody Center or the University of Virginia Hillel only see about 700 in a year.
While all Jews are welcome and invited to attend the weekly events that the Brody Jewish Center hosts for the University’s largest Jewish community, Jewish athletes like Weisz and Ritchie struggle to find time for these activities. because of their grueling schedules.
âOne of the reasons I started the club is that Jewish athletes cannot be part of the community due to our busy schedules,â Ritchie said. “One of the goals of the club is to bring together people who do not meet [at the Brody Center] this is often due to time conflicts.
As Weisz and Ritchie returned together from Rosh Hashanah services on this beautiful Tuesday morning, they envisioned a time in the future when three, four, or even five Jewish student-athletes would walk the same together on Rugby Road to the services of High Holiday.