In April, ESPN published an article about Oliver Ferber, a track star at a nondenominational Jewish school who decided to sit out an important race scheduled to take place on Shabbat—despite pressure from his Jewish teammates. Meir Soloveichik sees a dark side to this seemingly inspirational story of religious commitment:
ESPN describes for its readers how Jewish students psychologically tortured a fellow Jew because of his adherence to traditional Judaism. Many adjectives exist to describe this bullying behavior, but perhaps one, above all, should be emphasized: un-American. It is worth pondering whether George Washington, echoing Newport’s Jews when he celebrated America as a country that “gives to bigotry no sanction, persecution no assistance,” could ever have imagined a day in which American Jews would be the bigots, giving persecution every assistance in order to pressure a classmate to cease his Judaic observance. Washington famously concluded his letter with the pluralistic prayer that Americans sit each “under his own vine and fig tree,” so that “none shall make them afraid,” and all will be “everlastingly happy.” Oliver did not have vine or fig tree; but we are told that in the midst of this bullying he did sit inside his car, finding himself as anything but everlastingly happy: “‘I just sat there.’ Then he burst into tears.”
In his This Is My God, [Herman] Wouk imagines an assimilated Jew encountering Ḥasidim and resenting how they remind him “with their mere presence in the street that he is burying a part of his background that cannot be buried. They are skeletons out of his closet.” That, in the end, is how Oliver may have been seen in his school. He was (pun intended) “a traitor to his class,” a Jew who had the gall to summon the skeleton of Sabbath observance from the Jewish past, a skeleton that was thought permanently buried, but that had the unmitigated chutzpah to resurrect itself in 21st-century America.
Meanwhile, if Oliver’s classmates were un-American, the Gentiles in his athletic circle were anything but.