By Nochum Greenwald
I would like to share a story about my friend Motti Avraham, who hails from Montreal, Canada. He is a 15-year-old talented athlete, whose passion is soccer.
In January 2021, Motti signed up to play in a competitive municipal soccer league. The rule is that before every game, all the players go to the referee for a safety check. He makes sure they are wearing the proper gear; shin guards under their socks, cleats, etc.
Before one such game, the referee noticed a yarmulka on Motti’s head.
“You are not wearing that”, he said.
Motti asked why and the referee responded curtly, “I don’t have to tell you.” Motti protested, but to no avail.
Per the rules, Motti would be allowed to wear a sports bandana which would hide his yarmulka. However, the referee’s remark of “You are not wearing that” did not sit well with him. He thought for a while, bravely summoned the courage to approach his coach and told him clearly that he was not removing his yarmulka, even if it meant not playing.
The coach then conferred with the referee whose ruling was that if Motti played with a yarmulka, he would get a red card. It would have meant the automatic ejection of Motti and that his team would remain shorthanded for the remainder of the match.
Just as the game was about to start, to Motti’s amazement, the coach told the whole team to get down on one knee in protest. It was then that the coach told the players what was going on. The stunned players then heard about the referee not allowing Motti to play with a yarmulka and that if the team continued to protest and not play, it would be a forfeit and an automatic loss.
The coach from the opposing team didn’t quite understand what was happening. When he heard what the protest was about, he instructed his team to get down on one knee in support of Motti.
It is to be noted that Motti is not only the sole Jewish player on his team, he is the only Jewish player in the league. So here you had both coaches, assistant coaches and players from all over Quebec, supporting Motti’s right to wear a Yarmulka.
Both coaches conversed with the referee and a heated discussion ensued until finally, the referee relented. Motti could wear his yarmulka with pride.
Motti scored two goals during the winning match. Towards the end of the game, Motti was called off the pitch to be replaced by a substitute player. As he was leaving the field, he passed by the referee and told him, “You can try to take my yarmulka, but cannot take my G-d.”
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks articulated a point the Rebbe often said: “Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism, and they are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.
May we all learn from Motti, that at all times and in all situations, to be proud of who we are and what we represent.