An olympic sized proposition: Jewish professional or professional Jew?

The 2014 Winter Olympics are right around the corner. Whenever we are in the Olympic games, we return to an ongoing conversation about the Olympic athlete. Olympic athletes train for years, hoping for a glimpse of the spotlight for just a moment. The majority of athletes competing in Sochi will be “amateur,” although the commitments each one makes should not be overlooked.  It was not until recently that athletes were allowed sponsorships for their athletic talents. In 1986, professional athletes were finally given permission by the International Federation to compete in each sport of the Olympic Games.

In sports terms, we may think that “professional” means $$$ while “amateur” means fend for yourself. The definition itself focuses on remuneration for services.

Outside the sports world, the term “professional” has a second layer, a layer of higher standards…

I remember a common peula (program) at camp or day school in which we debated what it means to be Jewish Americans vs. American Jews. To be honest, I didn’t really get the difference. You can say both terms while still focusing on either the “American” or the “Jewish.”

As a hazzan and educator, I am often thought of as a “Jewish professional.” I’m paid to work in the Jewish world; I have advanced degrees and professional affiliations. So while I am a Jewish professional, am I a professional Jew as well?

I don’t turn on and off my Judaism. Tuesday, my day off, is not my day off from Judaism. When I head home for the night, my kippah, physically and metaphorically, stays on my head. There is a commitment, a serious commitment, to being the best person I can be, through the lens of Jewish life. Judaism is a full contact religion. You feel a rush of energy when you’ve committed time and effort to the goal at hand.

Judaism competes every day. Not every four years, every day. Judaism competes with our other interests, our other passions, our other time commitments. It takes a serious commitment.  Imagine, if you will, trying your hand at golf. You wouldn’t expect to be any good if you went to the driving range three times a year.

While some of us are Jewish professionals, there’s no barrier to all of us becoming professional Jews. It doesn’t matter what team or league or country you play for. If you hold yourself to higher standards, if you commit to practice, I’d be happy to join you on the field of play. Judaism is worth fighting for.

About the Author
Hazzan Jesse Holzer currently serves as the Cantor of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Hazzan Holzer received his BA from New York University and completed a Masters Degree in Sacred Music and investment as a Hazzan from the H.L. Miller Cantorial Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2008 . He is an avid sports enthusiast, enjoys travel and playing piano, and is a devoted collector of Jewish music and rare prayer books.
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