How did sports impact your Jewish identity?
Sports has impacted my Jewish identity in a great way. My brother and I are the only Orthodox Jewish members of the United States Table Tennis Association, which numbers close to 10,000. At the 2012 US Nationals in Las Vegas in December, I made it to the final 16. My next match was scheduled for 7:30 pm Friday night. I chose not to play because it is not in the "spirit of Shabbos" to play in a tournament with cameras, umpires and wearing my uniform. I did what I felt was right. The referee defaulted me. I was 11 at the time. Even at home I do not practice on Shabbos or Jewish holidays. It is ok to play ping pong on Shabbos with friends and family but not in tournaments. When I travel we have to bring our own food or find supermarkets and restaurants that sell kosher food. These events sell nonkosher food, which is very convenient for all the other players except me. When the tournaments are over we usually stay at a hotel near a shul instead of going home right away.
What advice would you give to a young Jewish athlete today?
My advice is: Remember that you are Jewish. Practice and try to be the best athlete you can be. Yes, you will compete against other athletes who go to public school and can train much longer than you, because you go to a Jewish day school. Dream big and try to live out your goals. We all know we can be better, but remember Judaism is #1, and sports is #2. Whatever sport you play, please remember to practice good sportsmanship. We are different. We should watch how we speak and should show a good example to other players, teams and officials. Think about this before you play, that way in the heat of the moment, you will be ok. As much as I would want to win the gold medal in the Olympics, I would much rather win the gold medal in life.