January 3, 2013
Dr. Matthew Lefferman and Eric Weissman: Putting Sunday sports in play
Nowhere in the Torah does it say: “And on the seventh day, God played soccer.” Which is too bad for observant Jewish youths who would love to take advantage of the many local sports leagues that play on Saturdays.
Fortunately, there are Dr. Matthew Lefferman and Eric Weissman. These two members of the Modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson have worked tirelessly to ensure the presence of Sunday sports games locally.
“People are delighted to know that there is an opportunity for their kids to participate in athletic opportunities and still practice their Judaism as they want to,” said Weissman, 38, a father of two.
The pair have taken a three-pronged approach. Both men coach with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), which already had Sunday games. Lefferman, who coaches two teams, has acted as an unofficial liaison to help recruit Sunday players, coaches and referees.
They also lobbied Beverly Hills Little League to create a Sunday division, then helped structure and run it. Now they sit on its board.
In order to further expand opportunities for Jewish youths, they formed the nonprofit Maccabee Athletic Club (MAC) a year ago. It started with a club soccer team and this year is expanding to basketball and flag football.
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“If there are existing leagues that we can make friendly to the observant community, we’re going to do that,” said Lefferman, 40. “If there’s something that doesn’t exist, we’ll create it.”
Weissman said the programs are pulling in youths from 10 different schools on the Westside. Last year, Beverly Hills Little League attracted 80 Jewish players, and this year the number is likely to be more than 120, he said. Another 30 played soccer through MAC, and 20 more this year are signed up for basketball.
There’s no end to the game clock on which these men work. When they’re not networking and responding to parental questions, they’re recruiting players on a person-to-person basis, working with parent coaches, identifying field space, purchasing equipment and more.
It all takes time, an average of 10 hours per week for Weissman, an investment banker, and Lefferman, a doctor who specializes in geriatrics. The latter recently helped start an athletic booster club at his children’s day school, Pressman Academy, and organizes gatherings in the park for kids to play soccer and baseball on Shabbat. Lefferman also said he has organized trips to professional and collegiate athletic games, even paying for a van for transportation.
But Lefferman believes it’s worth it in order to teach observant boys and girls about the value of competition, camaraderie, exercise and even nutrition. At the end of every Little League game that he coaches — both men coach Little League, too — Lefferman hands out baseball cards to two players (a practice inspired by the Paul Young Sports Camp). One goes to the youth who was the best player; the other is given to the best sportsman.
“Even the Rambam speaks not just of the value of athletic exercise,” he said, “but of the benefits of team competition.”