In our home it’s draft time for fantasy football. My 17-year-old son, a recent graduate of Golda Och Academy (GOA) in West Orange, is one of the commissioners in his league, which is comprised of most of the boys in his grade. Over the past three years of play, the league has established some rituals, including a creative way to determine the order of the picks. This season it was based on league members’ scores on the Wonderlic Test.
For the actual draft the young men have put on jackets and ties and assembled their teams in-person at someone’s home. The 2019 draft is different since they graduated months ago and coming together in one place was impossible. Some were still working at sleepaway camp or away on family vacations. One started a study abroad program in Australia and another is beginning his army service in Israel.
So instead of gathering in a Livingston basement, the draft was conducted remotely. My son (wearing appropriate attire, of course) recorded a video that reviewed the rules and incorporated the annual rituals. There was the requisite dvar Torah, and last year’s winner’s reading of a verse they claim appears in Leviticus 28:3 — even though Leviticus only has 27 chapters. “… thou shalt gather all the male members of thy kehilla and thou shalt draft for thy fantasy football league …”
The video was hilarious, and I beamed with pride on how they enveloped their secular endeavor within a Jewish framework.
The league’s “grand rebbe” (aka one of the students) was spliced into the video to give two blessings. One thanks God for giving them “the privilege of playing fantasy football in the best redraft league ever.” When he recited the second, the “Shehecheyanu,” which we say to thank God for allowing us to reach the present moment in our lives, it didn’t feel like a funny gag. It felt relevant.
When I asked my son how long he expects them to keep up this fantasy football league, he quickly answered, “forever.” My mind immediately jumped to a future guys’ weekend in Las Vegas with the GOA crew as professionals, husbands, fathers, getting together to reminisce about their high school glory days. And maybe with this group of young men that’s possible.
The grade’s 15 boys formed a cohesive unit freshman year that seamlessly blended newcomers (like my son) with others who had been in school together for a decade or more. The group respected and accepted divergent personalities. They even gave their crew a name, “Boys Who Sew,” which wasn’t a nod to their sewing skills but rather a riff on the “Girls Who Code” club.
They became renowned among school administrators for the lavish and welcoming kiddushes they’d throw on school Shabbatons, complete with whitefish salad, gefilte fish, seltzer, herring, and crackers. They kept their appetizing chilled in coolers, which they lugged around Philadelphia one year and New York City the next. They were part of a grade that asked for their own tefillot sessions because they valued prayer and were skilled enough to lead their own services.
I’ve received much joy from watching how their friendships have deepened and how they’ve supported each other in very real ways. There was the young man without a date who they insisted attend the prom because the whole grade should have a fun evening together. There was the finicky eater who expanded his palette after being invited to a meal that included oxtail and something called “head” at a renowned restaurant in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market. There was a tour through the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto where one of the boys’ grandfathers hid, and the visit to Auschwitz. There were difficult shiva calls.
So maybe forever is a real possibility for them. On the other hand, I know how vital high school friendships can feel in the moment and how fleeting they can become when replaced by new ones in college. It seems we quickly become consumed by learning how to build independent lives and the demands of developing careers.
Members of Boys Who Sew are standing at a precipice that marks leaving their youth and slowly entering adulthood. I’m pretty sure that the foundation these boys built will aid their transition no matter what their future brings. The quality of people my son has chosen to surround himself with brings me much peace of mind and so I pray their fantasy football league does last forever.
While not the grand rebbe, I’d like to offer additional blessings for this group — that they will maintain their curiosity and continue to broaden their minds with new experiences and exposure to different types of people. That they will continue to seize exciting opportunities while living lives inspired by Jewish values and practices. And that they will always feel a part of a circle of friends as tightly stitched together as Boys Who Sew.
Blessed are You our God for giving the boys life, sustaining them, and allowing them to reach this joyous time