“Sports Are Sports, and Religion Is Religion”

The 14th European Maccabi Games (EMG) are taking place in Berlin from 27 July until 5 August 2015. More than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 36 countries will compete in 19 sports from football to fencing to chess. To accompany the games Tamar Lewinsky and Theresia Ziehe are producing a series of portraits with interviews, introducing a new member of the German delegation from Berlin every day here on the blog. They conducted the interviews on the grounds of the TuS Maccabi in Berlin’s Grunewald where Stephan Pramme also shot the portraits.

Ben Lesegeld (28), soccer

Ben, what role does it play for you that a part of the European Maccabi Games will be held at Berlin’s 1936 Olympic park?

Young man in sports wear with a soccer ball sitting in front of a bar

Ben (28) soccer © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Stephan Pramme

On the one hand, it’s very special for me as an athlete, because the Olympic compound offers us a completely professional setting. On the other hand, it gives me a queasy feeling. The architecture of the Olympic Stadium always leaves me a little bit awestruck. For me, it’s not simply a “wonderful setting” though, because the stadium always reminds one of the history. So it’s not that simple to participate in an athletic event there with ease, joy, and pleasure. For me personally, it’s important to think about the people who weren’t allowed to take part back then. But I still find it good that the Maccabi Games are happening there. It shows that life must go on: we know exactly what happened there, but we keep going, we take part in a sporting event – despite this history – and we show that the future will be an open one.

What requirements must one fulfill – aside from athletics – in order to participate?

There’s absolutely no obligation to live a strict Jewish life according to all the rules. No one checks whether you eat kosher or keep the Sabbath, but you need to be a member of a Jewish community. Everything else is a personal issue. Religion is always a part of it, but the most important thing is athletics. It’s nice to have the opportunity at a sporting event in another country to get to know Jewish life there. Only then does religion come into the foreground.

Is there a typically Jewish sport?

A typically Jewish sport? Sure, you could start with clichées… If I think about my grandparents, then I’d say bridge. But actually, there’s no Jewish sport because sports are sports, and religion is religion.

Tamar Lewinsky, curator of contemporary history, and Theresia Ziehe, curator of photography, are keeping their fingers crossed for all their interviewees at the European Maccabi Games!

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