Estee Ackerman, a 20 year old Orthodox Jew, who is a nationally ranked table tennis player, was recently disqualified from a match because the competition would not make accommodations for Shabbat, in a clear act of discrimination. About two weeks ago, she competed in Las Vegas at the US Open which is the biggest tournament in the country. Estee was determined to win the seven events that she was competing in.
She brought her A game to the tournament, beating girls who were ranked above her. She advanced to the single elimination round in the under 21 age group, making it to the final four. Then, at 3:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, Estee found out that the semifinals would begin after nightfall – after Shabbos had begun. Estee asked for the match to be postponed until after Shabbos, but nothing was confirmed by sundown. She checked her phone after Shabbos was over and saw that she had been defaulted. While Estee did not get the opportunity to play in the semifinals, she still received a bronze medal in the under 21 age group.
Later in the tournament, accommodations were made for other players, suggesting that Estee had experienced religious discrimination. One of those accommodations was when Estee and her partner, Larry Hodges, were competing in the hardbat doubles event, and they qualified for the semifinals. They were ready to compete against the other team at 10 p.m., but it was suddenly rescheduled for the next morning because the other players were tired.
Estee and Larry were shocked when they heard the news because games can go on until midnight. Estee was even more taken aback because accommodations were honored for other players, while her religious accommodation was denied. Despite the obstacles, Estee and Larry went on to win that match and brought home the gold medal. Estee also won the gold for the sandpaper tournament, accumulating a total of four medals at the US Open.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Estee has had to sacrifice a competition for being Jewish. In 2020, she tried out for the Olympics, but the trials were held on Shabbat, and they could not be changed. She received media attention for her decision to forfeit her position, and it reminded her of a similar situation back in 2012. Estee was ready to compete in a big match in Las Vegas, until it was scheduled for Friday night. She knew “Hashem would not want her to compete on Shabbos” and opted out because “Judaism is the number one priority in her life.” This is when her story became a national sensation, when she shocked many people for putting her “faith above her hobby.”
Estee’s determination and perseverance were never diminished though. Her passion for the sport prevailed. In 2016, at age 14, Estee became the first Orthodox Jewish athlete to try out for the Olympics in the U.S.. She was only 11 spots away from competing in Rio, Brazil. She also competed in Houston, winning the gold for ‘Girls Under 16’ in singles and doubles. While it’s deeply unfortunate competitions haven’t been more accommodating, Estee says her bronze medal from this year’s US Open event should really be called the “Zachor et Yom HaShabbos L’Kadsho medal,” or “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” She keeps a printed copy of her defaulted tournament status in her siddur when she talks to Hashem to say, “look what I gave up for you.” Her message is that “whatever Klal Yisrael is being moser nefesh for, or whatever we are sacrificing and giving up, will be merited by Hashem and brachots (blessings) can be released.”