Sorry Chicago, maybe next year

The Chicago marathon will have to wait another year for me. Before I tell you why, I am reminded of a once-popular story pertaining to a famed Los Angeles Dodger’s pitcher of yesteryear.

Sandy Koufax was known as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. To American Jews, he was known for something else: voluntarily skipping Game One of the 1965 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins to attend all-day worship services in Minneapolis, in observance of the Yom Kippur holiday. The Dodgers lost that game but won the series, with Koufax winning the award for Most Valuable Player.

When I was a kid, even the most secular Jews thought it unthinkable to skip observance of Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement when Jews ask God and individuals for forgiveness for transgressions committed over the past year. Nowadays, as society as a whole has witnessed a loosening, and in many cases an abandonment of once-sacred traditions, a Koufax-like decision to forgo a monumental sporting event might well seem anachronistic, peculiar, or even a betrayal to some zealots of sport.

In 2011, the Chicago marathon happens to fall on a Sunday, the day after Yom Kippur. Masses of marathoners – all 45,000 in this case – will line up early in the morning in preparation for the 26.2-mile journey, having registered and picked up the required materials (including the “bib” that is worn on the shirt) earlier in the weekend. To the credit of marathon organizers, various synagogues in Chicago are have been set up to be available to assist out-of-town runners who wish to observe Yom Kippur on Saturday while away from family.

Thanks, but no thanks…

Yom Kippur is much more than attending services for a couple hours. Ideally, it is about introspection and fasting, forgiveness and catharsis. It’s about ending the 24-hour fast with family and friends. Yom Kippur is to Jews what Christmas is to Christians. It is a holy day. Leaving town to prepare for a marathon on this particular weekend might be logistically possible, but spiritually (not to mention physically) less-than-palatable.

Why am I bringing this up here?

Because every day we all must make decisions that challenge our values. What is right for me may be different than what is right for you. The runner who decides to stay the course because they are raising money for “Make-a-Wish” or “Susan Komen Race for the Cure” might conclude that running is the holier choice to make in this instance.

The point is, while no one can decide for you which decisions support your values, I invite you to consider asking yourself this question the next time you must make a tough choice between what you want to do and what you feel is the “right” thing to do: “Which decision supports my being the sort of person I wish to be?”

In many cases, the answer is not always clear. That is why we struggle with tough decisions in the first place. I’d rather struggle with mine before the fact than afterwards.

Maybe I’ll see you next year, Windy City.

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