Nevada baseball standout Elie Kligman is aiming for the major leagues but insists on his religious observance.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
An 18-year-old high school baseball all-star is aiming to become the first religious Jewish player to make it to the major leagues, planning to keep kosher and not play on Shabbat, the Chabad organization reported on its website this month.
“My dream has always been to be a Major Leaguer. I never thought of anything else—baseball has always been what I’ve wanted to do,” Elie Kligman, a high school senior from Las Vegas who plays as both an infielder and a pitcher, told Chabad.org.
Kligman comes from a religious family that lives in Las Vegas, where he has played ball all his life. He is now ranked as one of the top high school prospects in the country and the first Orthodox Jew to be invited to the highly scouted “Area Code Baseball Games.”
He is adamant about playing competitively without compromising his Judaism, praying three times a day, never playing on Shabbat or Jewish holy days, and eating only kosher food.
There have been many Jewish professional baseball players, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, who sat out a game of the 1965 World Series that fell on Yom Kippur, but no orthodox Jewish athlete has ever made it to the big leagues where he would have to sit out games on Friday nights and Saturdays – the Jewish sabbath.
“I have the mindset of, ‘This is what I am doing for Judaism, and this is what I am doing for baseball.’ Once the sun goes down on Friday night, it’s not a debate for me, [celebrating Shabbat] is just what I am doing,” Kligman said. “When you are a proud Jew, people respect when I tell them I’m not going to play on Friday night and Saturday.”
Kligman’s father, Marc, an attorney and professional sports agent, coached and encouraged Elie and younger brother Ari and provided guidance over the years, especially with the teams Elie plays on.
“We’ve had a lot of help along the way,” Marc said. “People have been kind and helpful. Our head coach at the high school makes sure we don’t schedule any games on Saturday.”
But there have also been plenty of times they’ve rushed out of the house right after sundown on Saturday to make a night game.
The Kligman family belongs to the local Chabad congregation in the Summerlin suburb of Las Vegas.
“It’s wonderful to watch Elie balance his commitment to a Torah-observant lifestyle and baseball at the same time, but when there is a conflict, his Yiddishkeit [Yiddish for Judaism] takes precedence,” said Rabbi Shea Harlig, director of Chabad of Southern Nevada.
Elie and his brother Ari’s commitment to Judaism and Torah study has also impacted those around them, with a non-observant family seeing the example and enrolling their children in the local Hebrew school.
Elie is waiting to determine which college team he’ll play for, hoping for an NCAA Division 1 school, which would move him one step closer to his dream of playing in the Major Leagues.
However, he’s not about to change his Jewish lifestyle.
“People always ask me what I’m going to do in college,” says Elie. “The answer has always been I’m not playing on Shabbat. It’s for God, and I’m not changing that.”
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