First-Ever Shabbat Observant Accommodations for Cross Country Regionals


 In a historic event for Ida Crown Jewish Academy and the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), ICJA hosted the first-ever non-Saturday Regional Cross Country Race as part of the Illinois State Championship Tournament. Though the Running Aces have been competing for 11 years, they have never been able to participate in the State of Illinois playoffs due to the event taking place on Saturdays. In 2017, the wheels were set into motion when Coach Ezra Jaffe began his inquires for a change. Though his efforts were turned down at the time, he was not prepared to give up. The IHSA was able to fulfill similar requests in the past for wrestling and basketball, but in those events only a handful of other teams were affected. With 18 schools and 120 runners participating in cross country, changing the cross country regionals seemed like an impossible feat; especially given the massive effort involved in scheduling and securing a venue. 


Runner Pelah Cohen expressed her feelings about the process over the last 2 years the change has been in discussion. “I remember the first few years of being on the team, the coaches mentioned there was a regional race and our team was invited, but could never attend due to religious reasons (it was always on Shabbat).” Yaakov Rosenberg, another senior runner, expressed similar sentiments at the time, noting a period of frustration years ago when one of ICJA’s best runners graduated and never had the opportunity to participate in regionals, though he had qualified. 


This past spring, Coach Ezra Jaffe approached a competing team’s coach, who is also a member of the IHSA Cross Country Advisory Committee, to propose the idea again. Coach Jaffe ramped us his efforts, taking his request to the highest levels within the IHSA. The Executive Director of the IHSA, Craig Andersen was very receptive and inclusionary, but the decision still required a vote from the full IHSA Board. The board approved the change June 10th, and voted to move one race from a Saturday to a Friday afternoon to accommodate Shabbat observant runners. 


“Having an opportunity for our cross country team to participate at a state level competition was a huge goal we set for ourselves. With Coach Jaffe’s commitment and organization, we hosted the first Friday regional meet, historically held on a Saturday. I am so proud of all the ICJA cross country runners. All their hard work and teamwork made it an even more memorable regional meet, ” Coach Dana Hunter. Pelah Cohen recalls, “after a long season of running, came the big Friday. Coach Jaffe told us that even though we didn’t necessarily have to come in first, we had to show the other teams we are worth it, and that they moved the race for a good reason for a team that deserves a chance to compete. And we did exactly that!” 


After hours of preparation, the event went on without a hitch. The Ida Crown Boys and Girls Teams both came in 4th, and qualified to advance to the IHSA Sectional Race the next weekend. On an individual basis, 9 of the 14 runners set personal records at the race and 4 others ran their best 3-mile race of the year. Senior Micah Cohen broke the school 3-mile record clocking in at 16:18 and finishing 12th. 


“In addition to being lucky enough to run another race, I was able to end my career with a personal record at our home course!” said runner Yaakov Rosenberg in celebration of this opportunity. 


Thank you to Coaches Ezra Jaffe and Dana Hunter for their hard work coaching this season, all the runners for giving it all they have, and the Skokie Park District and Village of Skokie for helping to secure Pooch Park and part of the Skokie Sculpture Park to host the races.