Ping-pong balls flew through the air as the girls attending JEP’s Camp Nageela shabbaton were treated to a glimpse of Estee Ackerman’s talent. This past Motzaei Shabbos, Estee showed why she belonged at the US National Table Tennis Championship and how great a sacrifice it was for her to forfeit for the sake of Shabbos.
After an inspirational Shabbos filled with singing, cheering, delicious food, reviving staff and camper relationships, and just experiencing the beauty of Shabbos, the girls were on a “Nageela high.” But Nageela Shabbatons don’t happen every week. What would be next Shabbos? Would they be able to retain that “high” in a less supportive environment?
Right after havdalah, the girls gathered in the basement of Congregation Shaaray Tefila to hear from someone who had championed Shabbos despite a significant challenge. Eleven-year-old Estee Ackerman quickly won over her audience with her smile brimming with enthusiasm. She described the hours she spent practicing, leading up to being ranked as fourth in the 8–11 national age bracket. She won match after match and progressed all the way to the final-16 match, which was set for Friday evening, hours after Shabbos would begin.
If possible, Estee’s smile grew even broader at this point of her story. “It was no question in my mind what to do. Shabbos comes first.” She forfeited the match and the chance to improve her ranking even further without a hint of resignation but with pride. Even though playing would not violate halachah per se, she felt “it wasn’t in the spirit of Shabbos to compete in uniform.”
After her speech, Estee showcased her talent playing against her brother Akiva, a star in his own age bracket, with balls flying almost faster than the human eye could follow. Then, the Nageela campers were offered the chance to win an iPad if any one of them could beat Estee in a match. Of course, no one came close (with the possible exception of Rabbi Shenker), but the room was filled with laughter and cheers with each attempt. One game was paused as Estee showed a camper how to properly hold the paddle.
Amidst all the excitement, campers murmured to each other over and over again, “She’s so amazing. I want to be like her.” My favorite comment was from a teen camper who asked me if I thought Estee would mind if she pinched her cheeks.
We left with Estee’s closing statement ringing in our ears, “I want to win the gold medal in table tennis, but I also want to win the gold medal in life.” Campers and staff unanimously agreed that she was well on her way to both. v