Solomon Braun has his hands full. On top of juggling academics at an Ivy League school, actively participating in the community, maintaining a social life and scoring goals for the Princeton Tigers, he also diligently observes the Jewish Sabbath. After the sun goes down on Friday nights, his cleats remain in his closet, his books closed on his desk.
Of all his achievements, the 21-year-old South Florida native and soccer star – he was a 2007 national finalist in the Wendy’s High School Heisman award – considers keeping Shabbat among the greatest.
“One of the hardest things for me to do was to start observing Shabbat, because it meant giving up certain aspects of soccer,” says Braun, who serves on the student board of Chabad-Lubavitch of Princeton University. “I struggled with it for two years.”
He traces his turning point to April 17, 2006, when tragedy claimed the life of a friend.
Daniel Wultz, 16, was visiting Israel to celebrate Passover and on that fateful day, the teenager and his father stopped for lunch at a Tel Aviv café. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives, critically injuring Tuly Wultz and robbing him of his son.
The blast resonated through the entire Jewish community of South Florida. Friends and family prayed and committed themselves to acts of goodness and kindness in the Wultzes’ merit.
“That was when I decided to observe Shabbat,” relates Braun.
Since that time, the Jewish holy day has reigned supreme on Braun’s calendar, even when it conflicts with the demands of soccer, writing papers or going out with friends for the weekend. He misses many games and practices because of his observances, but coaches and teammates support him.
“We understand and appreciate that Solomon is not able to be at all of our games and practices, and we are grateful for the time he has been able to devote to the team,” says coach Jim Barlow, who this weekend, led the Tigers to its first-ever Ivy League title and on to the NCAA tournament. (Braun was attending services at the Chabad House.)
The coach describes the player as a “skillful, hard-working midfielder.”
Star soccer player Solomon Braun doesn’t play on Shabbat. (Photo: Princeton University Sports)
Not Always Easy
For his part, Braun freely admits that going without is not always easy. But he doesn’t see the exchange as optional.
“I’ve made the decision that this is how I’m going to live my life, and I shape my life around that,” he explains. “I don’t see it as I have seven potential working days in a week and one is taken by Shabbat. I see it as one day is for Shabbat, and the other six are for work.”
Sheryl Wultz keeps tabs on her late son’s friend. She says that even for Jewish adults, it requires a certain knack and commitment to remain observant.
“It takes extra organizational skills and effort to be able to synchronize a secular world with a religious world,” she says.
Braun wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I need that day of rest,” he quips.
Solomon Braun prays at the Chabad House.
At the Chabad House, Braun recruits fellow students for Friday night dinners and plans holiday celebrations.
“Solomon is the real deal,” says its director, Rabbi Eitan Webb. “He works hard, he plays hard. He’s nice and always willing to help. He doesn’t act like it, but he’s tremendously accomplished.”
In addition to keeping Shabbat, Braun also keeps kosher and wears a skullcap. Since metal clips are not allowed by soccer officials, during games, Braun holds it in place using a knitted stocking cap. (“It’s not the most ventilating piece of garment,” he jokes.)
And although today, he couldn’t imagine living life any other way, he advises others to go slow. People should always be moving forward, he says.
“You can’t do everything at once,” he cautions, “to the point where you’ll end up resenting it.”