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Possessed by Padel

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If this was an agony aunt letter, I would begin as follows: “Dear Aunt Ruchama, I’m worried that my friend has become a Padel slut. Unable to say no to a game, we often find him lurking hopefully at the side of the court, waiting to be invited to play.

“Last night, he arrived at an arranged game sporting a new racquet, which he denied was his. He said he was holding it for a friend. But I remain unconvinced. When I mentioned my concern to him and asked him how often he played, he tried to obfuscate before admitting that he had played three times in 24 hours. Am I overreacting?”

Padel has become a drug for Jewish men (and some women) looking to escape the monotony of their lives.

Why predominantly Jewish men? Because I’m yet to see a court occupied by anyone outside of the faith. Which is fascinating, considering that with our tendency to pronate and our propensity for asthma and shortened Achilles tendons, we’re not exactly world’s most talented sportsmen and women.

Yet what we lack in talent we make up in enthusiasm.

It’s unclear to me if the non-Jewish community is even aware that they’re allowed to play the game and that it’s not a “Jews-only” affair. I’m amazed each time I play that the courts seem entirely occupied by members of the community.

Non-Jewish South Africans seem oblivious to the fact that there are alternatives to golf and cricket, and to the fact that Padel is significantly safer than water polo. Especially in that the only risk of grooming is someone trying to invite you for a Shabbat meal and the only rub down you’ll be offered might be from the physio because no one is as young as they used to be. And have never been.

Not with the family history.

It’s not a joke. I’m frankly quite surprised and even a little disappointed that there’s no Chabad of Padel already set up, functioning, and offering the opportunity to put on tefillin between sets.

There is no mikveh fund and no appeal from the Jewish National Fund. Nor, I have noticed, is there a CSO presence, which there should be, considering that Padel courts are unquestionably Jewish installations.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if in the next few weeks, Padel operators don’t release their high holiday specials. Along with a menu.

Padel is a racquet sport typically played in doubles on an enclosed court roughly one-third the size of a tennis court. Scoring is the same as normal tennis, and the balls used are similar but with a little less pressure. It began in Acapulco in Mexico in 1969, but has only recently arrived in South Africa.

There’s nothing intrinsically Jewish about Padel. There’s nothing that links the sport to Israel or to faith or to anything remotely biblical.

But it has been adopted by the local community for all the right reasons. It’s healthy, it’s fun, and it has the potential to become an obsession. What more could anyone ask for?

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