Palo Alto teen basketball player preps for service in Israeli army


Because of what they do on fields of play, athletes at all levels inspire others. But for one high-school student athlete in Silicon Valley, this has been a special season of inspiring others on and off the court, in ways not measured by game-winning shots.

Miguel Frid stands about six feet tall, with wavy brown hair, kind eyes and a contagious smile. His peers at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto are focusing on college admissions, with some intending to take a gap year to study or volunteer in Israel. Frid, too, will be in Israel next year, though in a vastly different role: serving in a unit in the Israel Defense Forces.

“I want to go to Israel,” Frid said. “I think that is my place to be, and the army is part of that.” After his army duty, Miguel plans to study at an Israeli university.

Frid’s primary focus this year, however, is leading the Kehillah Rams varsity basketball team. In its 10 years, Kehillah’s student body has grown to nearly 160. Kehillah students cover a “dual curriculum,” in which ancient Rabbinic texts, the Hebrew language and ethical teachings are integrated into the fabric of a rigorous college preparatory program. Despite its size, the school boasts an impressive array of athletics teams, including cross country, soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, golf and swimming.

At Kehillah, the goals of the athletics program intertwine with the school’s mission. “The overwhelming majority of the kids are not going to be playing beyond high school,” said Howard Kaplan, Kehillah’s athletic director. “My goal is for the kids to learn the sport, generate camaraderie amongst teammates and build confidence for when they go to college and play on an intramural team.”

It is an unusually focused teenager who is willing to take on the demands of a Kehillah education inside and outside the classroom, and even in that milieu Frid stands out.

The son of a Mexican-Jewish father and a mother who grew up Christian before converting to Judaism as a young adult, Frid said there was always an emphasis on religion and Israel in his Spanish-speaking home. “We wanted him to have a strong Jewish identity,” said Carol Frid, Miguel’s mother. After transferring to Kehillah in the middle of freshman year to learn more about his faith, Frid immediately joined the basketball and soccer teams.

In addition to being a star soccer player, Frid is the captain of the basketball team. Though the Rams struggled to a 5-13 record this past season, Frid provided the team with key baskets throughout. “He brings outside shooting … he was our most reliable three-point shooter,” said head coach Ed Campbell, who has coached at the high school and junior college level for more than 20 years. Especially during his senior season, Frid was the focal point for opposing defenses, but his court vision and basketball instincts also allowed for teammates to get involved.

In the Jewish prep basketball world, where endless passion and constant optimism abound, the fiercest rivalries naturally germinate against other Jewish schools. Kehillah’s chief rival is the Jewish Community High School of San Francisco. Though the teams meet twice per season, only one of the games is designated as the “Golden Tallis” game, invoking the four-cornered shawl traditionally worn by Jews during prayer. The winning school proudly takes home the tallis to display throughout the spring and fall — or even use for prayer. Frid has never experienced a season at Kehillah — including this season’s 57-40 victory — without the Golden Tallis hanging proudly in the school.

In normative Jewish practice, a tallis symbolizes an individual’s daily spiritual journey from the exterior to the interior, a bridge from the corporeal to the spiritual during prayer. It is fitting, therefore, that Frid looked at this year’s game as the transition point to his next chapter.

Frid sees a natural parallel between serving in the Israeli army and playing basketball for Kehillah. “One of my favorite things about playing for a Jewish school is that before every game when we’re warming up, the other team is warming up right next to us, and they’re just looking at us like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be easy,’ and then we come out and win,” Frid said.

This mutual dependence on his teammates and the chance to build community inspired Frid throughout the season. So, too, the Israeli army — like Kehillah — is a chance to further explore his Jewish identity. “It is another way to express what can be achieved by the Jewish spirit,” Frid explained.

Legions of supporters are cheering for Frid. Campbell is one. “When he told me that he was planning to go to Israel to join the army, I was like, ‘wow’ — I had no idea,” Campbell said. “I know a lot of kids talk about going to Israel at the school, but generally it’s, ‘I’m going to Israel and I’m living with my aunt and doing some community service,’ so when he told me that he was going to put himself on the line, I was very impressed.”

Frid has likewise earned his parents’ blessing. “As a mom,” Carol said, “I worry that things can get heated, but I think it will be a good experience for him … I have to support him.”

Campbell added perspective to Frid’s unique circumstances. “There are kids who … may tell you that they’re going into the military when they get out (of high school), but it tends to be because they don’t know what to do, or they’re not sure if they can do anything else,” Campbell said. “With Miguel, however, it seemed to be, ‘No, this is what I want to do. I want to serve and we’ll see where that takes me.’”

The day after the Golden Tallis victory seems like any other. Students gather in the same room to pray, some more eager than others. For Frid, however, this is his special day, his chance to wrap himself in the Golden Tallis as he prays, its glow contrasting brightly with the clouds outside. As he recites the Shema, the central Jewish prayer proclaiming how much the Divine depends upon Man as partner in repairing this world, Frid pauses to reflect. His passion for basketball is draped over him as he looks forward to what is ahead.

Video feature produced by Austin Meyer and Noah Linfield.

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