Estee Ackerman, an 11-year-old nationally ranked table tennis player from West Hempstead, trained almost every day for six months in preparation for the 2012 National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas.
However, when Ackerman made it to the final round of the tournament on Dec. 22, she withdrew from the game because it was scheduled during the Shabbat.
While Ackerman was aware of the tournament schedule, she said she never thought she would make it as far as she did and be faced with the choice.
“I mean of course I was upset,” she said. “But in my life, no matter what happens, religion comes first.”
Ackerman’s sacrifice did not go unnoticed.
Representatives from the Nachum Segal Network, the first and only 24-hour Jewish radio network outside of Israel, which broadcasts online and on radio networks in New York and New Jersey, found out about Ackerman’s choice through social media and wanted to acknowledge her commitment to religion and also inspire others.
On Thursday, the station invited Ackerman to the Manhattan headquarters of the Orthodox Union, a Jewish social services and outreach organization, to show off her skills in a friendly match. The event was broadcast live on the Nachum Segal Network and hosted by network founder and radio personality Nachum Segal.
Ackerman went head-to-head in a three-game series against 28-year-old OU administrator Eli Hagler.
During the match, Ackerman dominated the court, delivering countless power serves that left Hagler speechless. Hagler, who was dressed from head to toe in blue and orange sports gear (sweatband included), got progressively better with each game, but was still no match for Ackerman.
Ackerman beat Hagler 11-1 in the first game, 11-2 in the second game and 11-7 in the third game.
“I thought I would score a few more times,” Hagler said after the match. “I didn’t know she would be able to put so much spin on the ball.”
Ackerman began playing table tennis with her older brother, Akiva, on a table in the basement of her home when she was only 8 years old. A few months later, she started playing competitively, attending different tournaments and club meets in the New York tri-state area. Now, she is ranked fourth in the nation for children under 12.
“When she first picked up that paddle, she was a natural,” said Akiva Ackerman, 14, who is also a nationally ranked Ping-Pong player, and who watched his sister play on Thursday along with their father, Glenn Ackerman.
Miriam Wallace, general manager of the Nachum Segal Network, said the radio station was drawn to the story because she considered Ackerman an inspiration for the Orthodox Jewish community.
“She’s a phenomenal representative of what we would want for our kids,” she said.