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October 5th, 2007

Yom Kippur, then football
Carimi fasts and then tackles

By Andrea Waxman
of The Chronicle staff

University of Wisconsin-Madison freshman football player Gabe Carimi, 19, does not think of himself as a hero or role model, but he’s following in the footsteps of one of his personal heroes.

“When I was in high school, Matt Bernstein was my hero. It was really cool seeing him play bruising tailback when he had fasted all day,” Carimi told The Chronicle in a telephone interview last week.

Three years ago, on Sept. 25, 2004, Bernstein, a fullback with the Badgers, made headlines with a stunning performance when Coach Barry Alvarez moved him to running tailback after the team’s top tailbacks were injured. He had just completed a 24-hour fast for Yom Kippur.

This Yom Kippur, Carimi, the Badger left tackle, made a similar decision about Jewish observance. He fasted on Yom Kippur before an evening home game last week, the Big Ten Conference opener against Iowa.

It was a game the 6-foot 8-inch, 292-pound Carimi would not have played if it had been scheduled for earlier that day.

“I didn’t think about myself as being in the same position [as Bernstein] until right now,” he said.

When asked whether the thought that his observance of Yom Kippur might be significant to members of the Jewish community entered into his decision to fast, Carimi said it did not.

“It was a personal decision. I just felt it was right for me; it was the right thing to do.”

Carimi, part of an offensive line that averages 314 pounds, was able to celebrate with his teammates after UW’s 17-13 win.

‘Football is fickle’

Carimi, who grew up in Madison and then the nearby town of Cottage Grove, said, “In high school I had to have a game moved to Saturday night when Yom Kippur fell on a Friday night.” His coach at Monona Grove High School was fine with his decision not to play on Erev Yom Kippur, he said.

But this year at UW, that wasn’t an issue because there was no Friday night or Saturday afternoon game scheduled. “I was lucky,” Carimi said and noted that the game dates and times are selected based on media considerations.

Carimi grew up and became a bar mitzvah at Madison’s Reform congregation, Temple Beth El, he said. His father, a doctor of internal medicine at Mercy Hospital, Janesville, and his mother, who works for a company that sells health and nutrition products, are native Floridians. They moved to Illinois and then Wisconsin after college.

Carimi has an older sister, 20, who is also a UW athlete, a member of the women’s crew team. The two share a condominium near the Capitol, Carimi said.

At the beginning of his football career, Carimi has received encouragement from his teammates.

“I think Gabe’s done a great job for us so far," said senior center Marcus Coleman said in a Capital Times article.

“I couldn’t be happier, and it’s just exciting to see him kind of keep working on things he needs to get better at. He works hard, takes everything he does wrong to heart and he goes out and tries to improve on it. It’s nice to see him improving every week.”

In spite of Carimi’s early football success, he is looking wide for future plans.

“I really feel football is so fickle, I don’t want to [even think about pursuing a professional football career].”

Too busy to participate in Jewish student activities or much of anything outside of football and academics, Carimi said that he is “majoring in civil engineering and my goal right now is to get a degree.”