CARSON, Calif—Growing up in Los Angeles, part of one of the country’s largest Jewish populations, LA Galaxy defender Daniel Steres played part of his youth soccer with his local Jewish Community Center (JCC). His bio claims the three Maccabi Games championships they earned.
This week, as the Galaxy travel to take on Orlando City, Steres is observing the Passover holiday, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. It began Monday at sundown – traditionally with a seder (family dinner) – and lasts until Tuesday night.
“We had a dinner this week,” Steres said. “You tell the story of what happened and you keep the tradition going. A big idea from that is they had to struggle for what we have now, so be grateful for it. That’s what I take out of it with my family all being here, being able to get together.”
Steres, whose relatives – including grandparents, aunts, uncles – still reside in L.A., gathered for a first-night seder (extended families often coordinate on one of the first two nights, if not both).
The L.A. Jewish community has many historical ties to soccer in the US. Maccabi Los Angeles won five U.S. Open Cups in just an 11-year competitive history, tied for the most Open Cup wins with Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Steel. As a youth player, Steres participated within the JCC programs, which connected him to a worldwide community.
“It was cool,” Steres said. “We got to travel around, a bunch of guys in the community, guys who I actually played club with too. So that was nice to all travel around, meet Jewish athletes from all different states and even other countries that we got to play against. We helped build on the tradition that gets passed down through that.”
Breed Street Shul in L.A. neighborhood Boyle Heights was the largest Orthodox synagogue west of Chicago from 1915 to 1951. Today the Fairfax district is known as the center of the Jewish community. Steres admits he’s a big pastrami guy, when he’s having a sandwich at Canter’s.
But balancing religious traditions around food – no leavened bread/lotsa matzah is the start of it for the week – with the requirements of being an athlete is a struggle Steres shares with many. Trying to keep kosher for Passover is not as simple when on a strict nutrition regimen. Still, Steres does his best.
“Sometimes I [keep kosher],” he said. “Not too strict though.
“I try, but I also know I’ve got to make sure I’m getting myself good food. I just eat healthy. I try to stay away from most of the Passover guilt.”