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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Jew’

The Marlins’ Coming New Stadium And More

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

While there are great rates on fares to the Miami area this time of year, it’s not a place most people want to visit in the summer, unless, of course, they have relatives or good friends to visit or a simcha to attend.

 

Next year, however, baseball fans will have good reason to hit Miami. The Marlins, who have been playing in an open stadium that doubles for football and that offers late afternoon rain and a hot sun with very little protection from both, will have a new home.

 

The Marlins will be moving south, away from Hollywood to the site that formerly housed the Orange Bowl near downtown Miami. It will add more driving time to south Florida’s large Jewish population, but it will be worth it.

 

The stadium’s retractable roof will shield fans from sun, rain and oppressive heat. The ballpark will accommodate a cozy 37,000, and an operable wall in left field will provide spectacular views of downtown Miami. Colorful walking areas under the stands will allow baseball pedestrians to view many works of art.

 

            A large aquarium behind and on each side of home plate will remind spectators of Florida’s attractions. The big (51 feet high by 101 feet wide) high-definition scoreboard will keep fans informed and entertained.

 

 


Recent photo of the new Marlins ballpark

under construction in downtown Miami

 

 

Part art gallery and part shopping center, the ballpark will feature a very special room for us. According to Marlins vice chairman Joel Mael, the highest-ranking Orthodox Jew ever in baseball, there will be a room for davening.

 

“Our new ballpark will have the first dedicated minyan room,” Joel says. “We plan to have a regular weekday minyan for Minchah and Maariv.”

 

Kosher food will also be available. So plan on taking advantage of those summer fares to Florida in 2012.

 

*     *     *

 

You’ll be hearing a lot about Paul Goldschmidt. Drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the eighth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft, Goldschmidt was signed and sent to the low Pioneer League to play first base for the rest of that season. In 287 at bats, Goldschmidt batted .334 with 18 home runs. Promoted to Visalia in the California League in 2010, Goldschmidt tore up the league (.314, 35 home runs and 108 RBI).

 

This year, Goldschmidt was promoted again to Arizona’s double-A affiliate, Mobile in the Southern League. Goldschmidt, a 6-3, 245-pound right-handed batter, became the first minor leaguer at any level to hit 20 home runs. He was on pace to hit over .300, over 40 homers, and over 100 RBI.

 

However, the Diamondbacks feel he may not need any more time in the minors. He’s that good. Now, I know what you’re thinking: a big right-handed hitting first baseman who can hit for average and power. Just like Hank Greenberg. You may be right over the course of time. However, there’s one difference. Greenberg was Jewish, Goldschmidt is not.

 

So adopt him if you will as a future star player – but not as a Jewish star player. Shel Wallman’s Jewish Sports Review is a good way to follow Jewish athletes on all levels. But, you should know that JSR identifies athletes as Jewish as long as they have one Jewish parent from either side.

 

*     *     *

 

The Red Sox started the season by losing their first six games. After 12 games they were 2 and 10. Some of you sent me e-mails asking if I still thought the BoSox would represent the American League in the World Series. I stuck with Boston then and am doing so even more now.

 

As I mentioned a few months ago, Detroit can beat the Yankees or any other American League team except Boston in the postseason. And when the dust settles in the National league, the Phillies will be standing on top.


 


 


 


Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and earned a World Series ring while working for a major league team. To read his illustrated autobiography on how an Orthodox Jew made it to the baseball field, send a check payable for $19.95 to Irwin Cohen.  Mail to 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, Michigan 48237Cohen, the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net 

The Man And His Book

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

  


In the four years-plus I’ve been writing this column, I’ve received many questions from readers. This month would be a good time to showcase some of the more popular questions and tell you of a book about an Orthodox Jew in the baseball field.

 

Were you always Orthodox and were you born in Detroit?

 

Yes. My father was born in Brooklyn and my mother in Cleveland. Both of their families came to Detroit prior to 1920 to join relatives. All their siblings grew up and remained Orthodox and when a day school yeshiva started in Detroit in the 1940s, all sent their children there. My mother’s family is directly descended from the Baal Shem Tov, and in fact my parents gave me the Hebrew name Yisroel after the Baal Shem.

 

   From the time your column began, the tagline has always said you’re the president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul. Do you win the election every year?

 

The last time we had an election was 25 years ago and the rabbis asked me to be president. We haven’t had elections since. It would be a waste of time, as I’d win easily.


   Here’s why: Everybody in shul is taller than me, better looking, more learned and more moneyed, so no one is jealous of me. Besides, I set a high standard. Other presidents sit up front and make the announcements; I sit in the very last row in the back and let the gabbai make the announcements. I handle the behind-the-scenes jobs, such as seating for Shabbos HaGadol meals and for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

 

   What does the Detroit Orthodox community offer for those who may be thinking of relocating?

 

   It’s the best in the country. The main Orthodox community consists of two of Detroit’s adjoining northern suburbs – Oak Park and Southfield. I live in Oak Park and the shul (Agudas Yisroel Mogen Avrohom) I’m president of is in Southfield. When I leave my house and get to the corner, if I turn to the left there are two shuls a few minutes away that I like and use in bad weather.

 

But my usual routine is to turn right every weekday morning and go to the kollel for Daf Yomi and Shacharis. In the evenings and on Shabbos and Yom Tov I go to the Agudah shul. In good weather it’s about a 12-minute walk. Our community has 18 Orthodox minyanim on Shabbos and Yom Tov within a 15-minute walk from my home. Also within the same time-frame walk there are several kosher eateries, a large all-kosher supermarket, yeshivas and three kollels. There are about 50 men learning full-time among the three. Of course, that doesn’t count the retirees that learn there, too.

 

There are three different frum girls’ high schools here and three different boys’ high schools. There is even a post-high school seminary (with a dorm) for girls.

 

We have all kinds of shuls – Young Israel, Chabad and several black hat types. In the Agudah shul we have all types – many don’t own a single hat and wear yarmulkes at all times. In fact, during the week I wear hats other than black. I like to put a little color in a black and white world; I’ve got several suits of different colors and wear a hat of matching color with each of them. On Shabbos and Yom Tov I wear black.

 

Several families from the east have moved to Detroit this year. One came from Brookline, Massachusetts. The husband sold the house there for $800,000 and moved to Oak Park where he bought a nice three-bedroom ranch with family room and full basement for a bit over $100,000. He retired several years earlier than he would have if he’d stayed in Boston. Same with a man from Flatbush. Housing here is about a quarter the price or even less than a comparable home in New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

 

The best way to describe my community is that it’s like a mini-Lakewood – but with professional sports. The community is loaded with rabid sports fans. For example, on the last Tigers home game of the season – a Sunday that fell on chol hamoed Sukkos, I took my grandsons to the game and sat in the bleachers. From my spot in right field I counted more than a minyan and saw something I never saw at a ballgame before – a Chabadnik going up and down the aisles holding a lulav and esrog looking for prospects. So we have everything needed to make a community great.

 

   How did you get into the baseball field?

 

It’s really a fascinating story that was directed by Hashem. After reading about it, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s too long to go into here. So I wrote a book titled Tiger Stadium/Comerica Park, History & Memories. It’s both a chronological history of a great franchise and my history. It’s really the story of an Orthodox Jew in the baseball field but if I had that title the distributor and Detroit-area bookstores wouldn’t have carried it. The book also has 160 photos, including many from New York teams that I interacted with. In the book I tell what my salary was when I worked in a front office and what my World Series share was. A well-known New York rabbi bought the book and called me twice to tell me how much he enjoyed it. He was even pleasantly surprised to see a picture of his favorite Dodgers player.

 

   Do you do speaking engagements?

 

Yes – all types of groups and ages, Jewish and non-Jewish. I just did one for accountants while they ate breakfast. It was a two-hour gig that included baseball business and I always end with a Q and A session. I’ve done schools and retiree homes and men’s and ladies’ groups. My favorite groups, though, are Jewish because I can use some baseball-related Torah topics.

 

   Would you speak at a Pesach program at a hotel of the type that advertise in The Jewish Press?

 

I would certainly listen to any inquiries.

 

   How do I get the book?

 

   Here’s the best way. Send a check for $19.95 payable to Irwin Cohen. Mail it to 25921 Stratford Place, Oak Park, MI 48237. The price includes shipping and handling (I handle both). Just give me a clear mailing address for you and tell me if you want me to sign it for someone. It makes a terrific gift, especially for me.


 


 


Now the author of eight books, Irwin Cohen may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

I Want To Be Religious And My Wife Doesn’t

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Question: I am becoming an Orthodox Jew. I totally love what I am doing and the new meaning it is giving my life. I want to be become more strictly observant, but my wife does not agree and has become an unwilling participant. She refuses to consult with my rabbi because the one time she spoke with him she felt he wasn’t being sensitive to her needs. The more religious I become, the more irreligious she becomes. I really do love her but as far as I am concerned, when it comes to religious observance, things are black and white. I don’t want to live a non-observant lifestyle and yet, she won’t consider becoming religious. What do I do? I told her I was writing to you and she agreed to try whatever you’d suggest.

Answer: The pressure is on. While I am a big fan of a religious lifestyle, I am also a fan of a happy marriage. It is truly a wonderful moment when spirituality and marital love exist together. Your question, however, highlights the general issue of how do we make changes in our personal lives when we are married and expect to keep in step with that relationship.

Any union that will make it to the 50-year mark, and beyond, is going to face significant changes, because we will change as people. Those changes are often not the same for both halves of a couple, so the marital concept of growing together will often face a major challenge.

The answer lies in forming a loving spirit of cooperation by both spouses. First, the spouse who seeks change – in your case it is you wanting to become more religious – has the responsibility of including the other spouse in his/her desire to change. This means that you offer her a say in how to proceed. The fact that she did meet with your rabbi and is willing to listen to my suggestion means she isn’t closed to the process, but rather, hasn’t found a comfortable way to become a part of it. It might be a good idea to visit different synagogues with her, in the hope of finding one you can both relate to. This will also give her the feeling of having a say in the process.

You’re desire to lead a more religious lifestyle is admirable but it’ll be a far richer experience with the love of your life along for the ride. Toward that end you may have to go slower in making certain changes and give her time to “catch up” and join you on this journey. This doesn’t mean you each won’t have your individual thoughts, feelings and strengths. In fact, each of you will relate to different parts of what religious life offers because you are different people. This is wonderful because you will teach each other things you wouldn’t have related to on your own. But at the core, you will become closer to each other and reach a consensus on how to proceed.

The second part of cooperation is solely your wife’s job. Too many people discount any changes desired by their spouses claiming it wasn’t what they agreed to when they married. Of course not. How can we stay exactly the same throughout our lifetime? Others will think they are being good husbands or wives by telling their spouse to do what they want as long as they keep them out of it. This is a recipe for disaster.

What do you think happens when one spouse commits to personal changes and chases his passion without the involvement of his mate? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Either there is a mote of distance that quickly builds or the changed spouse finds someone else who loves these changes and gets on board (or both). Obviously, this doesn’t mean that a spouse can’t have some personal interests not shared with his or her mate, but it does dictate that there shouldn’t be too many and primary passions are best shared.

When your spouse feels compelled to discover new things, get in on it from the start. It may not be your choice or something you’d ever think of doing, but isn’t that what marriage and life is all about? We develop a complicated quilt of life experiences because of the people we love. If you’re child becomes a violinist, you’re going to learn more about Mozart than you ever cared to. Likewise, if your child is hearing impaired, don’t you think you will become an expert in sign language?

Rabbis, Time To Flash Your Badges

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

“Officer, what’s your badge number?”

I’ve been asked that question countless times over the last 26 years. Almost always, it followed an unpopular decision. Always, it was accompanied by an unspoken message: “I’m letting you know I will hold you accountable for this decision.” And always, I answer that question in a direct, simple way: I give my badge number.

In fact, I’ve shared the right answer to this question with hundreds, if not thousands, of subordinates over the years.

After all, correct decisions may be unpopular, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. So, I’ve found that my deft response to that question – mandated by NYPD policy – also helps me convey the unspoken message that I welcome scrutiny of my actions. The specter of being held accountable, by anyone, not only doesn’t threaten my self-image but it has always been part and parcel of my day-to-day values – an embedded value.

Accountability for one’s actions came to mind as I read a flyer full of bluster and threats that was recently circulated in Lakewood, New Jersey, against a hitherto respected rabbi. His crime? He chose to report the sexual abuse of his son to the police.

Let me not digress. It is lamentable that many still pounce on parents who seek to protect their children and our community from dangerous predators, but that is not the focus of this discussion.

Rather, I am particularly irked by the letter writer’s request that his reading public “excuse [him] for not signing this letter.” After all, he writes, the victim of his polemics may seek to have him prosecuted. Aveira goreres aveira (sin begets more sin), we are told, so readers are asked to understand how necessary and proper his cloak of invisibility is – a selfless act of self-preservation.

Not to me it isn’t.

Perusing the flyer, clearly written for haredi readers, one finds numerous comments pertaining to the honor of our Torah, the respect due today’s rabbis, the specific legal areas of our Shulchan Aruch allegedly violated, and the awesome desecration of God’s name caused by the abuse victim’s family. It decries their prosecution of the crime, and threatens additional censure and embarrassment of the family should the prosecution proceed.

Yet, with all the religious “weight” behind him, the letter writer prefers anonymity. Why?

Officer, what’s your badge number?

That question, or a permutation of it, should be asked by every individual who held this flyer in his hands. If the muscle of Torah backs this smear campaign, why the incredible lack of accountability? Surely, brilliant Torah minds can devise a micha’ah – formal objection – that makes the point without fear of prosecution.

Wouldn’t we all respect a well-constructed argument, coming from some of the stellar minds of the Lakewood yeshiva community? Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Or is it instead about thuggery, threats, and intimidation? Do we dare allow a mob mentality to reign, even when dressed up as a defense of Torah? Let us all recoil in horror when witnessing tactics more appropriately used by underworld figures than Torah scholars.

In a recent e-mail exchange with a shul rabbi I know and respect, I was told that rabbis in leadership positions today “do not usually put their opinions out there, for fear of being overwhelmed with emotional backtalk.” I wondered how such individuals could be considered “leaders” at all. Isn’t leadership about ownership, about taking responsibility and accepting accountability?

Or is it about this Lakewood gangster, who can only print his diatribes from the shadows? Is this how we want to see Torah defended in an increasingly unsettled world?

If Torah is the ultimate truth – and as Orthodox Jews we believe it is – I hope I am not the only one who has difficulty understanding the lack of accountability that seems to permeate the haredi world today. Lakewood is known as the premier makom Torah in the nation. Why is this odious anonymous circular needed? Aren’t there sufficient rabbinical leaders in that city who are certain of their actions and willing to stand up and be accountable for them?

If this father is to be religiously censured for choosing a course of action he felt would best protect his child and community – and to be clear, I believe he is a hero and guiding light to us all – let Lakewood’s great rabbinic minds come out and say so openly. That may be an unpopular position outside the Lakewood community, but if Lakewood’s rabbis believe it’s the right one, then so be it. Let’s start seeing leadership and accountability, rather than some cowardly rabble-rouser preaching about chillul Hashem while lacking the courage to be accountable for his words.

Jamaican Hip-Hopper Turned Orthodox Jew: A Candid Talk With Yoseph Robinson

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Yoseph Robinson was born in Jamaica, came to Brooklyn when he was twelve, and dropped out of school shortly thereafter. As a teenager, he moved to Philadelphia and became involved in a life of illicit street activities. In his early twenties and after a close brush with death, during which he was targeted by a rival Jamaican gang, Yoseph relocated to Los Angeles and set his sights on the Hollywood music scene. He became a Hip-Hop promoter and producer, and signed a lucrative album contract with Universal/Bungalow Records.

Yoseph Robinson before (2000)

At the height of his musical success and while indulging in all the material abundance Hollywood had to offer, Yoseph chanced upon a Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch edition of the Chumash. Yoseph’s life was transformed. He decided to reject the emptiness and egotism of the Hollywood lifestyle and embrace Yiddishkeit. Yoseph converted to Judaism and now lives in Brooklyn as an Orthodox Jew.

The Jewish Press: What was your first experience with Judaism?

Robinson: Interestingly, my first “experience” with Judaism or with Jewish people did not resonate with me at all. When my parents came to the United States my mother worked for a lovely Jewish family called the Schwimmers. My mother even kept a picture of the Schwimmer family on the mantelpiece in our home. I saw that picture almost every day of my childhood. In fact, my siblings and I were able to come to the U.S. only because the Schwimmers generously agreed to sponsor my family. The funny thing is, though, the Schwimmers being “Jewish” was simply descriptive, like saying the Schwimmers were Asian, or Puerto Rican. Jewishness or Judaism had no intrinsic or latent meaning for me.

My second contact with Judaism occurred when I was thirteen years old, a few months after I arrived in the U.S. I worked as a delivery boy for a kosher grocery store in Brooklyn. Since growing up in Jamaica was a unique cultural experience untainted with racial or religious prejudice, I had formed no previous conceptions about Jews. As a result, the kosher grocery experience left no impression on me one way or the other. It was only when I randomly walked into a bookstore asking for a bible and received a Hirsch English edition of the Chumash instead that I began my fundamental connection to Yiddishkeit.

Who performed your conversion, and what were the requirements?

The Los Angeles beis din, under the leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Block and Rabbi Aharon Tendler, converted me. My geirus [conversion] studies program took about two-and-a-half years to complete, and centered on the weekly parshah, the halachos of Shabbos and kashrus, and the taryag mitzvos.

How did friends and family members react?

When I decided to convert, my friends thought I went off the deep end, and my family tended to agree with them. After realizing that my decision was a serious, lifelong commitment, however, I did garner the respect of those closest to me.

How is dating within the frum world for a black Jew?

Currently I’m focused on my parnassah and professional endeavors, such as the memoir I’m writing and my speaking engagements. So I haven’t really experienced the frum dating scene. I am looking forward to it. I would add, though, that there’s clearly an elephant in the room when it comes to the question of dating. The fact that I’m asked that question so often seems to indicate the existence of some bias. In any event, I’ll certainly be able to discuss the issue more insightfully as I begin to date more frequently.

What is your current study schedule like?

I have a chavrusah with whom I learn Mishnah Berurah, I learn parshah and mussar almost daily, and I have begun venturing into the mighty sea of Talmud.

How would you characterize your treatment and degree of acceptance by the frum community in Brooklyn?

For the most part, I must say, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people have opened their homes and their hearts to me, and have treated me like members of their own family. These new lifelong friends are a true credit to Yiddishkeit, and beautifully fulfill the mitzvah of v’ahavtem es ha’ger. As in every community, however, there are biases that persist. I do get stares and occasionally hear some thoughtless comments, but I choose to focus on the positive.

Are you in touch with other black geirim?

Interestingly, as time goes on, I have been privileged to meet many fascinating geirim of both genders and of many nationalities and ethnicities.

Has their experience with Orthodox Judaism been similar to your own?

By and large, their experience has been heartwarming and enriching. But they do voice some concerns of bias and unequal treatment. I certainly feel that some change or improvement needs to be made in this arena.

What kind of change are you referring to, and how do you expect this change to occur?

I feel that changes are necessary to allow a Yid such as myself, who happens to be dark-skinned, to feel secure and equally represented under the banner of Klal Yisrael. This kind of change can only come about when a community joins the effort. Without meaning to sound didactic, I feel that social change or justice will not come about through legislative bodies. It will come from ordinary people like you and me. It all starts with honest and open dialogue.

What is your message to potential geirim of any color or background?

My message to geirim is that if one is seeking spirituality, Judaism, practiced correctly, is the ideal vehicle for achieving that aim. I personally find it meaningful and fulfilling but, once you come aboard, keep in mind that while the Torah is flawless, people are not.

What do you hope to accomplish with the publication of your book?

I hope my book will appeal to people on multiple levels. In the U.S. there exists a fascination and mystique that surrounds all things Jamaican. In addition, my memoir provides an insider’s look into the dark side of drug running, which will ignite the imagination of a widespread American demographic.

 

Yoseph Robinson after (2008) his conversion

My first-hand accounts of the Hollywood music scene and celebrity lifestyles will leave readers thirsting for more tantalizing details. Not to drop names, but the book mentions my experience of double-dating with Jay-Z and attending private parties with Janet Jackson and Jamie Foxx.

Finally, my decision to convert to Judaism leaves people simultaneously baffled and intrigued. I have infused my spiritual journey with a humor, intelligence, and wit that will also capture the curiosity of the sophisticated, high-end reader. In short, I hope to entertain, enlighten – and inspire as well.

What’s next for you while you’re working to get your book published?

Well, hopefully I’ll be able to talk with President Obama brother to brother, asking him to let my people be. In all seriousness, though, I’m just striving to grow spiritually and, im Yirtzeh Hashem, [I] hope to be discussing the phenomenal success of the book with you in the near future.

Agri Star Meat-Plant Owner: ‘We Will Succeed’

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

In the months since Agriprocessors – formerly America’s largest kosher meatpacking plant – declared bankruptcy in the wake of allegations of unethical and illegal business practices, speculation has abounded: Who will fill the gap in the kosher meat market? Will meat prices go up? Will an Orthodox Jew buy the Postville, Iowa plant?

Close to a year later, answers are finally emerging. Montreal-based Hershey Friedman, a well-known businessman and philanthropist – who, among numerous other ventures, sponsored the publication of the popular Oz Vehadar Shas – took over the plant in August, renaming it Agri Star Meat & Poultry.

In a recent interview with The Jewish Press, Friedman discussed his reasons for buying the plant and his plans for its future.

The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Friedman: I was born and raised in Montreal. My father came from Czechoslovakia and my mother came from Hungary. Both went through the war and in 1949 moved to Montreal where my father established himself as one of the Jewish community’s leading businessmen.

When I was only about 10 years old, my father was seriously injured in a car accident. He remained a paraplegic for the remaining 23 years of his life.

As a young boy my elementary school education was in the Satmar cheder in Montreal. After my bar mitzvah, I went to litvishe yeshivas – Ner Yisroel in Baltimore and then Bais Shraga in Monsey.

In 1967 I returned to Montreal, joining our family business in order to help my mother run it and enable my two brothers to continue learning in yeshiva. In 1975 I married Raisy Stuhl in Montreal and today we have six wonderful children, five of whom are married and have their own children. All of my married children are part of my business.

Why did you buy the Postville plant, considering all the controversies surrounding it?

That’s a very interesting question. Let me give you a little background. In Canada there is only one kosher milk provider. As a result of this monopoly, the price of milk products is extremely expensive – nearly double the price in the United States. While the difference in price doesn’t really affect average and well-to-do people, it makes a real difference to large families that are not well off.

We cannot afford this type of problem with glatt kosher meat in America. If you only have one glatt kosher meat supplier, within a couple of years you’ll end up paying double what you’re paying today.

Now, as a Canadian, what have I got to do with it? I’m very involved with klal Yisrael worldwide and it just didn’t make sense to sit idly by and watch a monopoly develop. Buying and reinvigorating Agriprocessors’s plant was the best opportunity to try maintaining two glatt kosher producers in America.

What’s your vision for Agri Star? Will it match Agriprocessors’s level of production?

Operations at the plant will hopefully go back to their original size. Right now production is limited to chickens and some deli, but we’re aiming to begin returning to beef production sometime within the next few months.

We’re currently working on modernizing many areas in the facility and are trying to change or fix a lot of the facility’s handicaps in order to make it more efficient.

We also want to add many products that are not produced today. Our deli will be expanded tremendously. Deli doesn’t only mean salami, pastrami and turkey. It also means pre-cooked frozen products that you can take home and re-warm.

Many people accused Agriprocessors of mistreating its workers.

I don’t want to discuss the past. What happened in the past is not only history, it’s irrelevant to Agri Star. We are a completely new company with new management, new ideas and new resources, and we’re looking positively toward the future. We want to be good citizens in the state of Iowa and the city of Postville. We will be treating and paying all of our employees properly, fairly, and equally.

Remembering The Moonwalk, Anticipating Kosher Fantasy Camp

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

   When Gaylord Perry made it to the major leagues with the San Francisco Giants in 1962, manager Alvin Dark told him that while he had the makings of being a good pitcher, he would be a terrible hitter. In fact, Dark told Perry that man would walk on the moon before Perry would ever hit a home run.

 

   Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, much sooner than Dark had expected, Apollo 11 astronaut Neal Armstrong walked on the moon; shortly afterward Perry hit his first big league home run. While Perry had many thrills in his 22-year big league career, winning 314 games on his way to the Hall of Fame, he never received a World Series ring as none of the eight teams he played for made it to the World Series.

 

   Jewish outfielder Richie Scheinblum hit his only home run of the 1969 season as a member of the Cleveland Indians on the same day Armstrong walked on the moon. After that, Scheinblum orbited around the minor leagues for a couple of years. When he made it back to the majors, he kept on orbiting as he was traded five times within three years.

 

*     *     *

 

   It was my third trip to the new Yankee Stadium this year and seeing Freddy Schuman made it even more enjoyable. Freddy roamed around the old stadium for over 20 years and is a fixture in the new version of Yankee Stadium.

 

   Wearing a Yankees jersey, Freddy, now 84, is accompanied by creative and colorful signs on poster board with his signature “Freddy Sez” on top of the message. You always know when he’s around because he allows fans hoping for a rally to hit his frying pan with an oversized spoon. He’s become such a celebrity that fans ask to pose with him while a camera-toting friend snaps away.

 

   While Freddy is one of a kind, there are more than 80 people holding the same kind of sign. They’re oversized paddles decorated with the Yankees logo and pinstripes titled, “How May I Help You.” They call themselves ambassadors and are there to help you navigate the magnificent new stadium and quickly find what you’re looking for.

 

   A trip to the new Yankee Stadium is more enjoyable than it was in previous years as the Yankees organization has become much more fan friendly.

 

   The latest Yankees innovation is really something: A kosher Yankees fantasy camp where you get to train and play in the Yankees’ beautiful Tampa spring training facilities. Coaches are former Yankees greats and legends – and you’ll be issued your own Yankees uniform to keep after the week of instruction and games to wear the following year at a Yankee Stadium reunion game.

 

   Best of all, you’ll get glatt kosher food and the week is topped off by the Friday Dream Game where campers get to play against the former Yanks. A Shabbat program at the hotel will feature religious services arranged by the local Young Israel, meals, and an interesting roster of speakers.

 

   I’m looking forward to the upcoming camps – November 16-22 and January 11-17, and meeting you and sharing some of my stories on how an Orthodox Jew spent years in the press box, dugouts, clubhouses and front office. Of course, I’ll have plenty of Yankees stories on interviews I did with Joe DiMaggio, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and numerous others. There will be other interesting speakers, including Orthodox agents who represent all-star big leaguers.

 

   So, how did this come about?

 

   Ira Jaskoll is the man behind it. Jaskoll, associate dean of the Sy Syms School of Business of Yeshiva University, has coached high school and youth baseball and basketball, and kept in shape last year for his 60th birthday by attending the Yankees fantasy camp. But as an Orthodox Jew, Jaskoll faced a couple of problems – the food and the big game, which was held on Saturday afternoon.

 

   “When I inquired,” Jaskoll recalled, “I discovered that I was the first Orthodox or observant Jew who had wanted to attend. To my great relief, they were very accommodating, and said that I could bring my own food and they would reimburse me. I still had one major hurdle, however – the Dream Games, where each team plays against the Yankee Legends on Saturday. I would miss the highlight of the week.”

 

   Jaskoll decided to attend the camp, and though he was unable to participate in the big Saturday game, he still had a great experience playing on a team coached by Ron Blomberg and Chris Chambliss. And Jaskoll was joined by a second Orthodox camper, Stu Shapiro, who came all the way from Israel.

 

   “It was great,” said Jaskoll. “Everyone was extremely respectful of my decisions and limitations. I got to play second base, first base and the outfield. I had the opportunity to get the game-winning hit in our first game in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. I completed a double play in the field and had the incredible experience of being coached by the great Chris Chambliss.”

 

   Jaskoll, whose uniform was topped off by a yarmulke, was called “rabbi” by the former Yankees, many of whom asked him questions about Judaism. He used his teaching experience to answer their queries and pave the way for the upcoming Yankees’ Kosher Camp.

 

   At the end of the week, Jaskoll approached Julie Kremer, the director of the fantasy camp and assistant general manager of the Tampa Yankees, about the possibility of modifying the schedule so that observant Jews could fully participate and not miss the big Dream Game this year.

 

   “To my delight,” said Jaskoll, “she agreed, and the Kosher Fantasy Camp was born.” Jaskoll will be back in uniform to meet and greet participants. He can be contacted for further details at 201-836-3195, but not on Shabbos, of course. You can reach the Yankees for camp info at 800-360-CAMP or visit fantasycamp@yankees.com.

 

   Mrs. Jaskoll was very supportive of her husband’s decision to attend the camp and even traveled from their New Jersey home to Tampa at the end of the week to cheer him on.

 

   Now, that’s a real aishes chayil.

  

   Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Time To Retire A Derogatory Term

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

      The other day I met a young Orthodox Jew who approached me in Manhattan to say hello. We talked about the state of Jewry and of Israel, and I gained considerable respect for his intellect and his insight.
 
      Then I asked him where he had grown up, and he told me, “In a really tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, where there is a lot of tension between the Jews and the shvartzas.” The comment broke my heart and my impression of him plummeted.
 
      A friend with whom I discussed the incident told me that I judged the young man too harshly, that he might have meant nothing by it, and that it was just an expression to which he had been acclimated. He asked that, rather than judge this student, I lend him the benefit of the doubt and attempt instead to educate him as to why the term ought never be used.
 
      I wrote a column last year about how the word “shvartza” must be retired forever (“The ‘S’ Word Has No Place In a Religious Jew’s Vocabulary,” op-ed, Feb. 2, 2007). It is an insulting, offensive, and derogatory term that has no place in the mouths of people committed to ethics. And since we Jews have a faith that demands the highest moral standards, it simply can never be part of our lexicon.
 
      In the wake of that column, I was surprised to find that a number of people – religious and secular alike – wrote that I was exaggerating. Shvartza, they said, was an innocent and benign term that simply meant “black person.”
 
      It doesn’t. It’s a pejorative, a term with a distinctly condescending connotation. My purpose in addressing this issue again is not to sound holier-than-thou or to be self-righteous. But when I hear the term, I feel pain. Pain that we Jews who have suffered so much persecution can be so callous as to speak condescendingly, however unintentionally, of other human beings. And pain that we religious Jews in particular can so betray our core values by inadvertently coming across as bigots.
 
      I once found myself in a polite argument with a fellow Orthodox Jew after I had politely shared with him why the term shvartza is offensive. “It’s OK for you to criticize, Shmuley,” he said, “because you don’t live in a neighborhood where you have to be afraid to walk the streets or where your car gets vandalized every night. We don’t mean anything bad with the term, but we are the victims here.”
 
      But why must an entire population be criminalized because of the sins of a few? And isn’t blaming an entire community not only racist but exactly the tactic used against Jews by the worst anti-Semites? How many Jew-haters harp on a few high profile white-collar criminals who are Jewish to reinforce anti-Semitic stereotypes?
 

      Jews are called by the Torah to be a light unto the nations, and it is religious Jews in particular, who live lives openly committed to Jewish ritual and values, upon whom this responsibility first devolves. But what light is it that we impart when we use a term that betrays the Torah’s most sacred value – that there is only one God in heaven who created every human being in His likeness?

 
      Just think how people who are unfamiliar with Jews must react when they hear any of us using an unpleasant expression about a fellow human being.
 
      We Jews, a righteous and generous people, whose Torah calls us to the mighty ideal of loving our neighbor as ourselves, must never speak of another person contemptuously. How much more so that Orthodox Jews in particular, who are renowned the world over for their charity, humility, and loving-kindness, must be extra vigilant never to offer even a hint of discriminatory language.
 
      Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has expressed the need for America to transcend red state and blue state divisiveness and come together for shared national purpose. But his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has given speeches that places rifts over reconciliation and generates heat rather than healing. The same is true of Louis Farrakhan, whom Rev. Wright has praised, even though he is guilty of hate speech against Jews and Judaism.
 
      Our moral authority to condemn such insensitive and inflammatory rhetoric is dependent upon us being utterly different in thought, speech, and action.
 

      Who better than Jews and blacks know what is to suffer? And who better than Jews and blacks know that there can be no tolerance for intolerance? And who better than Jews and blacks need to come together to battle bigotry, defeat discrimination, and generate goodwill among all mankind?

 

      Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts a daily national radio show on “Oprah and Friends” and is the author most recently of “The Broken American Male.” Visit his website at  www.shmuley.com.

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