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Archive for the ‘“Who is as Jew?”/Jewish identity’ Category

 

The White Shadow had one Jew; did he have to be a stereotype?

Posted on: January 3rd, 2017 by Ron Kaplan

Some TV shows hold up well over time, others don’t.

I recently read David Bianculli’s The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific and am currently going through TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Seitz. Both feature the seminal cop show Hill Street Blues. I happened to catch an episode the other day and marveled at how it doesn’t hold up. Mind you, this came out in the 1980s and at the time was a giant leap forward. But in retrospect, with the advent of cable TV, it is woefully lacking in good writing, good acting, and believability, IMO.

What the heck are you talking about, you might ask? What does this have to do with Jewish sports?

Well, another show of the era was The White Shadow (1978-81), about a former pro basketball player who whose career was cut short by injury. With little to fall back on, he turns to teaching in an inner-city school in Los Angeles (if I recall correctly). The team is the usual conglomeration of urban youth: Most of the team is black, with an Italian, a Mexican, and a Jew tossed in for good measure.

http://i.ytimg.com/vi/3YNQ-fxpzjQ/0.jpgThe Jewish kid is Abner Goldstein (why not just name him Jewy McJew?). He is basically a bench-warmer and is considered the outsider. He’s socially awkward, a good student, and very sensitive; I’ve even seen one source which referred to him as having Aspbergers. Even the coach seems to have no patience for the poor schlub.

Goldstein, as played by Ken Michelman, was given two episodes as the central character. One of these was “Little Orphan Abner.” You see Abner lives with his very Jewish grandparents for some reason that’s never explained. I’m not sure if they were supposed to be survivors, but the were obviously European in origin. They are decidedly old-world and old-school and very unhip but Abner, being the nice Jewish boy, doesn’t mind it at all and seems perplexed when the guys make jokes about the situation.

Abner is a “good boy” — he has Shabbos dinner every Friday night and all that stuff — but he wants to be one of the cool kids. Naturally, it doesn’t work out. From the IMDB blurb for the episode: “Goldstein’s shyness makes him the forgotten man on the team. When his grandfather takes ill, the players show him partial compassion. But only til his grandfather comes home. Goldstein must grow out of his shell and command respect.” The “partial compassion”

http://a.espncdn.com/media/pg2/2002/1004/photo/shadow6_i.jpgOf course, everything is nearly resolved within the 48-minute confines of the show. Here, watch it for yourself.

My main problem is, why can’t a Jew be cool? Why does he have to wear glasses, live a quiet life, be the brunt of jokes because he loves his family? Why can’t a Jew be the star of the team and get the girl? To be fair, Goldstein did end up joining the Marines in the Season Two finale, turning down a scholarship. But even so, did they have to make him such a nebbish?

The same thing could be said for another portrayal of a Jewish athlete: Rudi Stein. You may or may not recall him from the original Bad News Bears. Like Goldstein, he was an outcast on a whole team of outcasts. This kid was basically the guy who kept the score book. Because he was such a poor batter, his coach ordered him to get hit by a pitch in order to get on base. Needless to say, Stein didn’t appreciate his role.

On the other hand, there were a couple of Jewish athletes who were actually good. There was an episode of the old Bill Cosby show, where he played a phys ed teacher in — wait for it — an inner city school in Los Angeles. In one episode he was the coach of another lousy youth baseball team. A new kid who just moved to town joins and is immediately the star. The problem is that he’s Jewish and can’t play in the games because they take place on Saturdays. Here, the life lesson is, there are more important things than sports. (I wrote about that episode a few years ago.)

They used to cost a penny…AND you got free gum

Posted on: December 19th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

This story from The New York Times about the baseball card hobby goes from A (Jeff Aeder, aka the prospective buyer) to Z (Guy Zinn, the rare item in question).

http://www.spikerfamily.com/files/resized/244181/500;688;f3852d84bd695a624f23a948954a1edbf9174ef9.jpgIt also comes on the heels of a discovery I had in my attic while looking for books to donate to the nearby Yogi Berra Museum: a box of 1969 Topps cards. It’s not a complete set — it’s missing about 10 cards — but the nostalgia is more important to me.

Long story short: “Aeder offered $125,000 for the card in 2014 and nearly claimed it. But the deal went sour at the last minute. Aeder balked because, he said, he received a poor appraisal of the card’s condition. The owner, Dan McKee of Baltimore County, refused to renegotiate.”

“If Zinn was not a Jewish player, this card is probably worth $10,000,” Aeder said. “If you talk to any dealer or collector, they’ll say McKee’s idea of value is the most overblown, crazy valuation of all time.”

So why was Aeder willing, at one point, to pay $125,000? “It really is something that if you have the means and the obsession, then someone pays a lot more than it’s worth,” he said.

Aeder is the founder of the online Jewish Baseball Museum. No doubt this would add gravitas to his project. Although as a “virtual” entity, does it really matter? It’s like listening to a ventriloquist on the radio.

Save

Well, they’re both sports that begin with “b”

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

Recently we learned that Amar’e Stoudemire’s 12-year-old son, Deuce,  was barred from participating in Israeli youth basketball so the Israel Association of Baseball invited the youngster to try out for baseball instead.

Peter Kurz, the baseball association’s president, made the invitation Monday in an open letter to Stoudemire and his wife, Alexis, saying he was “shocked” by how their son had been treated and that the association he presides over “is open to all.” Deuce Stoudemire, 12, has not been allowed to play games with his Hapoel Jerusalem youth team because he is not an Israeli citizen.

A quick rekap

Posted on: November 14th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan 1 Comment

It’s been such a long time, I don’t know where to begin.

We’re going to “forget” the end of the baseball season, although mazel tov to the Cubs and their long-suffering fans.

So right now we’re in the middle of the NFL and beginnings (relatively) of the NBA and NHL campaigns. There have been a number of  changes in personnel.

NFL

eat-my-schwartz_book-jacketOne-half of the Schwartz Force is gone, with Mitchell now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and Geoff not playing at all. Geoff, who suffered injuries that curtailed his playing time over the past couple of years, is currently very active as an analyst for a variety of outlets.

Also idle: Taylor Mays, who was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s drug policy.

So that leaves just two:

  • Nate Ebner of the New England Patriots, who, according to at least one source, is having his best year ever.
  • Ari Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now in his second year

And Julian Edelman is still not Jewish.

NBA

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/Omri_gasspi_israel-finland.jpgThe Sacramento Kings’ Omri Casspi is the only Jew currently playing in the league. Casspi has appeared in six games (one as a starter), missing two of the last three via “DNP-CD” (did not play, coach’s decision). The Kings , 4-7 and fourth in the Pacific Division, had also signed Jordan Farmar, but the released. Then they signed him again. Then they released him again… Stay tuned.

NHL

Like the NFL, the Jews  on ice have dwindled in number since last season. Right now we have

  • Michael Cammalleri, a 34-year-old left-winger for the NJ Devils (8-3-3, 3rd in Metropolitan Division). The all-time scoring leader among Jews in the NHL with 280 goals and 308 assists, he’s got three of each in 12 games this season. Cams has missed the last two contests for “personal reasons.”
  • Jason Demers, a 28-year-old defenseman for the Florida Panthers (7-7-1, 6th in Atlantic Division). Two goals and five assists in 15 games.
  • Zach Hyman, a 24-year-old center for the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-6-3, 6th in Atlantic Division). Two goals and one assist in 15 games.
  • Jason Zucker, a 24-year-old left-winger for the Minnesota Wild (8-5-1, 3rd in Central Division). Two goals/five assists in 17 games.

Gone (but not forgotten)

  • Eric Nystrom, who appeared in 593 games for four teams in his 10-year career.
  • Mike Brown, the “enforcer” who put in time with six clubs in his 407 NHL games.

Needless to see, this is a work in progress as I get my feet wet again. If there’s anyone you know of who I missed, please don’t be shy to let me know.

First Buddy Myer and now this…

Posted on: May 3rd, 2016 by Ron Kaplan

(Actually, where’s Andre? As in Burakovsky, the Washington Capitals left-winger.)

http://www.jewishsports.net/BioImages/bookA_Page_016_Image_0002.jpgBuddy Myer was a major leaguer for almost 20 years, mostly with the Washington Senators. People assumed he was Jewish because of his name (and you know what happens when you ass-u-me). Sportswriters identified him thus. He’s included in several books about Jews and the national pastime and was even inducted in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Myer, who is interred in a Christian cemetery, never thought to deny it, thinking it would make him look bad or some such thing. In fact, at one point the family did have Jewish roots, but they converted out of the faith either before he was born or when he was just a lad.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received several emails suggesting I remove Andre Burakovsky from the Jice roles because of his emphatic Tweets in which he claims he’s not now or has he or his parents ever been Jewish.

http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/andre-burakovsky-first-nhl-goal-smile.jpegBurakovsky had been identified by JSR as a MOT. They pitch a wide tent, as we say in the office, meaning there’s a more liberal POV when it comes to inclusion than what you might expect from other sources (not the least of which is halachic tradition of matrilineal descent). In fact, they make no bones about it when they state “The Jewish Sports Review is NOT a religious journal.”

According to their mission statement, JSR “[V]erifies and ‘fact checks’ the Jewish background of every athlete listed…” Further explanation of their methods:

When an athlete’s name appears in all capital letters, it means that he/she has been identified to us as a Jew. For JSR‘s purposes, an athlete is Jewish if they have at least one Jewish parent [my emphasis], do not practice another faith and identify ethnically as a Jew. An athlete with at least one Jewish parent is excluded only if they were raised in or converted to another faith or express a disinclination to be included in JSR.

That’s always been good enough for me.

But somewhere along the way there was miscommunication. In several email exchanges, the editors of JSR and others whom I consider my “sports rabbis” on such issues have maintained their opinio in the face of these new revelations.

So what do we do about this? All the research that might point to the contrary notwithstanding, do we continue to hold Burakovsky “hostage,” regardless of his importunings? After all, it’s his life. Shouldn’t he be free to make that determination? Or, as gruesome history has claimed, does one drop of Jewish blood makes one a Jew, regardless of level of observation?

Are Jewish sports fans so desperate that we can’t conceive of giving up “one of our own?”

Thoughts? Please feel free to leave a comment on the site.

Super Bowl Preview: Does this mean we have to root for Tom Brady?

Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by Ron Kaplan

A menorah in the house? Apparently so. After all, Kevin Youkilis is married to Brady’s sister.

https://cbsboston.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/kevin-youkilis-and-tom-brady.jpg?w=620&h=349&crop=1

The piece from the Forward refers to a profile on Brady in last Sunday’s NY Times’ Magazine (which I didn’t get because of the icy conditions prevented delivery) in which the following passage could be found:

He marched me back into the house, through the kitchen and past a shelf that displayed a large glass menorah. “We’re not Jewish,” Brady said when I asked him about this. “But I think we’re into everything. . . . I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.”

and this, on Patriots team owner Robert Kraft:

Kraft, who was raised in an observant Jewish family in Brookline, Mass., speaks with familial pride about many of the players who have come through Foxborough. Randy Moss, a former receiver on the team, paid a shiva call to Kraft’s house after the owner’s wife of nearly 50 years, Myra, died in 2011. He signed the guest book “Randy Moss Kraft,” Kraft told me.

Kraft tends to go off on tangents and lose track of what he’s saying. “I have terrible A.D.D.,” he said a few times. “One of the reasons I wanted to buy the team is because I have A.D.D., so as I got older, I would be able to have something that I know would be challenging.” After several minutes of zigzagging, Kraft announced that it was time to “do business,” and he jumped into an extended kvelling over his prized quarterback (“One of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met in my life” . . . “physically very handsome, but as a human being he’s more beautiful” . . . “like a fifth son to me”).

Super Bowl preview: Okay, say it with me now — Julian Edelman is not Jewish!

Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by Ron Kaplan

He continues to pop up on lists of top Jewish athletes, even though he’s not. And don’t the the U.S.-Israel flag pin on his cap fool you into believing otherwise.

http://www.truthrevolt.org/sites/default/files/styles/content_full_width/public/field/image/articles/b1ekbpiimaachmt.jpg?itok=aVcdmmgW

I shouldn’t carp about this. Posts about the New England Patriots talented wide receiver continually give me significant page views. Here’s a nice reference from Tablet Magazine of which I am particularly proud. Focus instead on Nate Ebner, a defensive back on the Patriots, who is Jewish and has a bittersweet story of his own.

http://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/i/headshots/nfl/players/full/15125.png&w=350&h=254

 

Put a lid on it, Liberman.

Posted on: January 7th, 2014 by Ron Kaplan

I wonder if the NBA would allow Aaron Liberman to wear his kipa if/when he made it to the pros? He’s doing it in college for Northwestern. Just askin.’ (Although, sorry, but that looks like a Photoshop job to me.)

Northwestern University basketball player Aaron Liberman in his blue and white unifrom and matching kippa.

The 6’10” freshman attended Valley Torah high school in Los Angeles. He plays at the forward and center spots. They’re bringing him along very slowly; he’s only played in four minutes over five games.

From the Northwestern media guide:

Averaged 17.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 8.7 blocked shots per game as a prep senior … Ranked fifth in the nation in blocked shots… Recipient of 2011 John R. Wooden Player of the Year Award …Helped lead Valley Torah to a 25-5 record and the CIF Southern Section championship, the first Jewish school to claim the section title… Named Westside League MVP … Helped lead the United States to a gold medal at the Maccabi Pan American Games in Brazil in January of 2012 … Honor roll student … High school coaches were Matt Meisels and Robert Icart….Spent a year abroad in Israel upon graduation from high school.

Julian Edelman: The “final word”

Posted on: January 6th, 2014 by Ron Kaplan

“Is he or isn’t he?” is a question I get a lot about an athlete with a Jewish-sounding surname: Eckstein, Blum, Rosenthal. Sorry, but no. On the other hand we have Youkilis, Garay, Valencia, Nystrom, Cammalleri, et al. What’s in a name? (And, why should anyone be “sorry,” exactly?)

So when New England Patriots popular wide receiver Julian Edelman blurted out in an interview a few weeks back that he was Jewish, it got us buzzing again. Rather than just post this link at the time, I thought it better to investigate further, calling on the three wise men — Bob “Day by Day in Jewish Sports History” Wechsler, and Sheldon Wallman and Ephraim Moxson, editors of the Jewish Sports Review.

Wallman did the yeoman’s ‘s work and here are the results. Stacey is Stacey James, the PR person for the Patriots:

Hi Stacey,

On NFL Total Access, your WR Julian Edelman, while discussing his nicknames, “Minitron” and “The Squirrel”, mentioned that he was Jewish.

Our publication, the Jewish Sports Review, has not included Julian Edelman in our coverage, because up to this moment, he has never so clearly identified himself.

Our criteria for inclusion requires the athlete to have at least one fully Jewish parent and to not practice another faith. Our understanding, up to this point, does not indicate Julian meets our criteria.

Please speak to Julian and ask him if he does indeed meet our criteria. If you are unable to do so, please provide us with a way to communicate directly with Julian.

Thank you, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Shel Wallman, editor
Jewish Sports Review

James’ initial response:

I believe his ancestors are Jewish (grandparents, I think), but I don’t know about his parents or about his practicing faith. I will try to ask him.

And her subsquent response to Wallman’s follow-up:

He does not meet your criteria.

And Wallman’s final note:

I hope this is the is the last we hear about a Jewish Julian Edelman.

Still, you’re always going to have a segment of the community who says, “If so-and-so wants to consider himself Jewish, who is anyone to say he’s not?”

This is where I get off.

Keeping it in the football family

Posted on: November 4th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

On Oct. 27, Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz became the first two MOT brothers to face each other in an NFL game when the formers’ Cleveland Browns visited the latter’s Kansas City Chiefs. Regardless of the score (Chiefs 23, Browns 17), it was an understandably proud moment for the family.

Papa Lee Schwartz sent along this “family letter” which I share with you all.

Hi All –

Mission accomplished . . . and a whole lot more.

It might be hard to capture in words the experiences and emotions of this past weekend . . . but I’ll try.

Let’s begin with Saturday dinner.  Eight of us . . . Livie and me, the boys, my brother, and three others . . . take in one of Kansas City’s best known barbeque joints.   The food was as good as advertised, but the highlight of those two hours was sitting back and watching the boys interact.  Priceless.  They are close and at times like this it clearly shows.  I think Livie would agree that Mitchell is never more animated than when around his brother.  They talked . . . and talked.  Even about football and “the” game . . . what a surprise – NOT . . . but being very careful not to share “trade secrets.”  In Jewish it’s called kvelling (feeling of happiness and pride) . . . and that’s what Livie and I did throughout dinner.

Sunday was surreal.  Arrived very early at the stadium, Livie and I both wearing our split t-shirts.  At 9:00 am, three hours before kick-off, the parking lot was already crammed with tailgaters.  My brother and I decided to take it all in, so we walked, and walked, and walked.  Reactions to the shirt ran the gamut.  One person would only high five me on the KC t-shirt side.  Others booed when they saw the Cleveland colors and logo.  Some commented, “Couldn’t make up your mind.”  While others asked, “So what’s the back story?”  It was heartwarming to hear one fan, when told the story, tell us how much they like Geoffrey and were glad he was on the team.

I typically go into the stadium as soon as is the gates open.  From that moment on I’m glued to my seat with binoculars fixed on Geoffrey or Mitchell.  This day my neck was on a swivel.  What’s Geoffrey doing?  Mitchell? Back and forth all game long.  Usually when watching the boys on the sidelines, I have a chance to put the binoculars down and rest the arms.  Not this day.  I don’t think the binocs got removed from my eyeballs until the game was over.

Coming into the game KC’s defense had recorded something like 15 sacks in the last two, maybe three, games.  So there was reason to be a bit on edge watching Mitchell try to stymie the oncoming rush.  To his credit, that he did.  Typically when on the sidelines, Geoffrey is talking to teammates, casually watching his defensive unit on the field.  Not Sunday.  He was laser focused on Mitchell, reporting after the game that he thought Mitchell had played well.

As for Geoffrey, he did see some time on the field.  The right guard went out for a couple of series in the first half.  Geoffrey replaced him . . . and was on the field for one of KC’s two touchdowns that day.  At one point in the second half I saw him on the stationary bike loosening up.  Looked like he was getting ready to take the field again.  Didn’t happen.   Whoever he was to replace somehow made a miraculous recovery and went back into the game.

How odd to watch a game in which you can’t root for any team on the field.  Going in Livie and I told everyone that our goal was for the boys to play well and come away healthy.  That happened but along the way, oh my goodness.  KC scores and we want to cheer.  But don’t.  Cleveland makes a big play and we want to clap.  Not.  It was crazy making.

Maybe the best moment, at least for me, was immediately after the game.  Geoffrey had arranged for a photo opp.  He told us where to congregate to get onto the field.  We were there waiting when the clock struck 00:00.  I see Geoffrey and Mitchell begin moving toward the middle of the field from their respective sidelines.  Once together they begin jogging, making a beeline to us.  What a moment to see our two boys in their respective NFL uniforms coming in our direction, big smiles lighting up their faces . . . and in turn ours.  They arrived, we jumped onto the field and the cameras began to click.  The Chiefs’ photographer was there.  So was someone from the Browns.  And then there were others, including friends.  Smiling for a camera had never been easier.

We spent some time together with the boys after the game until the horn sounded for the Browns to board their buses for the airport.  We waited six months for this day, this game and now it was but a memory . . . but one that will last forever.  And who knows how long the boys will remain in the record books as the only Jewish brothers to play against each other in the NFL.  It was only 90 years since the last pair of Jewish brothers took the field in the NFL, but they were on the same team.
Attached are some pictures from the day.  And for those that have nothing better to do, here are two links – http://tinyurl.com/k3a3s4x and http://tinyurl.com/m4klxcl. The first is a humorous interview of the boys done by Fox Sports 1 a couple of days before the game.  The second is an interview of dear old dad by a Cleveland based radio sports talk show.

Once again, to all, thanks for being along on this incredible journey!

Lee

Before — Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz

And after, from left, Dad Lee, Geoff, Geoff’s fiance Meridith Snipes, Mitchell, and Mom Olivia Goodkin.

   
 

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