Israeli law making it tougher for athletes to shine, report claims

Israel’s sports law significantly reduces the chances for its athletes to excel, a new study concluded.

The study by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies was released Tuesday.  Israel failed to win any medals at the recently completed London Olympics—the first time in 24 years that the country’s athletes came home empty handed from the Games.

Yarden Gazit, a Jerusalem Institute fellow and the report’s author, said the sports law contains measures that are extremely costly for aspiring athletes and dissuade many from competing in areas where they might be able to excel on the international level.

“While any observer would encourage prudence when it comes to ensuring that athletes are healthy and fit enough to compete,” Gazit said in a statement, “Israel seems to be practicing an unnecessary level of caution which makes competing impossible for those athletes without the financial means to cover these costs.”

The sports law enacted by the Knesset requires athletes in an official competition, including children, to pass a yearly medical examination at a sports medicine clinic recognized by the Ministry of Health. Athletes aged 17 and older are required to take an exercise cardiac stress test. In addition, the law requires athletes to purchase accident insurance.

The report recommended easing requirements for adults’ medical exams, allowing children younger than 18 to compete in sports with the approval of a family doctor, and allowing sports federations to recognize collective insurance policies such as those of schools and universities, thereby saving parents and athletes unnecessary insurance payments.

Corrine Sauer, the Jerusalem Institute’s president, said that a change in Israeli policies could lead to a significant increase in athletic participation throughout the country.

“This report concludes that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of our national athletic potential,” Sauer said in a statement. “There is no better time than now to reassess our approach to sports and with such a re-evaluation, Israel could certainly add significant athletic achievement on the international level to our growing list of remarkable national accomplishments.”

ID card of Israeli athlete killed in Munich returned

The national identification card of an athlete murdered during the Munich Olympics was returned to his family.

In a ceremony Wednesday at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the ID card of wrestler Eliezer Halfin was returned to his sister, Rima Goldwasser.

Halfin was one of 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The card had been hidden for the nearly 40 years by a German police officer whose son, Holzer Tilmann, turned it over to the Israeli embassy in Germany after his father’s death.

“I call on the government of Germany to make every effort to locate other documents that are perhaps being held somewhere, because hundreds of documents are still missing. The return of these documents to the families is more than just a humane gesture; it is of historical importance for perpetuating the event and engraving it on the pages of history,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon during the ceremony.

World Briefs

Olympics Ban Wanted

Jewish groups called on the International Olympic Committee to impose penalties after an Iranian athlete refused to compete against an Israeli. The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called for action after Iranian judokan Arash Miresmaeili refused to fight Israel’s Ehud Vaks on Aug. 13.

Miresmaeili said he took his stance to protest Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, drawing praise from Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. The ADL said the entire Iranian Olympic team should be banned, while the Wiesenthal Center said that “all those who supported and took part in the decision” should be penalized. Iran refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

Arafat: Mistakes Were Made

Yasser Arafat admitted members of the Palestinian leadership had “misused” their positions. In a rare admission, the Palestinian Authority president told Palestinian lawmakers Wednesday that “nobody is immune from mistakes, starting from me on down.”

But Arafat did not say what specific action would be taken. It’s widely acknowledged that many Palestinian officials, including Arafat, profited from their positions atop the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. Forces in Israel?

The United States denied a report its forces were undergoing counter-insurgency training in Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that Iraq-bound U.S. commandos were being trained at Adam Special Forces base outside Jerusalem, but did not give details. In response, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv said no U.S. forces were currently undergoing training in Israel, though it didn’t deny that there might have been such cooperation in the past. According to Israeli security sources, in designing tactics for Iraq, many U.S. officials have drawn on lessons Israel learned in its sweeps for Palestinian terrorists.

Tourism to Israel Up

Tourism to Israel was up 58 percent in the first half of 2004 compared to the same time period in 2003. Nearly 822,000 tourists visited Israel in the fist six months of the year, according to statistics released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the Tourism Ministry. An estimated 1.4 million tourists are expected to visit Israel this year.

‘Messianic Jew’ Can Distribute Pamphlets On

The University of New Orleans will allow a Messianic Jew to distribute literature on campus. The school settled a lawsuit recently with a female student who had taken the school to court after being blocked from distributing several pamphlets, including one that proclaimed, “Jews should believe in Jesus.” Religious literature previously had to be screened by the school. The American Center for Law and Justice, a civil rights group that filed the suit on the student’s behalf, said the policy is now consistent with the First Amendment.

A Site of Their Own

A section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem set aside for women’s and mixed prayer services was officially inaugurated. The site, located on a section of the wall next to Robinson’s Arch, now home to an archeological garden, will be used starting Wednesday for all-women’s prayer services conducted by the Women of the Wall group. The site also will be used for mixed services held by Israel’s Conservative movement, which has been using the site unofficially for the past five years. The area has a separate entrance that will keep women away from direct contact with other worshipers, some of whom oppose some types of women’s public prayer in the Wall’s main prayer area.

Eugenics Proponent Running for Congress

A Republican candidate for Congress advocates incorporating eugenics into public policy. James Hart of Tennessee promises to use eugenics, the pseudo-science that was a precursor to the Holocaust, as the basis for policy proposals if elected. “Favored Races,” his political manifesto available on his campaign Web site, mentions Jews but doesn’t say which demographic groups would suffer under his proposals. Discussion boards on the site overflow with rejections of eugenics, which encourages selective breeding. Tennessee’s state GOP has denounced Hart’s platform and distanced itself from the candidate after failing to place its preferred Republican on the November ballot. Democrat John Tanner, an eight-term incumbent from the state’s Eighth District, is expected to prevail easily.

Nobel Prize-Winning Poet Dies

Nobel prize-winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, died Aug. 14 at age 93. He was close to Jews and Jewish causes from an early age, and some of his most eloquent and disturbing works dealt with the Holocaust, Holocaust memory and the complex relations between Jews and Catholic Poles. One of his most famous poems, “Campo dei Fiori,” written in 1943, described how Poles outside the Warsaw Ghetto were oblivious to the fate of the Jews as the Nazis destroyed the ghetto. This and another Milosz poem about Polish indifference to the destruction of the ghetto sparked one of Poland’s first important public debates on the issue of Holocaust guilt and memory, which was carried out in a series of essays and articles in the late 1980s. In his Nobel acceptance speech in 1980, Milosz described how memory of the Holocaust was fading and becoming distorted, and how the complexities and nuances of history were becoming forgotten.

“We are surrounded today by fictions about the past, contrary to common sense and to an elementary perception of good and evil,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Home Run

Shawn Green sits quietly in the Dodgers dugout waiting for pregame batting practice to begin. His unassuming nature seems at odds with his 6-foot-4 figure; his quiet presence inconsistent with his celebrity.

But then Green seems to live in contrast. He is not observant but is proud of his Jewish roots. He is not religious but understands his actions reflect upon the Jewish community, and he acts accordingly. He’s an icon to religious children, but is intermarried. He shuns the spotlight but steps up to his Jewish role model post.

Green never set out to become a public Jewish figure. He grew up in a nonpracticing family in Tustin. He didn’t attend Hebrew school; he never had a bar mitzvah.

“I’m still not really religious,” the Dodgers’ first baseman said. “But when I started playing in Toronto and traveling around, people from the Jewish community reached out to me. So I learned a lot more about my heritage.”

Since then, Green has become a household Jewish name. When leaving Toronto five years ago, Green asked to be placed in a city with a significant Jewish population. He skipped a crucial 2001 game against the San Francisco Giants, because it landed on Yom Kippur. He’s been honored by Jewish groups and spoken at Jewish events.

Still, Green is clear about the extent of his personal observance; he does not inflate the role Judaism plays in personal life, in his family life.

Green met his wife, Lindsay — who is not Jewish — in line at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant. After talking for a few minutes they realized that they were set to go on a blind date just a few days later. Last year, the happily married couple had a daughter, Presley.

“Fatherhood is the best thing I’ve experienced in my life so far,” Green said.

Green said he plans to give his daughter an understanding of both her religious heritages. “We’re going to expose her to everything. She’s lucky, because she gets to celebrate all the holidays,” said Green, straightening his long legs away from the bench.

With the birth of his daughter, Green gained a greater appreciation for his young fans.

“It changed the way I interact with kids around the stadium,” said Green, who admits to spending most of his free time messing around on his Apple computer, tinkering with digital pictures and videos he’s taken of his daughter. “I understand when parents are a little pushy to get their kids to the front of the line for autographs. I understand a little bit more now, because I have a daughter of my own.”

It’s the Jewish kids who have claimed Green as their own. Before every home game, a crowd of children gather near the field, hoping for autographs or just a hello from the left-handed power hitter. The stands are filled with children clad in No. 15 jerseys, children who keep Shawn Green bobbleheads on their nightstands and marked Shawn Green free T-shirt day in their calendars (May 14).

“The best feeling is when someone comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, how you doing? I enjoy watching you play.’ Or when a kid asks me for an autograph and has that appreciative look in his eyes. That means a lot to me,” Green said.

Green is not the first Jewish baseball player, nor the only one to currently play in the league, but he is today’s most celebrated. Mention “Jewish sports” in a conversation, and his is the first name to be dropped. Google Jewish baseball players, he’ll have the most links — well over a million. Survey young Jewish baseball fans, and he’s their favorite.

“It’s amazing that one of the best players in Los Angeles is Jewish,” said 11-year-old Eli Mordecai, a student at Torah Emes. “I play baseball all the time. When I pick up the bat, I try to swing like Green, then I run the bases like Green. I even wear my hat like him,” said Eli, who was celebrating his birthday at Dodger Stadium.

As a child, Green dreamed of being a baseball star, not a Jewish star. But slowly, he came to see himself as his community sees him; he began to understand why his success means so much to them.

“There are not a ton of Jewish athletes; there are several really good Jewish baseball players and a few in some other sports,” said Green, his eyes focusing on the field. “So I understand that Jewish kids who follow baseball are going to follow me, because I’m Jewish. I would have done the same thing as a kid; that’s just how it is.”

The kids seem to do more than follow Green, they adore him. They admire him.

“Shawn Green is my favorite player,” said Janice Spiegel, 10, a student at Sinai Akiba. “He’s my favorite, because he’s good, but also because he’s Jewish.”

The children like knowing there’s a Jewish uniform on the field. They brag about Green; they identify with him.

“Usually, we’re looking up to Michael Jordan or Shaq, but with Shawn Green, it’s different,” said Noah Miller, 14. “You think that could be me.”

Green understands that Jewish children look up to him; he knows his high-profile position comes with responsibility. Setting an example for his young fans, Green fills his life with mitzvot, or good deeds.

Every year, he donates $250,000 of his salary to the Dodgers Dream Foundation, an organization that builds baseball fields in impoverished neighborhoods and neglected parks. He is active in The Johnny Fund, a pediatric leukemia organization, and was at one point the spokesman for KOREH L.A., which sends out Jewish volunteers to increase literary rates among children.

Even during his recent hitting slump, Green said his performance, or lack of it, can teach something to the kids who watch his every play.

“People who really pay attention to baseball will see that even their favorite players struggle,” said Green, who’s batting average fell to .249 this year. “We always talk about how baseball is so much like life, but it really is. There are a lot of ups and downs; you just try to ride the wave, get through the tough times and not dwell on them. There’s a lesson in that.”

Green leads by example. He’s not known for his wild partying or outlandish behavior. His life is not the stuff of tabloid headlines and water cooler gossip.

He’s private, slightly superstitious and noticeably normal. He listens to Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Metallica — even a little bit of country. He tries to eat healthy but admits to sneaking his share of hamburgers. He prefers not to travel in the off-season and tries to put his family first.

“I like to stay low and out of the spotlight, stay home and be pretty mellow. Now that I have a family, I just really enjoy spending time with them,” Green said.

Green may avoid the limelight, but his Judaism will always draw attention. Members of the media, the Jewish community and baseball fans everywhere qualify Green as the Jewish hitter.

But would it not be saying more if a Jewish athlete could play alongside non-Jewish athletes without marking him a phenomenon? Major League Baseball draws players from all ethnicities and backgrounds and seldom makes note of these issues.

So why dwell on Green’s religion? Labeling Green as unique may inspire Jewish children, or it may dishearten them, reminding them how few Jews succeed in professional sports.

“I see both sides of it. You’re always going to feel a closer connection to someone with the same background as yourself,” Green said. “That doesn’t mean a Jewish kid’s favorite player is always going to be Jewish. It means he can relate to the customs that a Jewish person was raised with.”

“I think in that sense, it’s nice to see those people in your favorite endeavors, whether it’s baseball or movies or whatever,” he said. “I’m glad these kids feel they can relate to me.”

Green, the accidental celebrity, has found balance between his private life and his public persona. He’s grown into his role in the Jewish community with grace.

“I’m comfortable with it,” said Green, smiling.

Family Put Bruin on the Right Track

Jeremy Silverman’s strength on the field is only matched by
his strength of character. A shot put and discus thrower for UCLA, the
21-year-old student athlete has a kind, grounded quality.

Silverman grew up in Annville, Penn., a town with one
stoplight and a gas station. As a member of the only Jewish family at a very
small high school, Silverman bore witness to some anti-Semitic attitudes.
Still, he celebrated the Jewish holidays.

“Passover and Chanukah were my favorites because they seemed
to bring the family together,” Silverman said.

Silverman is extremely close to his father, Robert, who
flies cross-country to watch his son compete in eight to 10 meets a year.

“He’s amazing, he’s so supportive,” said Silverman, who notes
that track parents who live in California don’t attend as many events. “I hope
someday to be as good of a father as he is to me.”

Silverman began throwing at age 8.

“It was a family thing,” Silverman said. “My older brother
and sister were doing it, so I decided to try it. It was just for fun, but I
ended up being pretty good.”

It may have started as a just another fun activity, but
throwing came to play an important role in Silverman’s adolescence.

“It sounds cheesy, but track and field changed my life,”
said Silverman, who weighed 320 pounds after his freshman year of high school.
“You know how high school kids can be; there was a lot of social pressure on me
to lose the weight.”

Motivated by his sport, he spent three months on the Atkins
diet and dropped 65 pounds. When his weight crept up to 280 his junior year,
Silverman lost another 50 pounds with a low-calorie diet and a high-cardio

“Throwing was my inspiration. I lost 100 pounds between my
freshman and senior years, and people looked at me differently,” said
Silverman, who is now 6-foot-3, 257 pounds. “I not only looked better, but I
saw positive results on the field.”

In his senior year, Silverman broke the Pennsylvania high
school shot put record, became the state shot put and discus champion, and was
ranked fourth in the nation in his sport.

Silverman dreamed of attending UCLA. “It was the palace of
throwing and the coach, Art Venegas, was the throwing guru,” he said.

But after a mediocre season his junior year of high school,
Silverman signed a letter of intent with Virginia Tech. Before Silverman’s
college orientation, the Virginia Tech coach announced he was leaving, which
gave Silverman a window to be re-recruited. Based on his stellar senior year
performance, UCLA came knocking.

“As soon as I met Art and saw the school, I knew I wanted to
be here. It was fate,” said Silverman, who placed 13th overall at the 2003 NCAA

A psychobiology major, Silverman works hard to juggle his
academic and athletic ambitions. Track and field is a year-round sport.
Silverman competes in indoor and outdoor meets and practices from 2-6 p.m., five days a week. His rigorous practice schedule often conflicts with required
major classes and professors’ office hours. He pre-enrolls to ensure a spot in
morning classes and takes required three-hour lab courses over the summer.

“It’s hard to stay on top of the curve, especially during
finals week,” said Silverman, who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and
attend dental school.

“I’m working toward throwing after college,” said Silverman,
who called the Olympics his pie in the sky, “but there has to be something
after sports, something to take me through the rest of my life.”

Silverman can be seen competing April
8-10 at UCLA’s second annual Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational.
For ticket information, go to

Athlete of the Week: Andrew Felder

Andrew Felder, a 17-year-old Encino native, is our first Athlete of the Week. Felder has excelled on and off the field, according to Maccabi Games coach Kobi Goren.

A soccer starter for the Harvard-Westlake Wolverines, Felder made team captain as a junior. He is also a sweeper-fullback for the West Valley Samba Club soccer team and was captain of the Maccabi Youth soccer team in 1999 and 2000, winning gold medals each of those years.

His accolades this week include three goals on Monday night in Harvard-Westlake’s defeat of rival Alemany High School and a total of five goals in the four league games this year. Beyond Felder’s super soccer ability, he maintains a 3.3 GPA in school.

Felder says he wants to play at the college level — so keep an eye out for this super athlete.

For further information about Felder, check him out on the Web at:


Woody Allen once said the shortest book ever written was the one on Jewish athletes. Well, here is the shortest chapter in that book: Since May 1987, Argentinean native Imach Marcello Solomon (a k a Hoshitango) has been wrestling his way up in the competitive sumo leagues in Japan.

Currently ranked eighth in the Juryo division, the 35-year-old, 368-pounder is the only Jewish sumo wrestler in the world. Wrestling out of the Michinoku-beya sumo house in Chiba, Japan, Hoshitago is among 26 other men in his division, vying for a spot in one of the upper four divisions. Hoshitango’s overall record as of July 2000 is 357 wins, 314 losses.

Receiving a base salary of 773,000 Yen ($7,000) and a virtually uncountable amount of perks, bonuses and endless amounts of food, he remains, like most athletes, very well paid.

Olympic Moments

That Jews have been prominent in the history of ancient and modern sport, and specifically the Olympic Games, should not come as a surprise. We tend to forget that one of the sparks that ignited the Maccabbees’ revolt was – as the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius recorded some 2,000 years ago – that some high priests in Jerusalem’s Holy Temple neglected their holy duties and instead, exercised in the nude, Greek style. Josephus also recorded that Herod the Great [Herod The Wicked, to some], King of Judea, saved the ancient Olympic Games from bankruptcy by endowing them with gifts and revenues upon which “he was generally declared in their inscriptions to be one of the perpetual managers of those games.”

The involvement of Jews in athletics during the late 19th century coincided with their rise in the ranks of the middle class in Europe and the United States. Participating in sports was just another way by which the Jewish middle class pursued its social and psychological integration and assimilation.

In 1896, one of the men who helped usher in the modern Olympic Games was Dr. Ferenc Kemeny, a Hungarian Jew. Dr. Kemeny became one of the most ardent supporters of Pierre de Coubertin, the romantic French aristocrat credited with the establishment of the modern Olympic movement. While his Jewishness was not pertinent at the time, it became so when he and his wife committed suicide rather than be forced to wear the yellow star that identified Jews during the Holocaust.

Similar tragic fates awaited the first two German Olympic champions, Alfred Flatow and Felix Flatow (not related). After winning several gold medals in gymnastics during the 1896 games in Athens, Alfred Flatow died in Auschwitz, Felix Flatow, in Theresienstadt. As a former Olympic medalist, Felix Flatow received a special invitation from the Sportfuhrer, Hans von Tschammer und Osten, to the opening of the Nazi Olympic Games in 1936. He courageously declined. His rationale: Since he was excluded from his sport club by the Nuremberg Laws, he should not participate in the Olympic celebrations either. Among the modern games, the Berlin Olympics of 1936 generated perhaps the most pregame controversy. To placate American and world opinion, the Nazi sports authorities felt pressured to organize training camps for Jews. Among those invited to train there was half-Jewish fencer Helene Mayer, living comfortably in California at the time. Eventually, all Jews, even European record-holding high jumper Gretel Bergman, were excluded from participation in the Games. Mayer and another half-Jew, ice hockey player Rudi Ball, were included on the German team as tokens, averting an American boycott. Mayer, who ironically exemplified a statuesque Aryan blonde, raised a few eyebrows with her Nazi salute on the victory stand as she received a silver medal. She shared the stand with two other half-Jewish fencers: Ilona Elek of Hungary who won the gold and Ellen Preis of Austria, who took the bronze. There also were several other Jewish fencers in Berlin who won medals. Among them was Endre Kabos, winner of two gold medals for Hungary. He later died in the Holocaust.

The most heated debates about the Berlin Games raged in the United States, where a boycott was supported even by the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and Consul General George Messersmith. Despite their strong objections, the American team participated. The only two Jews on the U.S. track team, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, were replaced in the 4-by-100-meter relays with two African-American athletes, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. Glickman continues to believe that an anti-Semitic coach was behind the switch.

Another tragic anecdote involves the Polish fencer Roman Kantor, who had taken part in the 1936 games, and Nazi Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, an avid fencing aficionado. The feared head of the Gestapo provided Kantor with money and travel papers after the Jewish athlete fled from the Soviet occupation zone in 1939. His story ends, like so many of his contemporaries’, in the Majdanek Nazi concentration camp.

It is easy to see that, of all the Olympic events, fencing might be considered the ultimate Jewish sport. It is not an exaggeration to say that Jews won more medals in Olympic fencing – based on their representation in the general population – in the first half of the 20th century than any other ethnic group. Hungarian Jewish fencers were especially dominant in the Olympics, winning a total of 20 medals. Ivan Osiier, the leader of Copenhagen’s Jewish community, garnered a silver medal in Stockholm in 1912. He holds the record for participating in more Olympic Games – seven – than any other athlete.

The exact number of Jews participating in the Olympic movement as athletes, coaches, referees and officials may never be known. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, more and more former athletes are willing to reclaim their Jewish heritage.

There are many records held by Jewish Olympians. Two outstanding Jewish gymnasts, Agnes Keleti from Hungary and Maria Gorochovskia from the Soviet Union, amassed 18 medals in the 1952 and 1956 Games. Keleti defected from the Melbourne Olympiad after the revolution in Hungary and made aliyah to Israel, becoming its national coach. Gorochovskia, on the other hand, had to wait until the collapse of the Soviet empire before making aliyah. Among other heroes, we all remember and cherish the exceptional performance of Mark Spitz in Munich, winning the most medals (seven) anyone ever garnered in one Olympics.

But Spitz was not the only Jewish swimmer of note in the history of the Games. Alfred Hajos, who was dubbed the Hungarian Dolphin by the admiring Greeks, won two gold medals in the first Olympiad in 1896.

The Olympic Games have influenced Jewish sport on many levels. Among the most important contributions was the establishment of the Maccabiah Games, modeled after the Olympics. The idea of a Jewish Olympiad was raised as early as 1912 in Germany. But World War I interfered with the movement’s realization.

As a world event, no other festival showed all the beauty, hypocrisy and tragedy of the Games than the 1972 Munich Olympics. The shadows of Palestinian terrorists and their victims are etched into the consciousness of the world. These images remained when Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee, announced at the Munich Games the dictim: “The Games Must Go On.” And, so, the Games have gone on for the Jews. And it is somehow comforting, and poetic justice, that two young Israelis, Yael Arad and Oren Smadja, won Israel’s first Olympic medals four years ago in such an “un-Jewish” sport as judo. They and others are this year anticipating writing a new chapter to the long history of Jews and the Olympic Games, a saga filled with tragedy and triumph.

George Eisen wrote this article for the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Shawn Green — Following in Koufax’s Footsteps

Shawn Green has a reputation for being an excellent student. At Tustin High School in Orange County, he graduated third in his class. As a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, he polished his baseball skills quickly, earning a promotion to the major leagues at 23. As a big leaguer, his learning curve was steep as well, and after being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this fall, the all-star was rewarded with a six year, $84 million dollar contract, making him one of the five highest paid players in the game.

While in Toronto, as his career was taking off, Green attracted the attention of the local Jewish community. “People would contact me or my agent, and over time it made me start to really think about the unique position I was in; I became more interested in helping out and getting involved,” he noted.

Now that Green is home and among family and friends again, he is turning his considerable focus on a new area of study. “I want to learn more about my religion,” said the 27-year-old right fielder, who was never bar mitzvah-ed. “The history, the traditions, and what it means to me at this stage of my life.”

As a high-profile Jewish athlete in a Jewish community where many people grew up following the exploits of Dodger Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Green has been inundated with requests for both his time and money since the day he signed his Dodgers contract. At least six or seven requests a week pass his way, ranging from individuals wanting him to attend a child’s bar/bat mitzvah, be a guest at a synagogue or grace the opening of a new building. Most recently, he attended the opening of a Jewish Community Center in West Hills, close to where he grew up, but he’s mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“It’s been a little overwhelming, but I’m enjoying it too,” he said. “I’m a very private person, but I’m also interested in learning and exploring; I’m trying to take my time with all of it and make some informed decisions rather than just jumping in without thinking.”

This kind of maturity and perspective is one reason the Dodgers were so aggressive in their pursuit of Green. “Shawn not only has tremendous talent,” said Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, “but he’s very mature, and we feel he will develop into a real leader over the next few years.”

As a youngster, Green grew up hearing of the accomplishments of Jewish baseball stars like Koufax and fellow Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. However, it was an award given to a lesser known Jewish hurler that really caught Green’s attention. “I definitely was aware of Koufax and his statistics, as well as his refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur even though it was the first game of the World Series,” said Green. “But when Steve Stone won the Cy Young [award] for the Orioles, that hit home, because he was someone I’d actually seen play.”

A Goal Beyond Winning

Dr. Jerry Bobrow remembers it well. The year was 1990. The place: The Palace, in the Auburn Hills district of Detroit.

There in the bleachers, among 16,000 people at the Maccabi Games, is Bobrow and his youngest son, Jonathan.

As the Russian delegation of athletes entered the arena to the roar of the crowd, the younger Bobrow looked around himself in wonder, then turned to his father.

“You mean all the people in this row are Jewish,” the boy asked.

Recalls Bobrow, “I said, ‘Jonathan, all the people in the whole place are Jewish.’ And his eyes kind of lit up [as] he realized the magnitude of the whole thing.”

Jerry Bobrow has proudly served as the chairman of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee for the Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi Games for 11 years, dating back almost to the inception of the program. Created in 1982, the first Maccabi games were held in Detroit in 1984, and, over the years, the final competitions have moved around — Toronto, Chicago, Detroit again, Baltimore, Cleveland. Since 1982, over 25,000 Jewish athletes between the ages of 13 and 16 from all over the world — Israel, Britain, Mexico — have taken part in this program.

This August, two delegations from L.A., nearly 200 athletes, were dispatched to Rochester, New York, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to compete. At each of these delegations, Team Los Angeles won medals in every division, including baseball, golf, tennis, table tennis, in-line hockey, volleyball, basketball, swimming and track and field.

Bobrow’s own three children have all enjoyed victorious stints with the Maccabi Games. Bobrow’s daughter, Jennifer, competed on the first girls soccer team and helped them win silver and gold. Older son, Adam, competed in four different sports and won medals in all of them. And his youngest son won silver medals in table tennis and a gold medal in baseball. But Bobrow is proud to say that he’s been involved with the Maccabi Games even before his own children ever started competing.

“It’s a wonderful, athletic experience, but it’s also a great excuse to get Jewish kids together,” says Bobrow, clearly enchanted with the concept. “You really can’t explain what the experience is like. It’s much, much more than just an athletic event.”

Technically, Phillip Bendetson, 48, is a real estate investment banker. But to the boys who’ve played over the last five years on the L.A. soccer team, Bendetson is better known as an outstanding coach who has led his team to gold medal victories every year, including 1999. But while Bendetson considers it a nice by-product, triumphing is not the primary goal of the Maccabi Games.

“Winning and losing aside,” says Bendetson, “it’s about the kids from different backgrounds coming together… It’s a lifelong memory that they will hold onto.”

Two weeks before competing, Bendetson’s team members live together and attend training camp twice a day.

Strengthening the bond between the kids is the program’s Jewish content. He says that this August, the Maccabi kids marched around Rochester from temple to temple, donating kosher canned goods for various food pantries. His players also met up for Shabbat dinners with the girls soccer team.

As a testament to the strength of the Maccabi program, several former participants have gone on to viable athletic careers, such as record-breaking swimmer Lenny Krayzelberg, who competed at Detroit. And many teens return to coach the new recruits.

Soccer player Itzik Rapaport, who this year made all three goals in the final, gold-winning game at Rochester, has nothing but praise for his three years with Maccabi. Says the 17-year-old Canoga Park resident, “We get really close. There’s a lot of unity…when you’re with the same boys, you form a bond…The people around us, they care so much about us.”

Rapaport, along with Amir Benakote, 16, and Bendetson’s 16-year-old son, Benjamin, are all captains on the L.A. boys soccer team. Rapaport singles out coaches Kobi Goren and Bendetson for making the Maccabi Games a great experience. He also adds that his involvement has taught him a lot about leadership and of friendship.

“My four best friends are from the program,” says Rapaport. “I would have to say it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Closing out his fourth year with Maccabi, Benakote says he loves what the athletic program has offered him.

“It’s always awesome,” says the Calabasas High School student. “The L.A. soccer team is really tight…so we have a really good time…When you’re with your team, it’s a lot better. Plus you’re with all Jewish people and you have a good sense of community.”

In December, when the West Valley Jewish Community Center opens their new gym, Bobrow says that two walls will be devoted to the Games. And the doctor is already looking forward to next year when he expects over 200 L.A. athletes to converge in Tucson, Cincinnati, and Richmond for competitions. After all, year in, year out, he observes firsthand the impact that this athletic experience makes on participating teens.

“Aside from the fact that they come out typically with a lot of friends,” says Bobrow, “I think they come out with a stronger sense of Jewish identity.”

Teens ages 13-16 interested in participating in the Maccabi Games can contact the West Valley Jewish Community Center at (818) 464-3294.

Medal count at this year’s Maccabi Games

August 15-20, 1999

Rochester, N.Y.

Boys Baseball (13-14) Gold

Girls Softball (16 and under) Gold

Boys Soccer (16 and under) Gold

Girls Soccer (16 and under) 5th place

Girls Volleyball (16 and under) Silver

Boys Basketball (13-14) Silver

Table Tennis 6 Gold, 4 Silver, 4 Bronze

Tennis 5 Gold, 5 Silver, 3 Bronze

Cherry Hill, N.J.

Boys Baseball (15-16) Gold

Boys Baseball (13-14) Bronze

Boys Basketball (16 and under) Silver

Girls Basketball (16 and under) Silver

In-Line Hockey (16 and under) Silver

Track and Field 12 Gold, 13 Silver, 8 Bronze

Swimming 8 Gold, 20 Silver, 17 Bronze

Golf (13-14) 1 Gold; (15-16) 4th place finish.

Maccabi Magic In Mexico

The Pan Am Maccabi Games are a 12-day Olympic-style athletic and cultural festival for Jewish athletes from around the world. The Ninth Annual games, held earlier this month in Mexico City, featured more that 2,500 athletes from 15 countries including the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica, Israel, Australia, Great Britain, Uruguay, Chile, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, and the host country, Mexico. The games-held quadrenially — two years after the World Maccabiah Games take place in Israel– were held from July 11-19, with 325 members of the USA contingent arriving early for training, touring and time to adjust to the 7,000 feet elevation. During the closing ceremonies, it was announced that the 2003 Pan Am Maccabi Games will be held in Caracas, Venezuela.

As perhaps the highest profile athlete in the USA delegation, and a player on the gold-medal-winning open basketball team, Tustin’s Doug Gottlieb said the games reinforced his feelings about being a Jewish athlete.

“Although this wasn’t Israel… seeing all these Jewish people from Latin American makes you realize there are Jews everywhere, and that’s a great feeling,” said Gottlieb, 23, a senior at Oklahoma State University. “When the players on our team realized that we all have that unique bond in common, we became closer in two weeks than many teams I’ve been on have in a whole year.”

Gottlieb, the starting point guard and a player on the 1997 Maccabiah team in Israel, was recently named by ESPN “the best quote in college basketball.” He was at center stage all week whether on the bus, the basketball court or in the hotel lobby.

“It’s no secret that I love to talk and I have a lot to say,” laughed Gottlieb, who added that he hopes to play in the NBA, or at least professionally in Israel, after he graduates.

Fifteen-year-old Garrett Leight, of Cheviot Hills, a member of the USA junior tennis team and winner of a bronze medal in doubles, also shared in the camaraderie. “This was my first Maccabi experience and it was much more than I expected… I was oblivious to the fact there are so many Spanish Jews, and I expected the competition to be less than it was,” said Leight. “Seeing that so many different people from around the world are dedicated to sports and religion [made] me even more interested in the Jewish faith and feel more Jewish than ever.”

The games were held at the Centro Desporto Israelita or CDI (Center for Jewish Sports), a huge all-inclusive athletic complex featuring everything from an Olympic-size swimming pool, water polo and diving facility, 13 red clay tennis courts, two basketball/volleyball/indoor soccer gyms, outdoor soccer fields, a softball stadium, restaurants, and much more. There was competition in 14 sports.

The USA delegation spent their first Shabbat evening in Mexico at the Bet El Synagogue and were treated to a beautiful service, that except for the non-Hebrew parts being spoken in Spanish, could have been in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles or anywhere Jews in America pray. The athletes then shared Shabbat dinner in the home of a Mexican Jewish family. A week later, some athletes went to an Orthodox Shabbat service at another beautiful local synagogue, Ramat Shalom.

Glorifying DiMaggio, but Not His Times

By the time you read these words, the death of Joe DiMaggio will be old news. I grew up in a New York City in which he was the greatest of our sports heroes, and I was blessed as a child with an Uncle Ike who took me to the bleachers in Yankee Stadium. My love for baseball and loyalty to the Yankees have remained strong (although George Steinbrenner can really test a man’s faith…).

New York Jews in the 1930s and 1940s were divided into two, the all-rightniks who rooted for the Yankees and the poor schlumps who favored the Brooklyn Dodgers. (The New York Giants must have had some Jewish fans, but I cannot recall any, offhand). Not until 1941 (I don’t count 1916 and 1920) did the Dodgers, perennially mired in the National League basement, win a pennant, only to be crushed by the Yankees in the World Series.

I don’t believe that we young, Jewish Yankee fans ever thought of DiMaggio in ethnic terms, although ethnicity was a factor in our lives. In 1940, I attended junior high school in Corona, a largely Italian community in Queens. That was the year that Mussolini joined Hitler in World War II. On the day that sad event occurred, there was loud cheering from the nearby classrooms; our Rapid Advance class, filled with young Jewish scholars from neighboring Forest Hills, was silent and depressed.

Before World War II, ethnicity was not viewed as positively as it is today. The New York Times’ obituary of DiMaggio included the following quotation from Life Magazine, in a 1938 issue that featured his picture on its cover:

“Although he learned Italian first, Joe, now 24, speaks English without an accent, and is otherwise well adapted to most U.S. mores. Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease, he keeps his hair slick with water. He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.”

The Times obituary writer pointed out that this was intended to be complimentary.

Such a jarring statement, appearing in a major publication not noted for its ethnic or religious biases, reminds us that, while society has changed over the years and not always for the better, the “golden ages” of the past, lovingly recalled by politicians and some religious leaders, were as much fancy as fact.

For a more accurate picture of America in those years, tune in any evening to American Movie Classics on cable. There, you will see, in grainy black and white, the movies we were viewing while growing up. In them, blacks are jungle savages, housemaids, tap dancers and comic foils. Asians (Mr. Moto, the perfect Asian stereotype, excepted) are present only as assistants, evil enemies (during the war) and background natives for adventure stories that star white Christians. And Jews don’t exist at all.

In the DiMaggio obituaries that I read, there were several references to Muhammad Ali as being the only American sports figure who matched the Yankee Clipper in stature. In DiMaggio’s time, we would have substituted for Ali, Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” who endeared himself to Jews by knocking out Max Schmeling in the first round of a much-anticipated rematch. The German, to the evident delight of Hitler and his propaganda experts, had stunned Louis in their first bout.

But Louis was not a hero to Jews only; he was, in the patronizing phrase of his day, “a credit to his race.” Louis was praised in the media precisely because, outside the ring, he was humble, deferential, apolitical and “knew his place” — the antithesis of Ali, whose showbiz aura and aggressive but controlled persona were as much reflections of America in the 1960s as was Joe Louis of the earlier period.

In some of the DiMaggio obituaries, I sensed an undercurrent of resentment that today’s heroes and celebrities are so different from those in the years of his prime. It is true that DiMaggio did not conform to our modern concept of celebrity (although he did marry and divorce Marilyn Monroe). He did not live flamboyantly, and he did not seek out the media; he even resented publicity in his post-career life.

I grew up in New York. Nevertheless, Joe DiMaggio was one of my heroes. But I was a child and didn’t appreciate, until much later, how greatly DiMaggio exemplified values at variance with those of the society in which he lived. In the 1930s, the United States was, in large measure, racist, sexist, homophobic, uncaring about the less fortunate, and isolationist. Never did DiMaggio’s image include any of those characteristics.

Six decades later, while we have not eliminated these evils, we are a far different, far more tolerant society. Joe DiMaggio would still be a highly regarded athlete and a highly respected individual. But those who urge a return to some of the questionable values of the years of his triumphs lead us astray. It was enough that he did what he did; we need not, in his name, glorify the past he belonged to.

Contributing writer Yehuda Lev writes from Providence, R.I.

f.y.i. / local report Good Hearts

Steven S. Cohen was a hard-working businessman, a good friend and the father of two young girls, ages 2 and 5, when he suffered a massive heart attack during a game of weekend basketball and died. He was 35.

His friends channeled their shock and grief into helping to discover how and why such a young, healthy man could die so suddenly, and without warning.

Cohen, who, at 5 feet 10 and 210 pounds, was a vigorous and powerful weekend athlete, had had a complete physical just two months before he died on Dec. 7, 1995. His blood-cholesterol level had been normal — 200 — and he had no family history of heart attack or stroke. But an autopsy revealed that Cohen had 90-percent occlusion in two arteries. So the good friend and loving husband became a statistic, one of some 250,000 Americans under 40 who die of sudden cardiac arrest.

A bypass could have saved Cohen, but the stress test that would have disclosed the occlusion is not routinely given to people his age. “Who, at 35, thinks they’re going to die of a heart attack?” asked his closest friend, Mark Litman.

Cohen ran a successful diamond business but quit after being held up at gunpoint and pistol-whipped outside a Beverly Hills jewelry store. “We always said he had nine lives,” Litman said.

Cohen then became a part owner of Doheny Travel in Beverly Hills. In his free time, he played basketball twice each week at the Mid Valley Athletic Club. “He worked hard and he played hard,” Litman said.

Just prior to collapsing, Cohen complained of a tingling in his arm and asked friends to call 911. By the time paramedics arrived, he had died.

Now painfully aware that such things happen, Cohen’s friends have created the Steven S. Cohen Heart Fund to support and promote Cedar-Sinai Medical Center’s ongoing research into the detection and prevention of early heart disease in adults, ages 20 to 40.

Supported by a charitable networking group of 15 San Fernando Valley businessmen, named the Boardroom Associates — to which Cohen belonged — the fund is underwriting the research directed by P.K. Shah, M.D., who is exploring ways of uncovering and treating early heart disease.

One promising development is the ultrafast CT scan, which uses MRI-like technology to take a cross-section view of the arteries. Another project is studying the presence of calcium deposits in coronary arteries as a marker of the early stages of heart disease.

Neither the research nor its fruits comes cheaply (Litman said that a superfast CT scan machine costs $2 million), but the Boardroom Associates have taken on the task to raise whatever is needed.

The Steven S. Cohen Heart Fund’s first annual fund-raiser will be held on May 10 at the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Los Angeles Clippers stars Jerome “Pooh” Richardson and Darrick Martin, the Indiana Pacers’ Mark Jackson and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Mitchell Butler are expected to attend. The $175-per-plate dinner will also feature a silent auction.

“It’s going to be an upbeat and fun event,” Litman said.

And that, he said, goes a long way toward describing Cohen himself. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

For more information on the Steven S. Cohen Heart Fund and its first annual fund-raiser, call

(818) 225-8783

The House of Lehman

It would be fair to say that German historian and newspaper editor Roland Flade has more than a passing interest in European Jewish history, particularly that of Jews in his native Bavaria. Flade, a Catholic, wrote two dissertations on the subject. The second work, published in 1987, caught the attention of U.S. Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr., who bought it in a Hamburg bookshop. Loeb was surprised to find no mention of his prominent Jewish family, so he telephoned Flade to inquire if there was a way to uncover his ancestors’ early German history.

That inquiry resulted in Flade’s newest book, “The Lehmans” (Königshausen & Neumann), an absorbing tale that begins in a Bavarian village prior to the French Revolution and concludes in the glittering stone canyons of Wall Street. What lies in between are the various fortunes and dramas of the legendary Lehmann banking family, whose members — whether through blood or marriage — read like a who’s who of finance, government and philanthropy. Occupying places on the family tree are Seagram’s CEO Edgar M. Bronfman Jr., New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and former New York Governor and Senator Herbert Lehmann, who managed to save dozens of relatives and others from the Holocaust.

Born in 1785, Abraham Lehmann lived in the village of Rimpar, but his sons left to seek their futures in America. After they emigrated to Montgomery, Ala., in the mid-19th century, they founded the Lehmann Brothers banking firm. As real estate investors, cotton merchants and advisers to the burgeoning retail world of department stores, Lehmann Brothers was already a force to be reckoned with by the early 20th century. The firm took a leading role in financing and advising retail giants Sears & Roebuck and F.W. Woolworth Co., as well as Jewish-owned outfits such as R.H. Macy & Co. and Gimbel Brothers.

Today, the family name graces everything from a wing of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to a high school in Dimona, Israel. What’s striking about this book is that although the Lehmanns move in a rarefied and affluent world of rainmakers, in important respects, their trials and successes mirror the larger European-Jewish immigrant experience in all its forms — merchants, victims, immigrant peddlers and, ultimately, pillars of the American establishment. –Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor

Copies of “The Lehmans” may be ordered from the Madison Avenue Bookshop at 800-535-4912.


Lost and Found

Hanna and Walter Kohner had one of the few Holocaust stories that ended happily. The two were childhood sweethearts in Czechoslovakia before the war, with big plans for the future. But, as Hitler’s armies closed in, Walter managed to get to the States, where he had brothers. Hanna was captured and survived internment in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

After the war, Walter heard that Hanna was alive from an American sergeant who helped liberate her (52 years ago this May 5). The couple reunited and settled in Los Angeles, where Walter became a theatrical agent. Hanna wrote their amazing story in a book, “Hanna and Walter, A Love Story” (Berkley, $5.99), which has been recently re-released.

Their daughter, Julie, 41, carries on their legacy by telling the Kohner story to school and community groups throughout the Southland. Her presentation, “Voices of the Generation,” has won raves from rabbis and educators. Julie recounts the story, shows a video about her parents that originally aired as an episode of “This Is Your Life” in 1953, and answers questions about her parents and the Holocaust. “What I’m doing,” she says, “is carrying on their legacy.”– R.E.

For more information on “Voices of the Generations,” call (310) 472-9283

The Grapevine

This week’s news off the grapevine is that Rabbi David Wolpe has been offered the post of senior rabbi at Sinai Temple. Wolpe, author, lecturer, and recently new father, will head west from his current post at the Jewish Theological Seminary…. And Sari Goodman has replaced Shaun Herschel as director of the Temple Isaiah Day School.

Wachtler Returns

I’ve never been a brilliant, drug-addicted judge with exacerbated manic depression, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the first chapter of Sol Wachtler’s memoir, “After the Madness” (Random House, $24). In it, the former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York describes the uppers, downers and depression that led him to stalk a former lover. Do the drugs and disorder excuse his crime? No, Wachtler makes clear; he accepts all the blame and offers sincere apologies for his actions.

Wachtler served 13 months’ hard time in a medium-security federal prison for his offenses. The heart of this book is his diary of prison life. It is disturbing, shocking, revealing, painful, frightening and frustrating. Wachtler, whom Alan Dershowitz once described as the nation’s finest judge, lived in the hell he had, without remorse, consigned others to. That near-fantastic turnaround gives him insights into a system that, he now believes, locks up far too many people with little benefit and at great expense. Not for nothing does Wachtler, who grew up as a beleaguered Jewish kid in mostly rural American towns, begin his book with a quote from the great sage Hillel: “Do not judge a person until you have been in his position — you do not understand even yourself until the day of your death.”– R.E.