The Charedi draft: Here we go again


Here we go again, like a broken record, and the sound is dissonant, disappointing, and disgraceful. Israel's Security Service Law, which drafts our sons and daughters into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), compelling them to risk their lives for their country, has been amended again by the Knesset because of changes in the make-up of the coalition government. Made in response to demands by the ultra-Orthodox parties, this amendment is the latest twist in the complex and absurd saga of the ultra-Orthodox draft in Israel.

Drafting the ultra-Orthodox for service in the IDF is both appropriate and doable—without a religious and cultural conflict—if the political system is smart and enables the members of this community to make this historic change at the right pace and under appropriate conditions. Although the new amendment ostensibly achieves this, since it exempts the ultra-Orthodox from military service for an eternity of nine years, the amendment is bad news for several reasons:    

First, Israel's Security Service Law has tremendous symbolic importance. The incessant zig-zagging on this law and its disfigurement through hurried and ill-thought out changes, devised in response to the religious and political desires of an oft fleeting Israeli government, is damaging national security.     

Second, it is very likely that judicial review by the Supreme Court will determine that the amendment is unconstitutional. The biggest problem with the amendment is that it entrusts Haredi conscription to the Defense Minister, who is to use his discretion to define target goals for ultra-Orthodox conscription, as well as the steps that the state will take if the goals are not met. There are no limitations on his discretion and it is wide open to his personal preferences. Thus, in doing this, the Knesset has waived its authority to decide on one of the most important and essential issues on the national agenda and entrusted it to the executive branch—a practice that was deemed unacceptable by the Rubenstein Supreme Court ruling of 1998.    

Third, the Knesset's abdication of responsibility—after years of deliberation on this matter, which was at the heart of the last Knesset election—is a clear example of the problems of the system of government in Israel. The vast majority of Knesset members would oppose this amendment were they allowed to make a straightforward, values-based decision. This was also true of the previous amendment of this law, when the Yesh Atid faction forced the majority of the Knesset to back its position because the coalition hinged on its support. These two episodes indicate the Israeli political system does not enable the will of the majority to determine policy. The Knesset's behavior regarding this law is an expression of its bankruptcy and dysfunction regarding central issues on the national agenda.   

Fourth, the amendment is unconstitutional. Attorney Miri Frenkel-Shor, legal advisor to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, issued a well-reasoned and convincing legal opinion warning of this before the Knesset vote. Knesset members who voted in favor of the amendment thus played into the hands of the Supreme Court, which will ultimately have to rule on this national issue and reject the opinion of the majority of the Knesset.  

Lastly, once the Supreme Court strikes down the amendment, many people will rail against the Court's judicial activism. This objection, however, will be misplaced, since the current amendment is so absurd that the legislators are essentially forcing the Court to intervene. One might even venture that the right-wing's support for this amendment is not only an easy way to preserve the coalition but is also a roundabout way of enabling an additional onslaught against the Supreme Court after the legislation has been shot down.

And what about the Haredi draft? The desired result could have been achieved quietly and efficiently had the Knesset adopted a rational arrangement that would encourage military service through positive and negative economic incentives. The extreme solution adopted by the previous law, which included criminal sanctions that were bound to fail, and the extreme solution adopted by the current law, which grants a de facto exemption from military service for many years, guarantee that this issue will continue to be a bone of contention that leads to hatred between brothers. It will also prevent the realization of a vital national goal: widespread conscription of Israel's ultra-Orthodox men for meaningful military service.


Yedidia Stern is Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute and a Professor of Law at Bar-Ilan University. 

Uncle Shmuel wants YOU!


The Charedi protests: A response to David Suissa


[David Suissa: Charedim should start with ‘thank you’  /
Knesset passes Charedi draft law / Community response]

I consider myself a friend of David Suissa. I like what he is about, trying to bring disparate segments of our Jewish community together. That is precisely why I feel obligated to respond to his recent negative column on the Charedi rally last week in Jerusalem. 

He characterized the rally of more than 500,000 as a demonstration. It was not. It was a prayer gathering. There were no speeches, only the recitation of tehillim (psalms) and selichos (prayers for forgiveness). Participants were told not to bring signs or shout slogans.  Those who attended the gathering were moved by its somber tone and uplifted by praying out loud with half a million people. This rally was not about yeshiva students evading the Israeli draft, nor was it a protest against the conclusions of the Shaked Committee, which, most analysts claim, leave Charedim in a better position than they are today. As Rav Aaron Leib Shteinman, shli’ta, the senior Torah leader in the Lithuanian Torah World stated, it was to pray for the negation of proposed legislation that would mean that Torah study in the land of Israel could be treated as criminal behavior.  Remove the criminalization of Torah study and there is no rally. 

Yes, they realize that the criminal act would be noncompliance with a universal draft law, not Torah study per se. That is true, and beside the point. It is simply an affront to Jewish memory that the principled choice to study Torah could result in prosecution. 

One also has to understand the reaction of the Charedi community in the context of recent unabated attacks against it, promising “to teach them a lesson” and “fix their values.” The paternalistic adage of “we know what’s better for you” and “we will force you to accept our way of life” only served to unite Charedim in a common struggle of resistance. It is interesting to note that many of the social engineering proposals being legislated in the Knesset were already happening, only in an evolutionary manner.  More and more Charedim were joining Charedi-friendly units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and entering the workforce. Those trends have now been set back many years. Instead of aiding what was already occurring, politicians, who for 60 years used the Charedi parties to stay in power, now scapegoat them for all of the country’s problems. Sounds like an old familiar tale. 

Suissa writes eloquently of the importance of the IDF to the security of all Israelis. I would add, to all Jews around the world. They are owed a great debt of gratitude for their “mesirus nefesh.”  If we don’t thank them enough, we are guilty. By the same token, it is important to realize the value to our entire nation of those dedicating their lives to Torah study. I am not referring to the value in spiritual currency, as David remarks. Rav Saadia Gaon wrote nearly 1,200 years ago in his seminal work, Emunos V’dayos, “Ein umaseinu uma ela ba’Torah” (Our nation is only a nation through Torah). By that he meant that the Jewish people have only one commonality and one common destiny, and that is the Torah. Jews may all relate to the Torah differently. They may understand it differently and observe it differently, but they all relate to it. The 60,000 or so idealists in Israel who chose to make the study of Torah their life and submit themselves to a life of poverty in the process are to be cherished, not denigrated. They hold the torch that binds us to the land of Israel and justifies our being there. I will not argue the relative importance of Torah study versus army service, but let us at least understand the value of those Torah scholars to our nation. They too are serving the country.

Lastly, I must address the opening foray of Suissa’s article. “Put yourself in the shoes of the Israeli mother whose son was killed while serving in the IDF … (as) you watch close to a half a million ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrate against a bill that would force some of them to serve in the IDF.” While there were no reports of such mothers complaining, and there were participants in the rally who themselves had lost children and loved ones, Suissa’s point, heard all too often, begs a response.

In reality there is no answer to a mother who lost a child. Such people have made the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish people. The Talmud refers to them as “Konai Olam Haba.” They own their part in the World to Come. Yair Lapid, who did his military service as a correspondent for the IDF periodical “Bamachaneh,” has no answer. David and I, who have enjoyed our Sundays in sunny California while the children of those mothers gave their lives so that we Diaspora Jews would have a safe haven should the need arise, have no answer. At least the dedicated Torah scholars in Israel are giving up something for the Jewish people. That may not be the best answer, but it is certainly better than ours. 

David Suissa responds:

What my friend Irving Lebovics says was just a “prayer gathering” with a “somber tone,” the Associated Press described as: “Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied in the streets of Jerusalem, blocking roads and paralyzing the city in a massive show of force against plans to require them to serve in the Israeli military.” Beyond his effort to put a soft spin on the rally, Lebovics missed my essential point: The Charedi tradition of ignoring civil obligations in favor of full-time Torah study dishonors the very notion of Torah. It makes the Torah look cloistered and insular, turns Torah study into an excuse to not serve the country and makes Torah a divisive force rather than a unifying one. After all, if studying Torah means living off the blood, sweat and taxes of others, how can this injustice not turn Jews off from Torah? I know Charedim in America who, in private, seem to understand this. Rather than feeding into the sense of victimhood of their brethren in Israel, they ought to show them some tough love and implore them to get with the program. Instead of waiting for the state to “force” them to fulfill their civil obligations, Charedim in Israel must lead the way. They should study Torah and willingly contribute their fair share to society. That combination would honor the Torah more than a million prayers.


Dr. Irving Lebovics is the chairman of Agudath Israel of California.

After draft riot, Jerusalem Charedim charged with assaulting police


Israeli prosecutors indicted two Charedi Orthodox men for assaulting police officers called to the scene of a mob attack on a Charedi soldier in Jerusalem.

The two men, Joseph Braun and Jacob Krischavski, were charged on Thursday with attacking several police officers on Tuesday during a riot that erupted in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah Shearim. If convicted, the defendants could face at least three years in prison.

The attack came two days after Israel’s Knesset approved a proposal to draft haredi men into the Israeli Defense Forces. A small number of haredi leaders have allowed and in some cases encouraged enlistment, but the majority have resisted the draft. The proposed law has sparked numerous protests.

Another haredi soldier was assaulted in Jerusalem on Thursday, this time in the neighborhood of Shmuel Hanavi, situated north of Meah Shearim. Assailants threw objects at the soldier from a van, according to NRG, the news site of the Maariv daily.

On Tuesday, officers were called to Meah Shearim after dozens of haredi men intimidated a haredi soldier. The men gathered outside the office of the uncle of the soldier, who came to visit his uncle during a short leave from the army, according to the indictment filed on Thursday by the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office with the city’s Magistrate’s Court.

The soldier, who does not live in Jerusalem, was wearing a uniform and a black kipah. Several dozen men gathered around him and hurled garbage as he was walking to the office. He entered the office, changed to civilian clothes and called police as the crowd chanted insults outside.

The two defendants and several other individuals hurled stones, metal bars and water buckets at the police. Braun and Krischavski, both in their early 20s, were charged with aggravated assault of a police officer, obstructing a police officer and rioting.

ESPN: Israel’s Mekel to sign with NBA’s Mavericks


Israeli point guard Gal Mekel is poised to become the second Israeli to play in the NBA after giving a verbal commitment to the Dallas Mavericks.

Mekel, 25, informed the Mavs early Monday morning that he would sign a three-year contract with the 2011 champions at the end of the annual trade and signing moratorium on July 10, ESPN reported.

He has agreed to sign a minimum salary contract, which according to ESPN’s Marc Stein helps his chances of being signed since the Mavs are looking to save money as they pursue star center Dwight Howard in free agency.

Mekel led Maccabi Haifa to its first Israeli championship and was the Super League MVP.

Shortly after winning the title, he arrived in the U.S., where he was also courted by five other NBA teams: Milwaukee, Toronto, Atlanta, Indiana and Memphis.

Mekel played in college for Wichita State from 2006 to 2008.

In other NBA news, Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the league, became an unrestricted free agent on Sunday after the Cleveland Cavaliers opted not to extend his $3.3 million contract. He has played in Cleveland for the past two seasons.

Israel seals deal ending military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox


Israel clinched a deal on Wednesday to abolish wholesale exemptions from military service for Jewish seminary students, ended a brief crisis that divided the ruling coalition parties.

The issue of “sharing the national burden” is at the heart of heated debate over privileges the ultra-Orthodox minority has enjoyed for decades, and a government-appointed committee had failed to formulate a new conscription law earlier this week.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, had balked at a clause under which criminal charges would be brought against those trying to dodge conscription.

Netanyahu's main coalition partner, the centrist Yesh Atid party, threatened on Monday to quit the government unless the issue was resolved.

In a compromise that paved the way for the deal, the committee agreed on sanctions but delayed imposing them during a four-year interim period in which the military will encourage 18-year-old Bible scholars to enlist, political officials said.

Under the proposed law, which still faces ratification in the cabinet and parliament, the number of seminary students exempted from the military each year will be limited to 1,800 of the estimated 8,000 required to register for the draft annually.

Welcoming the agreement on the proposed law, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told a news conference: “The government proved it can make a change, even on the most explosive issues.”

Yesh Atid came second to Likud in the January general election on a pledge to reduce state benefits for Israel's fast-growing ultra-Orthodox minority and end military service exemptions for the community.

For the first time in a decade, Israel's government has no ultra-Orthodox members, and main coalition partners had pressed Netanyahu to break with political tradition and enact reforms under a slogan of “sharing the national burden”.

Most Israeli men and women are called up for military service for up to three years when they turn 18. However, exceptions have been made for most Arab citizens of Israel, as well as ultra-Orthodox men and women.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Thousands protest in Jerusalem against haredi draft


Thousands of haredi Orthodox Israelis protested in Jerusalem against plans to enlist haredi men into the military.

The protesters gathered Thursday night near the city’s military draft bureau to hear rabbis warn that army service would irreparably harm their way of life.

“The government wants to uproot and secularize us,” Rabbi David Zycherman said, according to Reuters, “They call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has committed to expanding the draft to include haredi men, most of whom receive exemptions on religious grounds.

The strong showing in January’s election by Yesh Atid, the party of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, was attributed in large part to pledges to resist demands by Orthodox parties and spread the burden of army service and taxation more evenly across Israeli society.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at least 20,000 protesters took part in Thursday’s demonstrations. There were about a dozen arrests after protesters hurled bottles and stones at officers, some on horseback, Rosenfeld said. Police used stun grenades to quell the unrest. A water cannon was also deployed when protesters set a garbage bin on fire. At least six officers required medical treatment and two were taken to hospital, Rosenfeld said.

Most Israeli women and men are subject to two to three years of mandatory military once they turn 18. Exceptions are made for most Arab citizens of Israel as well as haredi Orthodox men and women.

Israel requests reservists after rockets target cities


Israeli ministers were on Friday asked to endorse the call-up of up to 75,000 reservists after Palestinian militants nearly hit Jerusalem with a rocket for the first time in decades and fired at Tel Aviv for a second day.

The rocket attacks were a challenge to Israel's Gaza offensive and came just hours after Egypt's prime minister, denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited the enclave and said Cairo was prepared to mediate.

Israel's armed forces announced that a highway leading to the Gaza Strip and two roads bordering the enclave would be off-limits to civilian traffic until further notice.

Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area on Friday, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior cabinet ministers in Tel Aviv after the rockets struck to decide on widening the Gaza campaign.

Political sources said ministers were asked to approve the mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists, in what could be preparation for a possible ground operation.

No decision was immediately announced and some commentators speculated in the Israeli media the move could be psychological warfare against Gaza's Hamas rulers. A quota of 30,000 reservists had been set earlier.

Israel had endured months of incoming rocket fire from Gaza wehn the violence escaleted on Wednesday with the killing of Hamas's military chief, and targeting longer-range rocket caches in Gaza.   Hamas stepped up rocket attacks in response.

Israeli police said a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the Jerusalem area, outside the city, on Friday.

It was the first Palestinian rocket since 1970 to reach the vicinity of the holy city, which Israel claims as its capital, and was likely to spur an escalation in its three-day old air war against militants in Gaza.

Rockets nearly hit Tel Aviv on Thursday for the first time since Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired them during the 1991 Gulf War. An air raid siren rang out on Friday when the commercial centre was targeted again. Motorists crouched next to cars, many with their hands protecting their heads, while pedestrians scurried for cover in building stairwells.

The Jerusalem and Tel Aviv strikes have so far caused no casualties or damage, but could be political poison for Netanyahu, a conservative favoured to win re-election in January on the strength of his ability to guarantee security.

“The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,” Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.

Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The Israelis should be aware of the grave results of such a raid and they should bring their body bags.”

Officials in Gaza said 28 Palestinians had been killed in the enclave since Israel began the air offensive with the declared aim of stemming surges of rocket strikes that have disrupted life in southern Israeli towns.

The Palestinian dead include 12 militants and 16 civilians, among them eight children and a pregnant woman. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday. A Hamas source said the Israeli air force launched an attack on the house of Hamas's commander for southern Gaza which resulted in the death of two civilians, one a child.

SOLIDARITY VISIT

A solidarity visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, whose Islamist government is allied with Hamas but also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, had appeared to open a tiny window to emergency peace diplomacy.

Kandil said: “Egypt will spare no effort … to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce.”

But a three-hour truce that Israel declared for the duration of Kandil's visit never took hold. Israel said 66 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip hit its territory on Friday and a further 99 were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Israel denied Palestinian assertions that its aircraft struck while Kandil was in the enclave.

Israel Radio's military affairs correspondent said the army's Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.

It is the biggest test yet for Egypt's new President Mohamed Mursi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year's protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas, yet Mursi has also pledged to respect Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.

Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime minister's visit was intended to further.

A Palestinian official close to Egypt's mediators told Reuters Kandil's visit “was the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

Tunisia's foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday “to provide all political support for Gaza” the spokesman for the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.

The United States asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.

Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognise Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Abbas's supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to have Palestine declared an “observer state” rather than a mere “entity” at the United Nations later this month.

How Charedi draftees affect the military


Professor Yagil Levy of the Open University in Israel discusses the Charedi draft, and an alternative direction on Iran. ‎

You have claimed that the religious community has a growing amount of influence ‎in the Israeli military – why is this a negative thing? Does it impair the army’s ‎operational capabilities, and in what ways?‎

There is nothing wrong in the growing presence of religious soldiers in the ‎IDF. The problem is with the attempts of the soldiers’ leadership to impair the ‎military’s autonomy in several areas, such as: exclusion of women from many ‎roles in field units, the expansion of the role of military chaplains – from the ‎traditional role of providing religious services to the religious socialization of ‎secular soldiers, and many instances in which religious solders refused, or ‎threatened to refuse, to carry out orders to evacuate settlements in the West ‎Bank. ‎

Read more at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Israeli military begins drafting haredi Orthodox


The Israel Defense Forces have begun drafting haredi Orthodox 18-year-olds without encountering significant protests, one week after a new law requiring haredi military service took effect.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on July 31 ordered the IDF to compose guidelines for haredi army service within 30 days, and in the meantime implemented the Military Service Law of 1986 with regard to the haredi Orthodox. The law requires every Jewish Israeli to serve in the IDF, and includes penalties of up to three years in prison for those who do not comply.

A military source with knowledge of the issue told JTA that one week after the law’s implementation, the IDF has yet to encounter any significant problems in putting haredi youth through the draft process.  The 18-year-olds are undergoing competency tests in math, Hebrew and general knowledge, as would any draftee.

Previously, under legislation known as the Tal Law, haredi youth would be able to go to an IDF induction center with a letter from a rabbi exempting them from military service so they could study Jewish texts in a yeshiva. The Israeli Supreme Court invalidated the Tal Law in February.

The court mandated the government to pass new legislation by Aug. 1, but no such legislation has been passed.

Barak orders haredi Orthodox conscription


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to draft haredi Orthodox men as it does other Jewish Israelis.

Barak has allowed a month for officials to formulate regulations on haredi conscription, according to reports.

The order came as the Tal Law, which allowed haredi men to defer army service, expired on Wednesday. Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the law in February.

Israeli law mandates that Jewish Israelis enter the army at age 18. Some Israelis legally defer army service for a year or more to study and prepare for the army. Israeli Arabs are not required to serve in the army.

Since the Tal Law was overturned, the debate over Israel’s mandatory conscription has been at the center of the country’s political discourse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a unity government in May with the centrist Kadima, the Knesset’s largest party, to draft new legislation on mandatory service that would address haredi and Arab youth, but Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz quit the coalition in July after failing to reach an agreement with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu wants two teams to examine draft alternatives


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday that he has ordered the formulation of two teams to examine universal draft alternatives.

One team will be headed by Prime Minister’s Office representatives and the other by ones from Kadima, Ynet reported.

Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz, however, has rejected Netanyahu’s plan to form two new committees.

Netanyahu had said Mofaz had agreed to the move, but the Kadima chairman stressed that any advancement on the issue must be based on recommendations of the Plesner Committee, which was charged with formulating a new law on haredi Orthodox military service.

The Plesner committee released its preliminary findings on Wednesday, despite being dissolved two days earlier by Netanyahu.

The committee’s report calls for universal service for all Israeli citizens, including mandating the draft of haredi Orthodox men and upgrading the National Service program for the Arab sector. It also calls for formulating an effective enforcement system and incentives for serving.

The report calls for individual financial sanctions against draft evaders, as well as sanctions against yeshivas that prevent their students from entering the draft.

In February, the Israeli Supreme Court declared that the Tal Law, which allowed haredi Orthodox men to defer service indefinitely, to be unconstitutional, and set Aug. 1 as the deadline for a new law to be passed.

Haredim hold prayer protest of draft


Thousands of haredi Orthodox held a prayer rally to protest the forced enlistment of yeshiva students.

The early Monday morning demonstration by men, women and children was organized by the Eda Haredit organization in Jerusalem. Participants reportedly read psalms and lamentations.

The protest came as the Plesner Committee was meeting to find an alternative to the Tal Law, which grants military exemptions to haredi Orthodox Israeli men. The law is set to expire next month, and it is believed the committee will call for the required draft of haredi Orthodox men.

Eda Haredit leader Rabbi Tuvia Weiss told rally participants, “We will not allow yeshiva students to be taken to the army or police, and will not be fazed by their seductions.” He added that forced army service or designated service are being required by the government “in order to destroy the Torah world.”

Max Fried, 18, drafted by Padres


Max Fried, an 18-year-old high school graduate from Los Angeles, was selected by the San Diego Padres in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft.

Fried, a left-handed pitcher, was chosen seventh overall in Monday’s draft.

The teen, who wore the number 32 at Harvard-Westlake High School in honor of Jewish Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, told the Los Angeles Times that Koufax is his baseball hero. His curveball is also similar to Koufax’s.

Fried was a member of the 2009 gold medal-winning USA 18th World Maccabiah Juniors baseball team.

The newspaper predicts that it will take about $3 million to sign Fried, who had committed in November to play for UCLA.

Browns pick Schwartz in NFL draft


The second round of the NFL draft was not 30 minutes old when the phone rang in the Schwartz home on the afternoon of April 27.

The family recognized the Cleveland area code. Mitchell Schwartz, the Cal offensive lineman who was expecting to be drafted, picked up the phone. Then he smiled.

“I’ve never seen such a huge smile,” older brother and current NFL pro Geoff Schwartz said.

With the fifth pick of the second round (37th overall), the Cleveland Browns selected Schwartz.

“The best part was that I didn’t expect to go that high,” Mitchell said on April 29. 

The NFL now has two Jewish offensive linemen, from the same family. There are several pairs of brothers in the league, including offensive linemen Matt and Ryan Kalil, but none are Jews. Matt Kalil was taken fourth by Minnesota and will be Geoff’s new teammate. Geoff previously played with Ryan in Carolina.

Although Geoff’s draft experience was less than stellar — he had to wait until the seventh and final round to be chosen — he was pleased at his brother’s good fortune.

It was fortunate because, as father Lee Schwartz said, once one gets past the obvious first-round choices, “[I]t’s really a crapshoot.”

Before the draft, Mitchell traveled to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Kansas City, and met with team officials. Lee said his son left Atlanta with the impression that if he was still available when the Falcons picked 55th, they would take him. (Atlanta ended up taking another offensive lineman.)

The family knew Cleveland could take him at 37, but they had seen mock drafts that had Mitchell going 58th to the Houston Texans or 63rd to the New York Giants.

Most mock drafts had Matt Kalil going to Minnesota, but Geoff said the addition does not affect his job.

“He plays left tackle; I play right guard,” Geoff said.

So when Mitchell’s name was called, the family whooped it up and hollered and screamed and jumped up and down.

And then came two realizations: First, “The draft was over for us, and we had no reason to watch it,” Geoff said.

Second, the family had planned a celebratory dinner for Saturday, not Friday.

They went out both nights, Mitchell said.

Nothing trivial about these Jews on the gridiron


Trivia question: What family soon will represent 20 percent of the Jews in the National Football League?

Answer: The one with Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz. Older son Geoff has played two seasons with the Carolina Panthers and now is under contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Younger brother Mitchell, who will almost surely be drafted this week, will join him.

Making any professional league is a long shot, so to have two in the same family borders on the incredible.

“Obviously, it’s a pretty cool thing,” Mitchell said. “We graduated from pretty good colleges. It’s a really cool thing. I’m looking forward to it.”

Geoff played at Oregon, Mitchell at Cal. Both play on the offensive line. Geoff stands about 6-foot-6, 331 pounds; Mitchell about 6-foot-5, 318.

Geoff, who said he didn’t consider himself NFL caliber until his sophomore year, was drafted in the seventh round in 2008. Mitchell, who knew he could play since his freshman year, is projected from anywhere between the end of the first round and the third round.

Geoff and his father, Lee, freely admit that Mitchell is the more talented of the two. In fact, Mitchell has met with officials from four teams, something Geoff never did. But Geoff has the experience, having started in 19 of 32 games in which he has played, so he has some idea of what his brother is about to undergo.

“We talk a lot about football,” Geoff said. “We watch games together.”

Start with the draft. While everyone’s experience differs slightly, one universal aspect is the excitement and anxiety about when and where one ends up, followed by relief and excitement once it’s known.

For Geoff, draft day five years ago was not fun. He said he knew he was a midlevel pick, but after eight offensive linemen went in the first round and 11 in the first three rounds, he got his hopes up and started actively watching the draft. As the picks went by and his name wasn’t called, he found it disheartening and stopped watching.

When he got the call from Carolina informing him that they were going to take him (with the 241st pick out of 252), “[T]hat anger and frustration of not being drafted just disappeared,” he said.

Geoff has told his brother to have fun on draft day. He will join Mitchell and the family in watching the proceedings, which begin on April 26.

Mitchell said he knows he’ll be drafted higher than his brother. He doesn’t care when or by whom.

“It’s more about being drafted,” he said. “Of course, you want to go as high as you can, but in the end it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted as long as you can show what you can do.”

Once the name is called and the contract details are hammered out, a player needs to understand that the NFL is a job that requires dedication. Ten-hour days are common.

“Six months [the length of season from training camp to Super Bowl] is long,” Geoff said. “You have to prepare your body. … There’ll be days you don’t want to work out and you just have to suck it up.”

What Geoff said he had to get used to was how much time he needed to devote to football. In college, there are rules that regulate how much time one can devote to it. The NFL has no such thing. You watch more game film in the NFL, you attend more team meetings, and you spend more time working out.

“Another thing for me was making sure I got enough rest,” he said. “Physically, you might get beat up a little bit more [in the NFL]. “You’re sore, you’re banged up, you might have a sprain here or there, but you’re not going out there with broken bones.”

On top of that, Geoff said, his brother will have to learn to manage his own domestic affairs, including shopping and bill paying.

Finally, there’s the Jewish question. Players must decide if they’re a Jewish football player or a football player who’s Jewish.

Both Schwartzes said they are Jewish football players, having celebrated their bar mitzvahs and observing many of the holidays. However, the High Holy Days occur during the season, and both brothers must ponder the question: “Do I follow Sandy Koufax’s example and not play?”

For the brothers, the answer is no.

“I can’t tell my coaches, ‘I can’t go this week, I’ve got to fast,’ ” Geoff said. “It’s not accepted. I’ve accepted that. You only have 16 games. I do feel bad about it.”

Mitchell agreed, saying he’d want to be there for his teammates.

“When it falls on a game day, you struggle with what to do,” he said. “You make a decision and go with it.”

It’s a decision the only pair of NFL Jewish brothers must make. It’s not easy, and the demands of the NFL are (for Geoff) and will be (for Mitchell) more than enough to adjust to.

But the reward of seeing the brothers play is plenty for their father.

“I just kvell,” Lee Schwartz said. “It’s a surreal experience to see my kids on the field, on TV.”

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