Josh Rosen calling a play against the Arizona Wildcats at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, Oct. 1, 2016. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

Jewish UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen takes heat for saying ‘football and school don’t go together’


Josh Rosen, UCLA’s starting quarterback and a highly touted NFL prospect, has taken flak before for being outspoken about his views. Last year, he said that college football should be considered a professional sport and wore a hat that said “F— Trump” while golfing on one of Trump’s golf courses.

In an interview with Bleacher Report on Tuesday, Rosen doubled down on his criticism of the college football model, which he believes leaves no time for academic coursework.

“Look, football and school don’t go together,” he said. “They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL. There’s no other way. Then there’s the other side that says raise the SAT eligibility requirements. OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes and then the product on the field suffers.”

(For context, the University of Alabama has won the college football championship four times in the past eight years.)

“It’s not that they shouldn’t be in school,” he continued. “Human beings don’t belong in school with our schedules. No one in their right mind should have a football player’s schedule, and go to school. It’s not that some players shouldn’t be in school; it’s just that universities should help them more — instead of just finding ways to keep them eligible.”

Rosen, 20, an economics major entering his junior year, went on to explain that he wants to get an MBA and create his own business after playing in the NFL.

“When I’m finished with football, I want a seamless transition to life and work and what I’ve dreamed about doing all my life. I want to own the world. Every young person should be able to have that dream and the ability to access it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” he said.

Rosen’s comments drew scrutiny from some fellow players, but also praise from sports writers. The NCAA has been harshly criticized for its financial and academic system, which generates billions of dollars of revenue. College athletes are not allowed to make any money from their sports through endorsements or advertisements.

The 6-foot-4 gunslinger is the son of Charles Rosen, a noted Jewish orthopedic surgeon, and Liz Lippincott, who is Quaker (she is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Wharton, who founded the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania).

Despite having only played in 20 collegiate games and missing about half of last season with a shoulder injury, Rosen was recently ranked the number seven college prospect by ESPN. In 2015, his freshman year, he threw for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks after a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Oct. 2, 2016. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NFL players flap upends Israel’s PR game plan


Almost 30 years ago, the late theater impresario Joe Papp got into hot water when he canceled a scheduled production of a pro-Palestinian play at his flagship Manhattan theater, the Public.

Rumors flew at the time that he caved in to pressure from wealthy Jewish donors, but Papp — born Joseph Papirofsky but muted in his Jewish identity most of his life — had a more personal explanation: “Having so recently reasserted his Jewishness but having never presented an Israeli or Palestinian play,” a JTA article explained, “he didn’t want his first statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be seen as pro-Palestinian.”

Papp’s decision was seen at the time as a small victory by the pro-Israel camp, an insult to the Arab community — and an embarrassment by champions of artistic freedom. But at a news conference where Papp explained his decision, I heard something else: a curious citizen of the world who didn’t want to enlist in anybody’s propaganda war.

I remembered the Papp incident when I read that Seattle Seahawks defender Michael Bennett and some other NFL players were backing out of a trip to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government and America’s Voices in Israel, an initiative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Bennett apparently pulled out after reading an article about the trip in The Times of Israel, which included official statements by two Israeli Cabinet ministers saying the trip was intended to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the pro-Palestinian narrative about Israel.

Gilad Erdan, whose varied portfolio includes public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy, said he hoped the visit would offer the players “a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world.” Fighting BDS, he said, “includes hosting influencers and opinion-formers of international standing in different fields, including sport.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin hoped the players would come home with “positive stories about Israel” that would “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state.”

On Feb. 8, Bennett tweeted that he was not going to Israel, complaining that “I was not aware, until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel, that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’ I will not be used in such a manner.”

He pledged to come to Israel one day, and to visit the West Bank and Gaza, “so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

It’s not clear how much the players knew about the sponsors or the purposes of the trip before accepting. The America’s Voices in Israel Facebook page explains that it “organizes week-long missions to Israel for prominent headline-makers with widespread credibility,” in order to generate stories about Israel that “counter distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish State.” Accounts of the trips show an itinerary heavy on holy and historical sites, fine dining and visits to Israel’s highly regarded human services sector, like a program for people with special needs. The trips are often led by Voices’ director, a rabbi with a background in right-leaning efforts promoting Israel.

Still, my guess is the players didn’t know much about the organizers. Nor did they appreciate the politically charged nature of visiting the region. Every country has a tourism board that tries to entice celebrities with free trips and deluxe accommodations. In recent years, the Golden Globes swag bag has included round-trip tickets to Fiji and a free stay at a five-star resort.

The difference is that Fiji is not a global hot spot, and if anyone is boycotting Fiji it has more to do with a bad Yelp review than an organized political campaign. The BDS movement is intent on demonizing Israel and shaming celebrities who don’t revile the country or are open to hearing both sides of the story.

The day before Bennett announced he wasn’t going, the Nation published an “Open Letter to NFL Players Traveling to Israel on a Trip Organized by Netanyahu’s Government.” Signed by Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and others, it is a model in the effort to de-normalize Israel. Quoting Erdan, they assert that the trip was “designed explicitly to improve Israel’s image abroad to counter worldwide outrage over its massacres and war crimes.” Addressing African-Americans like Bennett, it links the Palestinian cause to that of “black and brown communities in the United States.”

And their complaint is not just about the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, but a Jewish nation-state “with more than 50 laws that privilege Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens.” One of its strangest passages compares Trump’s travel ban on refugees with Israeli restrictions on migrants trying to enter the country illegally from its tense border with Egypt. (Needless to say, the letter does not address why these “asylum seekers” from Sudan and Eritrea see Israel as a more desirable destination than the countries they are fleeing and the Muslim-majority countries they must pass through to get there.)

Like the Israelis, the BDS groups who signed the letter also employ celebrities in the battle of hearts and minds — citing musicians like Lauryn Hill and Roger Waters who have refused to play in Israel. The question for Israel is whether it should fight fire with fire — celebrity with celebrity — in waging public diplomacy.

The good news for Israel is that its opponents often overplay their hand. BDS is not a “peace movement” in the sense that it wants two viable, secure states for Israelis and Palestinians. The letter to NFL players says BDS will target Israel until it “complies with international law and guarantees Palestinian rights” — an intentionally unspecific formula that coupled with the activists’ refusal to talk about a two-state solution or the Jews’ right to a state of their own suggests their ultimate goal is a single binational state.

Perhaps Bennett and the other no-show players caved to the BDS side, although the NFL story is playing in Israel as a fumble on the part of Erdan and Levin. By making explicit the implicit purpose of the “mission,” they put the players in an untenable position. Israel is understandably eager to seize on signs of normalcy in the face of the BDS assault. But sometimes discretion is the better part of hasbara. In recent years Israel has pushed the “Brand Israel” tactic of public diplomacy, backing efforts to promote Israel’s accomplishments in the arts, technology, science and gay rights. When the government’s fingerprints are obvious, such events have inspired protests at film festivals, museums and theaters.

Maybe the problem is contained in the word “mission,” borrowed by Jews from Christian evangelists and suggesting a trip meant to win converts. Perhaps a better model for these kinds of trips is a symposium or a fact-finding trip, exposing visitors not just to what makes Israel fun and inspiring, but to its challenges in all their complexity. If celebs knew they were going to get a range of perspectives on the country and the conflict, perhaps they’d feel more confident in telling the BDS crowd to back off.

To Bennett’s credit, he signals that he has an open mind, and that when he does visit, he’ll hear from both sides. If he does, he’ll experience an Israeli and Palestinian reality infinitely more complex — more multicultural, more historically aware, less reductive — than the patronizingly binary picture scrawled by the authors of the open letter. And he just might discover that Israel has the more convincing story to tell.

Michael Bennett at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., on Dec. 11, 2016. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

NFL stars pull out of Israel visit, saying they feel ‘used’


Two top National Football League players pulled out of a trip to Israel sponsored by the country’s tourism ministry, saying they felt “used” by the government.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Friday posted a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. on Twitter with the caption: “Im not going to Israel.” On Saturday, he tweeted that he would one day take his own trip to Israel and also visit Palestinian areas.

Earlier Saturday, he tweeted letter with a longer explanation.

“I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes. I was not aware until reading this article about  the trip in the Times of Israel that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will,” he wrote.

“I will not be used in such a manner. When I go to Israel — and I do plan to go — it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

Bennett also said that one of his heroes was boxer and black activist Muhammad Ali. ”I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies and always willing to be a voice for the voiceless,” he wrote. “I want to be a voice for the voiceless and I cannot do that by going on this kind of a trip to Israel,” he said.

After Bennett posted the letter on Twitter, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills retweeted it, saying, “Couldn’t have said it any better. I’m in!”

The publicity trip was announced by the Israel Tourism and Public Diplomacy Ministries on Feb. 5. The NFL delegation was to feature 12 current or former players.

The 10 players presumably still signed on for the trip are: Martellus Bennett of the world champion New England Patriots, Cliff Avril, Delanie Walker, Michael Kendricks, Cameron Jordan, Calais Campbell, Carlos Hyde, Dan Williams, Justin Forsett and ESPN commentator and former linebacker Kirk Morrison.

They are to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and the Black Hebrew community in the southern city of Dimona. Some of the players are expected to be baptized in the Jordan River. An exhibition game with a squad from the Israel Football Association is scheduled for Feb. 18 in Jerusalem.

An open letter to the delegation published Thursday in The Nation and signed by several pro-Palestinian organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, and by author Alice Walker and actors Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, called on the players to reconsider the trip, saying it is part of an effort to “help the Israeli government normalize and whitewash its ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.”

Participants in the 18th annual Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame are: Geoffrey Schwartz, Stanley Tarshis, Andi Murez, Andrew Lorraine, Andrew Bailey and Mitchell Schwartz; Andy Hill, Jerry Weinstein, Ramona Shelburne, Roy Firestone (master of ceremonies), Glenn Diamond, Marc Stein, Steve Kuechel and Erik Affholter. Photo by Lee Salem Photography

Moving & Shaking: Jewish athletes celebrated, NFL players visit home shul, AIPAC holds gala


Fourteen athletes and sports media members were inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 28, during the organization’s 18th annual induction ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The 2016 inductees were Andrew Lorraine (baseball); Andy Hill (basketball); brothers Mitchell and Geoffrey Schwartz (football); Erik Aff-holter (football); Stanley Tarshis (gymnastics); Glenn Diamond and Marc Stein (media); Ramona Shelburne (softball); Andi Murez (swimming); Steve Kuechel (tennis); Andrew Bailey and Ashley Grossman (water polo); and Jerry Weinstein, a sports broadcasting producer who was awarded the Eli Sherman Pillar of Achievement Award.

The event also recognized as high school athletes of the year Allyson Rosenblum, a member of the Mater Dei High School girls basketball team, and Ben Goldberg of the Palisades High School tennis team. Henry Vogel, a student at Harvard-Westlake School, received the Allan Malamud Memorial Scholarship.

The Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame spotlights distinguished amateur and professional athletes and people in sports-related activities and careers.


Kevin Taylor, representative of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair Judy Shore; Arie Schachner, co-founder of Save a Child’s Heart; and international president and Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair David Shore attend the Israeli-based international humanitarian organization’s concert event. Photo by Pal Photography

Kevin Taylor, representative of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair Judy Shore; Arie Schachner, co-founder of Save a Child’s Heart; and international president and Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair David Shore attend the Israeli-based international humanitarian organization’s concert event. Photo by Pal Photography

long list of artists donated performances on Jan. 29 to the Symphony of the Heart concert, benefiting the Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) organization, at the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge.

The Israeli-based international humanitarian organization has provided lifesaving heart surgeries for children from 53 developing countries and creates centers of medical competence in those countries. The children are screened by volunteer doctors from SACH and then flown to Israel, where they are treated at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

More than 4,000 children have been treated at the Israeli center. One of those kids, Benjamin Baldwin, 7, was found in an orphanage in China, suffering from multiple heart problems. He was flown to Israel and had several heart operations. The little boy, who was adopted by a couple from Orange County, Melissa and Larry Baldwin, was all smiles during the gala event.

Producer and television writer David Shore and his wife, Judy, who are supporters of SACH, attended the event. Holding Benjamin in his arms, David Shore, who created the TV series “House,” told the touching story of the boy, who was not able to run and play like other kids his age due to his illness but is now healthy and physically active.

“So, what do you like to do best?” Shore asked Benjamin, expecting an answer along the lines of “Run, climb and jump.” Benjamin hesitated for a moment before answering,“Play with my iPad,” eliciting a roar of laughter from the audience.

Among the performers at the concert were Israeli singer Rita; her daughter, singer Meshi Kleinstein; singer Melissa Manchester; singer Liel Kolet; the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble; and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

Pianist Emily Bear, 15, stole the show while performing a piece she composed three years ago, along with a jazz rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Bear started playing at age 2 and already has 10 years of experience as a professional concert pianist.

The concert ended with the audience standing and singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” along with the performers onstage.

Among the 1,500 attendees was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, 87, the second man to walk on the moon and a supporter of SACH.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, join Deanna and Allen Alevy at the Dinner Party Charity Soiree. Photo by Jonah Light Photography

Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, join Deanna and Allen Alevy at the Dinner Party Charity Soiree. Photo by Jonah Light Photography

Pico-Robertson Orthodox congregation Pico Shul held its Dinner Party Charity Soiree at the Mark for Events on Jan. 31.

During the event, which drew about 160 attendees, Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, presented philanthropic husband and wife Allen and Deanna Alevy with the 2017 Bubbe and Zaide of the Year award. The Alevys have underwritten Bookstein’s position at the shul, “so that all funds raised during the year are for Pico Shul overhead, staff and programming,” according to the event website.

The evening featured Pico Shul resident yogi Marcus Freed leading meditation sessions in a “Soul Revival” tent while a guitarist fingerpicked “Jerusalem of Gold” on the opposite side of the room. Meanwhile, Simon Wiesenthal Center co-founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, Chai Center Vice President Mendel Schwartz and others mingled over glasses of kosher wines from Shirah Wine Co. and appetizers prepared by, among others, Mexikosher chef Katsuji Tanabe, Kosher Latin chef Deborah Benaim and organic kosher food expert Sarah Zulauf.

Artwork by Fabian Lijtmaer decorated the walls; members of the band Moshav played upbeat traditional music. Lijtmaer, when not discussing his artwork to admirers, staffed a carnival-style game testing players’ Torah knowledge.

Founded three years ago, Pico Shul operates in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood out of a former fish market. The community comprises 20- and 30-somethings interested in leading observant lives while participating in activities such as Shabbat celebrations at music festivals and camping trips in the mountains.

Pico Shul’s Bookstein has led Jewish communities all over the world, including in Poland, Long Beach and Los Angeles.


Mitchell and Geoff Schwartz, along with Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, participate in a recent program at Adat Shalom. The Schwartzes attended religious school and became b’nai mitzvah there. Photo courtesy of Adat Shalom

Mitchell and Geoff Schwartz, along with Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, participate in a recent program at Adat Shalom. The Schwartzes attended religious school and became b’nai mitzvah there. Photo courtesy of Adat Shalom

NFL players Mitchell and Geoffrey Schwartz appeared at congregation Adat Shalom on Jan. 29 to discuss their book, “Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family and Faith,” in a conversation with the synagogue’s Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz.

The visit to the West Los Angeles synagogue was a homecoming for the brothers, who attended religious school and became b’nai mitzvah at Adat Shalom. Geoffrey, the older of the two, is a free agent who has played for five NFL teams, while Mitchell plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. The two offensive linemen are the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the league in nearly 100 years.

We were overjoyed to have them back,” Lebovitz said in an email following the event, which drew more than 120 people. “The entire community had a ton of fun with them.”


Firefighter Ben Arnold at the AIPAC gala dinner. Photo by Timothy J. Carr

Firefighter Ben Arnold at the AIPAC gala dinner.
Photo by Timothy J. Carr

The pro-Israel lobbying organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Los Angeles held its gala dinner Feb. 1 at the Beverly Hilton.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO commander and the evening’s keynote speaker, appeared in an interview with AIPAC Los Angeles Director Julie Munjack. The two discussed the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

The event also featured appearances by Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter Ben Arnold, who leads the Emergency Volunteers Project, an Israeli-backed organization that trains emergency responders abroad to assist in Israel in times of need, and AIPAC Regional Director Wayne Klitofsky, who delivered the “State of AIPAC” address.

The event also commemorated late Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, who died in 2016.

Attendees included California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After.

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

30 under 30: Josh Rosen


Passing the competition

The Jewish quarterback in the modern era of the NFL is a rare breed. There have only been two: Jay Fiedler, a mostly unheralded eight-year veteran, and Sage Rosenfels, a career second-stringer. Not exactly the types to pile up records and invade living rooms with commercial appearances.

That might change soon.

There has never been a Jewish football player with the promise and potential of UCLA’s current starting quarterback, Josh Rosen, who turns 20 in February.

Already a projected top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Rosen is the son of a Jewish father and Quaker-Christian mother. His father, Charles Rosen, a spine surgeon, was a nationally ranked ice skater who nearly qualified for the Winter Olympics in the 1970s. His mother, Liz Lippincott, is a former journalist who captained the Princeton lacrosse team.

The tall, sandy-haired Southern California teen attended St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower. Coming out of Bosco, Rosen was the top-ranked passer in the nation’s 2015 high school class, according to Rivals.com, and the second-ranked player overall. He entered training camp at UCLA in the fall of 2015 and won the starting job as a true freshman, beating out incumbent junior Jerry Neuheisel.

After a freshman season that saw him named Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year (60 percent completion percentage, 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns), Rosen was squarely on the radar of NFL scouts.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound gunslinger has the prototypical mold NFL coaches dream about playing under center: tall enough to see over defenses, a frame with enough bulk to absorb hits, smooth mechanics, a strong and deadly arm, and coolness under fire.

Near the end of his freshman campaign, NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah took to Twitter to call Rosen “the most gifted QB in college football.” After last April’s draft in which the Los Angeles Rams took former Cal quarterback Jared Goff with the top overall pick, Rosen’s coach at UCLA, Jim Mora, said that had Rosen been eligible, he would have been selected ahead of Goff. (Players must be three years removed from high school before being eligible to enter the NFL draft.)

“I’m not comparing him to Peyton Manning in the NFL, but at this stage of his career — essentially the same point — he’s the same guy in terms of football intelligence and work ethic,” Mora said in a 2016 Sports Illustrated profile on Rosen. As an assistant coach for the New Orleans Saints in the NFL, Mora got to know Manning well during his high school playing days in the city.

Rosen’s sophomore season kicked off with realistic hopes of a Pac-12 title and Heisman Trophy consideration. However, all that optimism went out the window last October during a game against Arizona State when Rosen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The Bruins tumbled to a disappointing 4-8 record while Rosen went through intensive rehab.

The 2017 season is still months away, but Rosen will have a chance to reclaim his place among the top performers in the college ranks. With a big season, Rosen will up his profile just in time to ride some momentum all the way to the grand stage of the 2018 NFL draft, should he choose to forgo a senior season at UCLA.

Whether it’s in 2018 or 2019, Rosen hearing his name called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on draft day and being handed the reins of an NFL franchise instantly could make him the highest-profile Jewish football star since … well, ever.

Which do you love more: Football or America?


I understand that there are American athletes, cheerleaders, members of bands in professional, college and even high school sports who believe — mistakenly — that America is so racist that they cannot, in good conscience, stand when the national anthem is played.

I also understand why the NFL and some college and professional teams allow this to take place. Cowardice is far more common than courage.

What is much more difficult to understand is why the majority of fans in the stadiums and watching on television continue to attend and to watch these sporting events. Why would people who love America, venerate the flag, and wish to honor those who have fought and died for that flag, continue to patronize any team that allows its players or others affiliated with the team to dishonor that flag and country?

There is only one possible answer: Such people value their seat at the stadium or watching the game at home more than they value honoring the country.

No one disputes the legal right of any player not to stand during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In America, you have the legal right to stomp on and burn the American flag. At the same time, however, any team or league has the right to set rules of conduct during a game. For example, no player is allowed to place the name of a candidate or to write a political message on his hat, helmet, or uniform.

Leagues and teams should make it clear that one of their employees’ obligations is to stand during the national anthem. But with few exceptions, when their players don’t, the leagues and the teams do nothing. And, saddest of all, few fans do anything. After all, how many fans are going to waste their expensive season tickets by leaving, or by not showing up at, a game? 

Yet, just imagine how powerful it would be if half, or even a quarter, of the stadium emptied out after players refused to stand for the national anthem. Or imagine if a significant percentage of TV viewers simply stopped watching this mockery of every American soldier, sailor and Marine who fought for, let alone died for, that flag. That would constitute a great moral and patriotic message — and quickly end this behavior.

Until then, however, the message being sent is that there is no price to be paid for public disdain toward the American flag and anthem. And when there is no price paid, the message sent is that what these players, cheerleaders and band members are doing is entirely acceptable.

More than acceptable — made famous. Time magazine, for example, featured the leader of the contempt-for-the-flag movement, San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, on its cover. 

America, like Europe, is a society that is committing suicide. Those who have only contempt for the greatest country ever created dominate our news and entertainment media and teach this contempt to America’s young people at virtually every college in the country. This past month, every UCLA freshman was required to read a hate-America screed, “Between the World and Me,” by the radical Black nationalist writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is how Coates is described by Joel Kotkin, a Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a lifelong Democrat (until this year, when he registered as an independent):

“To Coates, America itself seems irredeemable, its very essence tied to racial oppression and brutality. America is [about] . . . a legacy of ‘pillaging,’ the ‘destruction of families,’ ‘the rape of mothers,’ and countless other outrages. Today’s abusive police — and clearly some can be so described — are not outliers who should be punished but ‘are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy.’ His alienation from America is so great that he admits to little sympathy for the victims of 9/11.” (Italics added.)

That’s the one book every UCLA freshman has to read this year — and the reading is followed by workshops on American racism, where students hear from UCLA professors such as Safiya Noble, professor in the graduate school of education, who tells them, “We must all think about who we are in the face of persistent anti-Blackness.”

Colin Kaepernick and others won’t stand for the flag that represents the least racist country in recorded history — the country to which far more Black Africans have immigrated voluntarily than ever arrived on a slave ship.

If you watch a game in person or on TV in which any player or other on-field participant refuses to stand during the national anthem, you have told everyone in your life, especially your kids, one of two things: either that you agree with not honoring America because it is such a bad country, or that football is more important than America.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Kaepernick’s right to protest works both ways


To protest police violence against Blacks, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has caused a national stir by refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of his team’s games.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This is not the first time the 28-year-old has spoken out against police violence.

“This is what lynchings look like in 2016!” he wrote on Instagram in the wake of the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. “Another murder in the streets because the color of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us.”

Speaking from the G20 Summit in China, President Barack Obama defended Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem, saying he was “exercising his constitutional right” to bring attention to “some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about.”  

The president is correct — Kaepernick is following in a long American tradition of exercising our right to protest and criticize, even in a way that some may find offensive.

In that spirit, then, I’d like to also exercise my right to protest and criticize.

My criticism relates to the claim of “bodies in the street” caused by police violence. Kaepernick may want to look at Chicago, where, according to author Heather MacDonald in National Review Online, 2,870 people were shot this year through Aug. 30 — but only 17 of those shootings, or 0.6 percent of the total, were by the police.

According to the Chicago Tribune, this past Labor Day weekend was the deadliest of the three holiday weekends this summer, with 65 people shot, 13 of them fatally. The 90 homicides in August tied for the most the city had seen in a single month since June 1996. 

A major reason for this growing mayhem, MacDonald writes, is that cops have backed off of public-order enforcement, with pedestrian stops down 90 percent. Evidently, by focusing so much of our anger on the police and putting them on the defensive, we've ended up hurting those we are trying to help.

“It is the people who live in high-crime areas,” MacDonald says, “who petition the police for ‘corner clearing.’ The police are simply obeying their will. And when the police back off of such order-maintenance strategies under the accusation of racism, it is the law-abiding poor who pay the price.”

None of those complications made their way into Kaepernick’s one-sided protest against police violence. That is my primary criticism —instead of enriching the national debate, he has shriveled it. By overlooking inconvenient truths and focusing all his wrath on the police, instead of honoring a complex reality, he has distorted it.

Kaepernick had a unique opportunity to advance the national debate. His decision to sit during the national anthem was controversial and stunning. With the eyes of the nation on him, he could have stunned us even further by calling for greater cooperation between Black communities and local law enforcement to reduce the scourge of inner-city violence.

He could have unified the country by encouraging a search for solutions that wouldn’t alienate the very police force that protects the majority of Blacks in the inner cities.

But he didn’t do that. Instead, Kaepernick did something that was so 2016: An instant gesture to make an instant statement about a complicated problem.

In other words, he didn’t aim very high, giving us yet another dramatic and divisive statement that elicits more hype than hope. Maybe he forgot that the national anthem he has shunned ends not with a statement but a question:

“Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? “

What makes this country the home of the brave is not just the freedom to make loud statements, but the courage to tackle complex problems.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Lena Dunham’s social media sites quiet since apology to Odell Beckham Jr.


The social media sites of Lena Dunham have not been updated since the actress-writer apologized on them to Odell Beckham Jr. for making “narcissistic assumptions” about how the NFL star acted when seated next to her at a dinner.

Dunham, the creator and star of the HBO series “Girls,” issued the apology Saturday night on TwitterFacebook and Instagram for her posts about the Met Ball in New York several months ago.

“I owe Odell Beckham Jr an apology,” she wrote. “Despite my moments of bravado, I struggle at industry events (and in life) with the sense that I don’t rep a certain standard of beauty and so when I show up to the Met Ball surrounded by models and swan-like actresses it’s hard not to feel like a sack of flaming garbage. This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion and a bunch of women I was sure he’d rather be seated with. But I went ahead and projected these insecurities and made totally narcissistic assumptions about what he was thinking, then presented those assumptions as facts.”

She was responding to criticism of an interview with Amy Schumer published Friday on her lifestyle newsletter, The Lenny Letter, in which Dunham complained that Beckham, a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the New York Giants, spent his time at the Met Ball glued to his cellphone.

Dunham, who wore a tuxedo to the event, wrote: “I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, “That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.” It wasn’t mean — he just seemed confused.

“The vibe was very much like, ‘Do I want to f**k it? Is it wearing a … yep, it’s wearing a tuxedo. I’m going to go back to my cell phone.’ It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, ‘This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.'”

Dunham also said in her apology that Beckham had “every right” to be on his cellphone.

“I feel terrible about it. Because after listening to lots of valid criticism, I see how unfair it is to ascribe misogynistic thoughts to someone I don’t know AT ALL. Like, we have never met, I have no idea the kind of day he’s having or what his truth is,” she added.

Beckham has not responded to Dunham’s original comments or her apology.

Minnesota Vikings’ owner thinks big with new stadium and Holocaust philanthropy


Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stepped up to an 800-pound gjallarhorn and exhaled with all he had to launch the festivities that officially inaugurated the team’s $1.1 billion stadium.

Music lovers would have found the deep, uneven sound revolting, but the Nordic instrument is plenty melodic in inspiring Vikings' partisans.

The team’s owner, Mark Wilf, 54, offered a Jewish take on the gigantic horn.

“When we first bought the team, a rabbi in St. Paul said, ‘You realize that the horns on the helmet are shofars.’ I kind of chuckle about that sometimes,” Wilf, sitting 50 feet from the newly installed horn, said in an interview with JTA 24 hours before the stadium’s dedication last month.

“It’s something the fans bond around: The Vikings are coming! There’s something – I don’t want to say sacred, but really special — about a football game-day experience.”

Wilf would know. He and his brother Zygi, 66, along with several other relatives, bought the National Football League franchise in 2005 and attend all the games, home and away. The brothers fly in from New Jersey, where they run the family’s real estate business.

And as kids, they attended New York Giants' games with their father, Joseph, a Holocaust survivor from Poland — as is their mother, Elizabeth, who is in her late 80s. Less than two weeks after the stadium's dedication, Joseph Wilf, a founder of one of the country’s largest real estate development companies and a major philanthropist, died at 91.

The opening of U.S. Bank Stadium on the site of the Vikings’ former home, the Metrodome, heralds a new era that Wilf hopes will include an NFL championship — a title that has eluded the organization since its founding in 1961.

Led by running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota won the NFC North division last season and reached the playoffs. The Vikings open the 2016 season with a road game before making their regular season debut in the new digs on Sept. 18 against the Green Bay Packers, a division foe.

Last month’s ribbon-cutting ceremony capped the owners’ prolonged effort to build a new stadium, a process that included contentious negotiations with the state’s governors and legislature. The owners eventually agreed to pay approximately half the construction costs.

“It’s been a long road to get here,” Wilf acknowledged, rattling off some key partners in the project. “There were a host of challenges to get through this, starting with the legislative process. It’s very gratifying to see the final product, and I can’t wait to see the excitement of our fans.”

The massive building is an architectural amalgam. Some of the exterior is darkly foreboding and some airily welcoming, with sections angling out sharply toward the streets and conjuring ships. Indoors, one side of the field and stands is bathed in sunlight thanks to a transparent roof, while the other is shaded. Behind one end zone, five enormous doors up to 90 feet high can hydraulically pivot to bring the outside in. The 66,000 seats are all purple.

Besides the stadium, the Vikings are building a new practice facility in suburban Eagan.

Many analysts had pegged Minnesota for another divisional crown until Bridgewater went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for the season.

Wilf is a hands-on owner, said the team's general manager, Rick Spielman, noting they speak almost daily. The Wilfs have “never not given us the resources” needed to compete, Spielman said, and “give you the flexibility to do your job.”

“If you’re recommending a view and make a decision based on what you think is best, they support it 100 percent,” he said. “They trust in the people in the specific roles we all have in this organization.”

Wilf recalled the Giants games he attended long ago, when his father's construction clients included former players.

The outings, he said, “got us exposed to football early on,” and also to maintaining perspective considering their parents' difficult past.

“My dad, considering what he went through, always had an optimistic bent on things, so whenever we’d be heartbroken as kids about the Giants losing a game, he’d say, ‘Things could be worse – you could be the owners.’”

The football outings, which included a trip to Southern California to watch the Giants' Super Bowl XXI victory in 1987, were “our family bonding experience,” he said. “Those types of things were special. Now our kids come to the games. It’s a family experience.”

Much of Wilf’s philanthropic energy goes toward assisting Holocaust survivors.

William Daroff, director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office, credited Wilf with helping to raise $30 million since early 2015 to benefit the organization’s National Holocaust Survivors Initiative, which assists some of the approximately 25 percent of the 120,000 survivors in the United States who live in poverty.

JFNA's president, Jerry Silverman, said Wilf followed up personally to assure that a fellow philanthropist’s Holocaust-survivor relative received improved medical care.

“These people should live out their lives with dignity,” said Wilf, who recalled the many survivors among his parents’ circle of friends in Hillside, New Jersey.

In Minneapolis, the clan established the Wilf Family Center at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. The institution is meaningful, too, to Vikings center John Sullivan, who said his brother Bob once received key medical treatment at another pediatric hospital.

“We have a very common, shared interest,” said Sullivan, who with his wife, Ariel, contributes to the Minnesota institution. “I have a whole lot of respect for [the Wilfs’] philanthropic endeavors.”

The next day, Elizabeth Wilf looked on from a lunch-laden table set atop the field as Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and other dignitaries spoke. Her sons sandwiched the governor, each grasping a golden scissor to cut a purple ribbon running the stage’s length of about 30 yards. With the ribbon sliced, confetti floated like a sweetly thrown touch pass.

The event was “a great personal milestone for our family, in addition to a great milestone for the community,” Wilf said. “We’re very proud that we have a new home here for the Vikings and that the Vikings have a stability and a future for generations to come.”


The Minnesota Vikings sponsored the visit to Minneapolis of several journalists, including Hillel Kuttler. Mark Wilf is a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of 70 Faces Media, JTA's parent organization.

From matzo balls to footballs, two Jewish brothers recall their journey to the NFL


At 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds, veteran NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz isn’t just a force of nature, but a product of good ol’ Jewish nurture.

“My size comes from a childhood that included an excess of matzo ball soup, latkes, and tons of white rice,” the 30-year-old jokes. “But of course my brother’s similar physique suggests that genetics had plenty to do with it.”

That would be his (only relatively) little brother, Mitch, 27, the Kansas City Chiefs’ newest starting right tackle, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 320 pounds.

As it happens, Geoff and Mitch Schwartz aren’t the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the National Football League — they’re just the first to do so since 1923.

“Once we heard the stat, we realized just how rare this really is,” said Mitch, standing at the edge of the Chief’s indoor practice field after morning drills. “So we both thought it was important to share our story — for Jewish kids, and in general, about how we both wound up where we are.”

Indeed, the story of how two nice Jewish boys grew up to be a couple of “hogs” (an endearing and decidedly non-kosher nickname for offensive linemen) could fill a book.

Now it does.

Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith” lands in stores and online September 6. Co-written by the brothers, with novelist and humorist Seth Kaufman, it’s a lighthearted memoir about all the topics in the subtitle and how often they intersect. Sports fans will find plenty of insider info on the NFL and major-college football (Geoff and Mitch played for Pac-12 contenders Oregon and Cal, respectively). But from the opening pages — a scene of the brothers frying up latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, following their bubbe’s recipe — their Jewishness is front and center.

“The people who know us know that’s a big part of our identity, but I think it was important to share as much as possible in the book,” Geoff Schwartz told JTA from Detroit, where he spent the preseason as a member of the Lions. “I mean, my whole family — we’re proud to be Jewish and to be raised in the tradition and going to temple.”

Growing up in West Los Angeles — and attending Adat Shalom, a Conservative congregation — the brothers were always involved in sports. But neither started playing football until high school, in part because their parents didn’t want practices and games to interfere too much with Hebrew school.

In the book, the brothers quote their mother, attorney Olivia Goodkin, on her eventual acceptance of her sons’ football fate, given that each stood well over six feet tall at his bar mitzvah.“‘I started out worrying that they were going to get hurt — but then I realized it was the other players I should be worrying about,” she said. “‘They were like trucks hitting small cars. And I started to kind of feel like maybe this was their destiny.’”

As for their father, Lee Schwartz, a business consultant: “I just kvell,” he told Los Angeles’s Jewish Journal in 2012, on the eve of that year’s NFL Draft, in which Mitch would join his brother in the league when theCleveland Browns took him early in the second round. “It’s a surreal experience to see my kids on the field, on TV.”

Mitch credits his (slightly) bigger brother for paving his way on the field, in the kitchen and in life. Geoff was a seventh-round pick in 2008, and he’s a study of resilience: He’s endured multiple injuries and various ups and downs, from getting relegated to a practice squad, to getting cut, to getting signed to a big contract, to getting released again just before this season starts.

Meanwhile, after the Browns selected him with the 37th overall pick, Mitch started every game over four seasons in Cleveland. This spring, free agency landed him a five-year, $33-million deal with the Chiefs, making him one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league.

Whether tackling football, their faith or food, the Schwartzes write with the interested but uninitiated in mind — readers will learn the finer points of proper blocking in one chapter, find a primer on the lunar Hebrew calendar in the next. And if you’re hungry, just refer to the appendix of family recipes for step-by-step instructions on applying the perfect schmear (“Don’t overdo it; too much cream cheese will melt and run on a just-toasted bagel”).

The conversational memoir flows from one milestone to the next — personal, professional or often both. There’s October 27, 2013: “The Schwartz Bowl,” the brothers’ first and so far only on-field meeting when Geoff, then with the Chiefs, faced Mitch and the Browns in Kansas City. Then there is the weekend in 2014 when two life-changing moments coincided: Geoff’s wedding — a traditional Jewish affair on the beach at Santa Monica — happened at the height of NFL free agency frenzy.

Only hours after signing his ketubah, Geoff would sign the largest contract of his career.

The brothers also grapple with some of the compromises they’ve had to make in pursuit of their careers. “I’m very clear that when I have to, I choose football over the [high] holidays,” Geoff said. “Some people have a hard time with that concept. I don’t.”

But he does fast on Yom Kippur whenever possible, an act of atonement to which he devotes several paragraphs in the book. “Toward the end of a fast I usually feel great, like I’ve achieved something,” he writes. “I feel lighter, not physically, but mentally. I’ve endured, and I feel energized and clear.”

In the book, Mitch recalls a visit he made in the first weeks of his rookie year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He encountered a group of Orthodox teens who, upon learning he was a Jewish football player, started peppering him with questions and begging for autographs. “I think it takes experiences like that to make you realize just how much bigger it is than you think it is,” he said of being one of a handful of Jewish players in the NFL.

Of course, the brothers understand the special appeal they have to Jewish fans — after all, they’re Jewish fans themselves. The book traces their own family’s fascination with Jews in sports, from Hank Greenberg andSandy Koufax to Mark Spitz and Dolph Schayes.

Mitch delves into the lesser-known history of brothers Ralph and Arnold Horween, the Harvard All-Americans and stars of the Chicago Cardinals backfield, in whose NFL footsteps the Schwartzes eventually followed. He learned that the Horweens actually played under an assumed name — McMahon — which raises questions as to whether they were guarding against anti-Semitism in football, or perhaps feared disapproval from other Jews for playing football.

Though Geoff recounts a few blatantly anti-Semitic comments, many players they meet simply don’t understand, or misunderstand, what it means to be Jewish, he said. “People think it’s more complicated than it really is,” Geoff explained. “So we let them know how not-complicated it is.”

When trying to explain their traditions to teammates who might have “never been around a Jew before,” they find that food — like latkes and matzo balls — can be a good access point, Mitch said, “especially for linemen.”

Part of the motivation for the writing the book, according to Geoff, is  for the brothers to, well, start writing their own next chapters. “You don’t know how long you’re going to play — certainly not forever,” he said shortly before the latest cut. “And there’s a lot we want to do after football.”

For Geoff, that could be a career in media or writing —  this book is only his latest foray in communications. He co-hosts his own podcast, “Block ’Em Up,” and this summer guest-wrote the popular Monday Morning Quarterback” column on SI.com that’s usually penned by National Sportswriter of the Year Peter King.

Yet, the ultimate ambition is for the Schwartz brothers is to finally team up — as co-hosts of their own cooking show.

“Cooking has become a creative outlet for both of us, something we enjoy exploring and experimenting with. We love the improvisational element of cooking, and the social element, too,” Geoff writes. “Food, which is so important to us as athletes — it fuels our work — provides the forum for us to create meals that look good and taste fantastic.”

The brothers already prepped a “sizzle reel” of them interviewing a Beverly Hills chef  and then whipping up some saffron seafood risotto at home. The book details early talks with TV execs — it’s unclear whether the Food Network or the NFL Network were more interested — but “we’re definitely still working on it,” Geoff confirmed.

Two Jewish brothers in the NFL makes for a great story. But two Jewish brothers in the NFL with their own cooking show? That’s never happened before.

NFL viewing guide: How to watch without cable


The NFL season is arguably the best time of the year for football fans. It’s when football Sunday becomes a reality and you get to watch your favorite teams and players every week. It seems like every season is more and more exciting as the talent seems to get better and better. Also, the beauty of the NFL is teams can go from terrible one year to great the next year, which means your team always has a chance of having a breakout season no matter how last year went.

As many people cut cable, one of the main questions people have is how to still watch football. There are multiple options out there to watch and with the right setup you can watch just about every single NFL game. Here’s everything you need to know.

The Best Ways to Watch Football on Sunday

There are a few different ways to get live access to Sunday football. Here’s some information about each of them:

Antenna: This is one of the easiest and probably the cheapest way to watch football. You don’t need a cable package, but still get access to any games on ABC, NBC, CBS, or FOX. This covers just about every single game that will be coming on during Sundays. The antenna connects to your TV and lets you watch football in incredibly clear high-definition picture. Plus, once you make the investment for an antenna, watching is absolutely free.

Sling TV: Another option is subscription streaming service Sling TV. In certain locations, Sling TV’s Sling Blue package offers live streaming access to FOX. This will be how you can watch some of the games on Sunday through the service. The starting package for these areas is $25 per month and includes over 40 cable channels to live stream including TBS, TNT, FX, FS1, NBCSN, AMC, and FOX Sports regional networks.

PlayStation Vue: A similar option to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue also lets you watch FOX games live in certain locations. But, it improves by also letting you live stream any games on NBC, CBS, or ABC in these same locations. There are also around 60 channels available to live stream, but the real difference is the price since it starts at $39.99 per month in the locations where these channels are offered.

Watch Monday Night Football Online as Well

The Monday Night Football games are broadcast on ESPN each week. All of the above services have ways for you to watch MNF games without cable. The antenna lets you watch the Monday night game if your local team is playing by broadcasting it on ABC. 

If you want to use Sling TV, you can choose the Sling Orange package, which doesn’t have FOX channels, but includes ESPN and ESPN2. The package only costs $20 per month and in total has around 30 channels.

PlayStation Vue has ESPN in all of its packages, but that means even if you don’t get access to FOX with your location you can still watch Monday Night Football. Plus, the locations without FOX have a price of only $29.99 per month for over 50 streaming channels.

You Can Even Get Thursday Night Football Streaming

Thursday Night Football games are actually quite easy to watch without cable using the other services. Sling TV recently announced it will include NFL Network in its package, which will be broadcasting every TNF game. PlayStation Vue should be adding the network soon as well, which means it may also be a viable way to watch.

Additionally, CBS and NBC simulcast most of the games on Thursdays. So, the antenna can be used to watch in HD. And, the easiest one is to utilize the deal the NFL just struck with Twitter. Ten of the Thursday night games will be live streamed on Twitter absolutely free. This is a phenomenal way to watch any games on Thursday nights for no cost at all!

As the trend of cable cutting has grown, so too have the options. Each night of NFL coverage has multiple ways to watch and other sports have just as many options. We are glad there are so many ways out there for you to watch without cable, but if you still have any questions, leave us a comment below.

A California dream-come-true as Rams take QB Jared Goff


Quarterback Jared Goff was less than a year old when the National Football League Rams left Los Angeles in 1995.

Now the California native and No. 1 pick in Thursday's NFL Draft will be a face of the franchise when it returns to Los Angeles, after 21 seasons in St. Louis.

Goff, who set Pac-12 conference records for passing yards and touchdowns at the University of California, Berkeley, will join running back Todd Gurley in an attempt to turn around a Rams team that has not had a winning record in any season since 2003.

“Just truly a dream come true,” Goff said. “I'm taking it as an honor and I'm going to have to prove them right, that they made the right decision.”

The Rams traded up to take Goff, dealing numerous later-round picks to the Tennessee Titans earlier this month to acquire the first overall selection.

“If you're a first-round quarterback, there's going to be pressure regardless,” he said. “I'm very excited, very ready to go, ready for the challenge.”

The lanky 21-year-old is known as a cool presence in the pocket.

The first true freshman to start a game at Berkeley, Goff said his biggest adjustment will be the speed of the pro game. The Rams said earlier this year that Case Keenum would be the Rams starter going into training camp.

“I'll come, work hard, see what happens. Hopefully I can play early,” Goff said.

The draft, held at Chicago's Roosevelt University for the second year in a row, took a decidedly California turn after Goff was selected and he took to the stage to the music of the rapper 2Pac's song “California Love.”

Jared's father, Jerry Goff, was a former Major League Baseball player who also made sports memories in Chicago, hitting his first home run for the Montreal Expos in 1990 at Wrigley Field.

Jared Goff had spoken with many teams, including the Cleveland Browns, about being a potential pick.

“When the Rams traded up, I had a good feeling about it,” he said. “It's been an unbelievable experience, and something I'll remember the rest of my life.”

Israeli soccer player earns tryout with NFL


An Israeli professional soccer player will be trying out for the National Football League as a kicker.

Gal Mesika will be the first Israeli to participate in a tryout attended by pro football scouts when he attends the free agent specialists combine in Arizona starting March 14, according to Steve Leibowitz, president of American Football in Israel, the sport’s governing body there.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft recommended Mesika, who kicked for an Israeli national American football team last summer, for the tryout. Kraft, who has donated millions to Israeli football and has a Jerusalem stadium named for him, watched Mesika kick when Kraft was in Israel hosting 19 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A demo tape led to an invitation to train with one of the leading kicking coaches in the United States, Gary Zauner.

The training led to Mesika being invited to attend the combine for unsigned kickers, punters and long snappers.

Mesika, a goalie in top Israeli soccer leagues for the past decade, was the place kicker and punter for the Israeli team in American football in its inaugural international game, a 28-20 victory over Spain last summer in Madrid. He was the starting goalkeeper for the under-19 and under-21 Israeli national teams.

Super Bowl 50: Denver, Charlotte rabbis each wager theirs is the chosen team


When the Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, only one team will emerge victorious. But two rabbis are giving the nation’s most-watched sporting event a win-win outcome.

Rabbi Judith Schindler of Temple Beth El in Charlotte and Rabbi Joe Black of Temple Emanuel in Denver have devised a wager that will see both their Reform communities donate to charity, ReformJudaism.org reported. Two-thirds of the money raised in a joint online fundraiser for the bet will go to a charity chosen by the synagogue in the winning city. The other third will go to the losing city.

If the Panthers win, the larger share will go to the Shalom Park Freedom School in Charlotte, which offers summer programs to low-income children. If the Broncos win, the larger share will go to Denver’s Jewish Family Service, which provides meals to families in need. As of Wednesday afternoon, the synagogues had raised more than $4,100.

Schindler makes a convincing case in a promotional video that the Panthers are God’s team. The team’s star quarterback Cam Newton recently named his son Chosen — bringing to mind the phrase the “chosen people,” she says. And Newton said at a press conference on Monday that his 1-month-old baby is already walking, which as Schindler notes, strongly suggests the child has superhuman powers.

Furthermore, Schindler says, if the Panthers win the Super Bowl, their overall record (including the regular and postseason) will be 18-1. Of course, 18 means life and good luck in the Jewish tradition (since the values of the two letters of the word “chai,” or “life” in Hebrew, add up to 18).

What Schindler doesn’t mention is that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s wear the number 18 on his jersey.

So which team is really chosen? We’ll find out Sunday. Either way, though, Jews in need will have something to celebrate.

 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft to receive honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University


New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a noted philanthropist, will receive an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University.

Kraft, a noted philanthropist, also will deliver the keynote address at the New York Jewish school’s 85th commencement ceremony at Madison Square Garden in May, the university announced Thursday.

“Robert Kraft represents not only success in business, but is a true Jewish leader who embodies our values of kindness, goodness, generosity to the broader community and tremendous support for the State of Israel,” Richard Joel, president of the the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy, said in a statement. “His success on and off the field, his profound humanity, his willingness to stand up for the Jewish people and Jewish causes make him an ideal role model for our students.”

The statement noted Kraft’s philanthropy of over $100 million to numerous institutions and organizations, many of them Jewish. He has donated to Boston’s Jewish federation, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, as well as Brandeis University and Temple Emanuel in the Boston area, along with the World Jewish Congress, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and many more Jewish entities. The Hillel chapter at Columbia University is named for Kraft and his late wife, Myra.

Kraft, 74, is the chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group, a holding company with assets in paper, packaging, real estate and sports teams.

Yeshiva’s statement notes that its past commencement speakers include Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Sheldon Adelson in talks to build Las Vegas stadium for Oakland Raiders


Sheldon Adelson met with the owner of the Oakland Raiders team owner to discuss the casino mogul’s plan to build a billion-dollar stadium for the NFL team.

On Friday, the same day of the meeting, Mark Davis also toured the site of Adelson’s proposed 65,000-seat stadium on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. The UNLV football team would share it with the professional franchise, which would become the NFL’s first Las Vegas-based team.

Hours after Davis’ meeting with Adelson, the National Football League sent a memo to all 32 team owners saying the league has no rule against moving to any particular market, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal daily newspaper, which is owned by the Adelson family. The memo comes in the wake of questions as to whether the league would bar a team move to Las Vegas because of the state’s legalized gambling.

“[T]he Sands leadership team let us know that officials from the Oakland Raiders are scheduled to travel to Las Vegas and tour locations around the valley for a potential new home, and they have asked us to meet them at our 42-acre site on Friday morning to answer questions about that site,” UNLV President Len Jessup said in a memo leaked Thursday.

The Raiders’ lease on their current stadium has ended. The team will likely negotiate a short-term lease to remain in Oakland next season; it made an unsuccessful bid to move to Los Angeles.

Adelson’s Sands Corp. could fund the stadium through a mix of private and public funds, such as hotel room taxes earmarked for tourism promotion.

Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government relations and community development for Las Vegas Sands, told the Review-Journal that a group led by Adelson’s Sands organization is moving forward on the stadium project with or without an NFL team.

Adelson, a major Republican donor, purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million last month. In 2013, he offered $1 billion to support Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Patriots star Julian Edelman honored as 4th-best Jewish football player of all time


New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman has never been elected to a Pro Bowl — the NFL’s all star game — but he can now add a Jewish honor to his resume.

He is the fourth-best Jewish football player ever, the American Jewish Historical Society announced Thursday.

The society included Edelman behind Hall of Fame quarterbacks Sid Luckman and Benny Friedman and Hall of Fame lineman Ron Mix in its ranking.

The 29-year-old has emerged as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite receiving target over the past few seasons. He racked up 92 receptions for 972 yards in the 2014 season and was a key part of the team’s Super Bowl victory last year.

His 2015 season was derailed by a foot injury on Nov. 15 that required surgery, but he returned to play last weekend in the Patriots’ 27-20 AFC Divisional round win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Edelman has referenced his Jewish heritage in interviews and on his highly trafficked social media pages. He visited Israel last summer.

The three Jewish football players above Edelman on the list have kvell-worthy resumes of their own.

Luckman played for the Chicago Bears from 1939 to 1950 and won four NFL championships. He was considered one of the best long-range passers of his time.

Ron Mix was a nine-time all star offensive tackle who played for the L.A. and San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.

Friedman, who played for four different teams between 1927 and 1934, was considered one of the league’s first great passers.

Here is the American Jewish Historical Society’s full list:

  1. Sid Luckman, QB, Chicago Bears (1939 -1950)
  2. Ron Mix, OL, Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders (1960 – 1971)
  3. Benny Friedman, QB, Cleveland Bulldogs, Detroit Wolverines, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers (1927 – 1934)
  4. Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots (2009 – current)
  5. Lyle Alzado, DL, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Raiders (1971 – 1985)
  6. Ed Newman, OL, Miami Dolphins (1973 – 1984)
  7. Harris Barton, OT/G San Francisco 49ers (1987 – 1996)
  8. Harry Newman, QB, New York Giants (1933 – 1945)
  9. Jay Fiedler, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets (1995 – 2005)
  10. Kyle Kosier, OT/G, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys (2002 – 2011)

The call of the Rams to Jewish fans


With a giant headline usually reserved for declarations of war, the Los Angeles Times announced on Jan. 13 that the Rams were bringing pro football back to L.A. But perhaps a shofar should have been sounded instead, considering the Jewish heritage of the team’s former owner — not to mention a former coach and multiple players. And don’t forget the team’s sheep-related name.

When the Cleveland Rams moved to L.A. in 1946, under then-owner Dan Reeves (not to be confused with the NFL player and coach of the same name), there was no Jewish Community Day scheduled for the season, yet there were other plays for a Jewish fan’s attention. That inaugural year featured one Jewish player, Len “Butch” Levy, who was part of the Rams’ championship team the previous year. A versatile player who played guard and tackle, the 250-pound Levy was able to boost his earnings in the offseason, as well as after his football career, by wrestling professionally.

Another Jewish player, Mel Bleeker, signed with the team for the ’47 season and played halfback. Raised in Los Angeles, Bleeker attended Fremont High School, and then USC, recalled Ephraim Moxson, co-editor of the Jewish Sports Review, a bimonthly publication that covers Jewish athletes. 

According to the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, into which Bleeker was inducted in 2014, the player was USC’s quarterback, halfback and fullback from 1940 to 1942. He also was captain of the track team in 1942, and his speed helped him to lead the NFL in receiving yards in his rookie season in 1944. His final NFL season was his only one with the Rams, and he rushed 23 times for 111 yards.

Coming to the Rams in 1951 was former Vanderbilt star Herb Rich, who arrived in Los Angeles after playing for the Baltimore Colts. (He later would play for the New York Giants.) He had a successful seven-year career, playing defensive back and returning punts, and helped the Rams win the 1951 championship game over the Cleveland Browns.

Four years later, Jewish Rams fans cheered at the hiring of a Jewish coach — Sid Gillman, who in 1936 played for the Cleveland Rams. In his first season, he took the Rams back to the NFL championship game, where they lost to the Browns. For the 1960 season, he jumped to the Los Angeles Chargers (another team that is now considering a return to L.A.), where he established his reputation as an innovative, offensive-minded coach, and was one of the first to study game footage. Gillman, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983, died in 2003 at age 91.

A new owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, took over the team in the ’70s. (He wasn’t the first Jewish owner in the team’s history, though; former Cleveland Rams co-owner Fred Levy became the NFL’s first Jewish owner in 1940.) Rosenbloom was the owner of the Baltimore Colts — winners of two NFL titles and a Super Bowl under his control — when he traded his franchise for the Rams in 1972. The team played at the Coliseum, but Jewish fans and passersby could hardly miss the team’s offices located at 10271 W. Pico Boulevard, close to Hillcrest Country Club and Temple Isaiah.

Born in Baltimore in 1907 to Anna and Solomon Rosenbloom, Carroll Rosenbloom was the eighth of nine children. His father, an immigrant from Russia, founded a successful work-clothing manufacturing company. In 1926, Carroll attended the University of Pennsylvania and played halfback for the football team. Eventually, he returned home and began working with his five brothers in the family business first called S. Rosenbloom Inc., then named Blue Ridge Manufacturers. Rosenbloom focused on sales for the company, whose main customers included Sears, JC Penney and Montgomery Ward.

After his father’s death in 1942, Rosenbloom sold the business, which had grown substantially, and used the proceeds to invest in other enterprises, including the Baltimore Colts in 1953. In the 1960 draft, the Colts picked Jewish player Ron Mix, who had grown up without a father in Boyle Heights and was an All-American at USC, but lost him to the upstart Los Angeles Chargers. In “Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Jewish Hall of Fame,” Mix — who went on to become a Hall of Famer — is said to have recounted how Rosenbloom confided to fellow Jewish owner Al Davis that “he would have stopped at nothing to sign Mix” — whose father had changed the family name from Rabinowitz upon immigrating from Russia — if his surname had reflected his heritage.

Rosenbloom was able to sign a Jewish player in 1973, according to Moxson. Bob Stein played two seasons as linebacker for the Rams during a six-year career that also included stops in Kansas City, Minnesota and San Diego. He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Commack, N.Y., in 2005.

The Rams owner was “a hard-driving businessman,” John Eisenberg wrote in the column, “Carroll Rosenbloom: Man of Mystery,” which appeared on Pressbox, a sports website. To this description, in the piece, Gene Klein, late owner of the San Diego Chargers, is quoted as writing “Carroll was one complex individual. Very smart, very tough, often very nasty. He always gave you the feeling that, if you crossed him, he was capable of slitting your throat, then donating your blood to the Red Cross blood drive.” Rosenbloom was also known to help his players set up businesses.

Although Rosenbloom once told a United Press International reporter, “I make no claim to be a religious man,” his feelings about Jewish observance were tossed into the middle of a scheduling dispute with the league in 1976. It happened when a Rams away game with the Miami Dolphins was scheduled for 4 p.m. on Erev Yom Kippur. Rosenbloom felt the timing would cause Jewish fans to leave at halftime so they could go to synagogue, UPI reported. “This is a thing that was done with malice aforethought,” he said. The quote continued, according to “Rozelle: A Biography,” about Pete Rozelle, the league commissioner at the time, “They say, ‘Let’s put the Jew in Miami for Yom Kippur and see how he likes it.’ I just know Rozelle and his stooges were giggling about it the day they released the schedule.” Rosenbloom lost his argument, and the game went on as scheduled.

Sadly, Rosenbloom drowned in 1979 while swimming in Florida. His widow, Georgia Frontiere, with whom he had two children, moved the team to Anaheim in 1980, and eventually St. Louis. Two years after Frontiere’s death in 2008, her children sold the team to current owner Stan Kroenke.

Today, Jewish football fans can rejoice at the return of the Rams, a team with a strong Jewish legacy, to Los Angeles, a city with a Jewish population large enough to fill the Coliseum six times over. 

But what if the NFL schedules a Rams game on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah? In 2016, with the eve of Rosh Hashanah falling on a Sunday, what will a team with shofars printed on the side of their helmets do? Will they butt heads with Rosenbloom’s memory, or heed his call?

St. Louis Rams approved for relocation to Los Angeles


The St. Louis Rams are headed to Los Angeles and the San Diego Chargers have an option to join them after NFL owners voted on Tuesday to end the league's 21-year absence in the United States' second-largest TV market.

Owners voted overwhelmingly to give the Rams approval to return to Los Angeles for the start of the 2016 National Football League season while the Chargers have until next January to agree to lease terms with the Rams.

If the two team's cannot work out a deal then the Oakland Raiders, the other team that was hoping to move to the world's entertainment capital, will be given the first option to work out a deal with the Rams.

“This has been the most difficult process of my professional career,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in a statement. “While we are excited about the prospect of building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this is bitter sweet.”

The Rams, who won one Super Bowl since leaving Los Angeles in 1995 for St. Louis, will play their home games at the L.A. Coliseum until their $1.86 billion stadium in Inglewood, roughly 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, is complete.

The Rams, who first moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland in 1946, will also pay the NFL a $550 million relocation fee.

In his remarks shortly after NFL owners voted 30-2 to ratify the Rams' application for an immediate move, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called relocation a “painful process.”

“It's painful for the fans, the communities, the teams, for the league in general,” said Goodell. “Stability is something that we've taken a great deal of pride in and in some ways a bittersweet moment because we were unsuccessful in being able to get the kind of facilities that we wanted to get done in their home markets.”

The Chargers and Raiders, who began the day as partners in a proposal to share a new stadium in Carson, about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, were each promised $100 million by the NFL for a new stadium in their respective markets should they choose to stay put.

“My goal from the start of this process was to create the options necessary to safeguard the future of the Chargers franchise while respecting the will of my fellow NFL owners,” said Chargers chief executive Dean Spanos. “Today we achieved this goal with the compromise reached by NFL ownership.”

DAY OF INTRIGUE

The day began with representatives from the three relocation candidates making presentations to team owners and ended with a compromise deal not originally on the table.

For 20 years Los Angeles had been an NFL wasteland without a franchise since the Raiders and Rams left the region in 1995.

In the past, the threat of relocation to Los Angeles has worked to push other cities to pony up public money, with the league often encouraging such brinkmanship.

But on Tuesday owners gathered on the fourth floor of a Houston hotel for a two-day meeting eager to bring an end to a two-decades-long saga and had plenty of options to consider.

They could choose one of the two proposals, Kroenke's vision to be constructed on the old Hollywood Park racetrack site or the joint $1.75 billion venture from the Chargers and Raiders for a new state-of-art facility.

At one point during the day of intrigue and high-stakes pitches, it seemed a deal was close to being struck when the NFL's six-owner committee recommended the Carson proposal.

But the first round of voting, however, ended with neither plan surpassing the requisite 24-vote threshold and reports of the Inglewood proposal had become the frontrunner.

The move is expected to bring greater revenue from naming rights, TV and future hosting of the Super Bowl but there are no guarantees that Los Angeles can ultimately support two NFL teams in a city saturated with sports and entertainment options.

Shortly after the Rams move to Los Angeles was confirmed by the NFL, reaction from local officials in St. Louis poured in expressing their disappointment in losing their team.

“Today's decision by the NFL concludes a flawed process that ends with the unthinkable result of St. Louis losing the Rams,” the St. Louis Stadium Task Force said in a statement.

“We will leave it to the NFL to explain how this could happen and hope the next city that may experience what St. Louis has endured will enjoy a happier and more appropriate outcome.”

Top Reform bodies renew call for Redskins to change name, logo


Two top Reform movement groups reiterated their call on the Washington Redskins NFL franchise to change its name and logo.

“’Redskin’ is a racial slur that references the deplorable treatment of American Indians that has been a significant part of this country’s history,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who heads Reform’s Religious Action Center, said in a letter delivered Monday to the franchise’s headquarters by “Change the Mascot,” a group advocating for the change.

“The logo, seemingly attempting to draw upon the archetype of an Indian warrior, blatantly mocks a culture that struggles to survive,” said the letter, addressed to Dan Snyder, who is Jewish, and who in the past has called on Jewish groups to defend him against what he perceived to be anti-Jewish slurs.

Also writing to the team was the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis.

“The intransigence of Redskins ownership is appalling, particularly in light of the tremendous offense that Native American Indians continue to experience as a result of the team’s inappropriate, insulting name,” said the letter signed by Rabbi Denise Eger, the CCAR president, and Rabbi Steven Fox, its CEO.

Reform bodies have advocated for a change of name for the team for decades. The Anti-Defamation League has also repeatedly called for a name-change.

Patriots star Julian Edelman blows through Israel


Ever since New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman’s breakout performance in the Super Bowl last February, football fans have wondered whether they could proudly count him as a member of the tribe.

His latest trip to Israel certainly helps them make the case. Few NFL players have so outwardly identified with the Jewish people.

At the end of June, Edelman spent ten days in Israel with representatives of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and a group of Boston-area young adults. The exploration of his Jewish heritage involved “participating in lots of…quintessentially Israeli experiences,” according to a CJP press release.

Edelman’s marketing company Superdigital – which has helped him create an impressive social media presence, even by the high standards of professional athletes – filmed the journey.

“Exploring my heritage is something I started in the past few years and seeing Israel for the first time, really getting a sense of its history and culture – I now truly understand why it’s so special,” Edelman said in the press release.

The main montage video and a series of shorter clips lets fans watch Edelman pray at the Western Wall, discuss the City of David in Jerusalem, get a haircut in the desert, find a T-shirt that says “Super Jew” and shout the phrase “Yalla!” repeatedly (the term, which is Arabic and Hebrew for “Let’s go,” was the figurative theme of Edelman’s trip).

According to the CJP, Edelman’s trip also included praying with tefillin, sailing in the Sea of Galilee, swimming in the Dead Sea, riding a Jeep through the Negev Desert, playing football with Israel’s national team and getting a tour of Tel Aviv’s notable graffiti art. He passed through Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and the Negev region.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence after all that Edelman’s signature JEII logo – a combination of his initials and his jersey number – looks a lot like the word “Jew.”

Watch the main video chronicling Edelman’s adventurous trip below.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft: NFL suspension of Tom Brady ‘unfathomable’


Robert Kraft, the Jewish owner of the New England Patriots, slammed the National Football League for suspending Tom Brady, his team’s star quarterback, for the first four games of the upcoming season.

In a statement Wednesday, Kraft called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision the previous day to uphold Brady’s suspension announced five weeks earlier “unfathomable.”

Brady is accused of participating in a scheme, which has come to be known as “Deflategate,” in which air was let out of footballs used in the January 2015 AFC Championship Game and of obstructing an NFL investigation, including by destroying his cellphone.

Both the National Football League and the NFL Players Association have filed federal lawsuits in the case. Kraft said in his statement that he will not speak again about the matter until the end of the legal proceedings.

Kraft told his team’s supporters that he was sorry for not taking the matter to court when it came to light earlier this year.

“I want to apologize to the fans of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. I was wrong to put my faith in the league,” he said. “Personally, this is very sad and disappointing to me.”

Kraft is the main benefactor of football in Israel, sponsoring the Kraft Family Israel Football League and funding the construction of the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.

In June, Kraft led a mission to Israel of 19 Pro Football Hall of Famers.

What if football’s opening weekend acknowledged Rosh Hashanah?


Much has been made of the start date of the 2015 NFL season, which falls on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

But the truth is that football always starts around the Jewish New Year in September. What if Jewish football fans pushed to integrate Rosh Hashanah into the opening game broadcasts? After all, football has been played on Thanksgiving for decades.

This is the idea behind Rabbi Daniel Brenner’s post this week in the New Jersey Jewish News. Brenner laments the fact that New York Giants offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who is probably the most prominent of the handful of Jews in the NFL, is not planning to skip his team’s first game (which falls on the evening of Sept. 13, the first night of Rosh Hashanah) in Sandy Koufax fashion. He could redeem himself, Brenner writes, by bringing Rosh Hashanah to the game.

Brenner runs wild with the idea:

You know how on Thanksgiving telecasts of the past, John Madden would serve a real turkey after the game and give one of the legs to the most valuable player? How great would it be if during a national broadcast the players might take a break from their bitter rivalry to dip apples and honey and wish their Jewish fans and teammates a Shana tova u’metuka?

The TV crew would have a field day creating the popping, spinning 3-D “Happy Rosh Hashana” graphic where slices of apple, like footballs, soared through the air and landed in an end zone of honey. At halftime, crates of apples and jars of honey could be brought out in old-fashioned wheelbarrows while Phish’s cover of “Avinu Malkeinu” blasted on the loudspeakers. It would be good for the Jews … And it would be good for the NFL. Coming off a sour season of domestic violence scandals and head injury inquiries, the league might appreciate a blessing for a sweet new year. Can’t a rabbi dream?

Given the scarcity of Jews who currently play in the NFL (estimates indicate that there are fewer than 10), this most certainly is a dream. Furthermore, Rosh Hashanah is not a secular phenomenon like Thanksgiving, a holiday that is intricately intertwined with American culture.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting thought. And there are examples to build on in other sports, most notably the NBA’s slate of games on Christmas day.

If Schwartz isn’t up for it, maybe quasi-Jew Julian Edelman could take up the cause.

NFL schedule: Jews won’t be happy about football’s Rosh Hashanah start date


On Rosh Hashanah, according to the liturgy, our fate is written in the Book of Life.

But Jewish football fans may be spending the holiday thinking about something else: the NFL opening games they are missing.

The 2015 NFL schedule was released on Tuesday, and the season kickoff is on Sept. 13, which is the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

The first game of the season, as it has been in recent years, is on a Thursday (Sept. 10). But the following Sunday (Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 13) kicks off the season for most of the league’s teams — all but six to be exact. New York area fans will be most disappointed as they prepare to go to synagogue — the Giants play on Sunday night at 8:30.

There are also two Monday night games that coincide with the first full day of Rosh Hashanah. The Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers all play on Monday.

Former Patriots star Hernandez gets life in prison for 2013 killing


Former National Football League star Aaron Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for murdering an acquaintance in an industrial park near his Massachusetts home, concluding the first of two murder trials he faces this year.

A Massachusetts jury found Hernandez, 25, guilty of first-degree murder in the June 2013 slaying of Odin Lloyd, who had been dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée at the time. During the trial, the men were described as having been in the early stages of friendship, but Hernandez soured on Lloyd after the man hung out with people the former New England Patriots tight end disliked.

Massachusetts Superior Court Associate Justice Susan Garsh sentenced Hernandez to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the mandatory punishment for first-degree murder in the state.

Hernandez, who had stood to hear the verdict, collapsed into his chair after the verdict was read, and court security officers handcuffed him. His mother and fiancée, who were in court, broke into tears.

Members of Lloyd's family welcomed the verdict but said the pain of losing Lloyd would linger.

“I felt like I wanted to go into the hole with my son, Odin. I will never have a grandchild from my son, or grandchildren. I will never get to dance at his wedding,” said Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward.

“He was the big brother that everybody would love to have. … These last couple of years have been the hardest time of our lives,” said Olivia Thibou, Lloyd's younger sister.

The Patriots cut Hernandez, a rising star with a $41 million contract, hours after his arrest on June 26, 2013, nine days after a teenage jogger found Lloyd's body.

The highly publicized case was another black eye for the NFL. The United States' most profitable sports league was already facing a lawsuit by former players who contend it ignored the concussion risks they faced on the gridiron and criticism for its handling of cases involving domestic violence by players.

During four months of testimony, the jury heard from more than 130 witnesses who testified that Hernandez, a native of Bristol, Connecticut, was a regular user of marijuana and sometimes of the stimulant PCP, that he owned guns and at times acted paranoid and that he said he felt his friends did not appreciate the things he did for them.

The witnesses included Alexander Bradley, a former friend of Hernandez who charged in a civil lawsuit that the former NFL player shot him in the face in February 2013, costing him an eye. Bradley, who never pursued criminal charges over the incident, testified that he saw Hernandez handle a gun similar to the one used to kill Lloyd but was not allowed to tell the jury about the shooting.

Investigators never recovered the .45-caliber Glock pistol that was used to pump six bullets into Lloyd, 27, who had been a semiprofessional football player.

Robert Kraft, the Patriots' billionaire owner, was also called to the stand. Kraft testified that Hernandez said he was innocent and claimed to have been at a nightclub at the time of the killing.

Prosecutors contended that two friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, were with Hernandez at the time of the killing. Those two men will be tried separately.

Defense lawyers closed their case by saying Hernandez had been present at the time of Lloyd's slaying, but had been a witness not a participant.

“He was a 23-year-old kid who witnessed … a shocking killing committed by somebody he knew,” said defense attorney James Sultan. “He really didn't know what to do. So he just put one foot in front of the other.”

Prosecutors countered that Hernandez had plotted and controlled every detail of the slaying.

“He believed he could kill Odin Lloyd and nobody would ever believe that he was involved,” said Assistant District Attorney William McCauley.

Hernandez was also found guilty of two firearms charges for illegally possessing the handgun used in the crime and illegally possessing .22-caliber ammunition found at his North Attleborough, Massachusetts, home.

Hernandez faces another trial beginning later this year in Boston, where he is charged with fatally shooting Cape Verdean nationals Daniel Abreu and Safirdo Furtado outside a nightclub after one of them spilled a drink. The jury that rendered the Lloyd verdict was not told about that case

The Patriots’ Julian Edelman’s Jewish ties


During the Super Bowl Sunday night, many Jews across the country no doubt had the same question: Is Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman Jewish?

Edelman had an excellent game Sunday night, catching nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in New England’s dramatic comeback victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He also happens to have a Jewish-sounding name.

But is he actually a member of the tribe?

While his father has Ashkenazi roots, this is what Edelman had to say on the topic on a media day before his previous Super Bowl appearance with the Patriots in 2012:

“Well, I’m not completely Jewish, if you know what I mean. I know people want me to be. My father is Jewish. My mother isn’t. I’ve been asked this before. I guess you could say I’m kind of Jewish but not really.”

For the record, while traditional Jews believe one must have a Jewish mother or convert in order to be considered Jewish, both Reform and Reconstructionist Jews recognize patrilineal descent.

In an interview with the NFL Network last season, Edelman asserted more clearly that he is in fact Jewish. When asked for some “good Christmas answers” to questions from one broadcaster, Edelman said, “Well, I’m Jewish, but I’ll try to keep it to Hanukkah presents even though Hanukkah’s over.”

Here are a few facts about the Patriots’ Jewish (or not) star receiver:

He played quarterback in college.

Before shifting to wide receiver in the pros, Edelman was a quarterback for a year at the College of San Mateo in California and three years at Kent State. During his senior year at the Ohio school, he also led the Golden Flashes in rushing yards. No word on whether he also showed up at the campus Hillel.

He was not expected to do well in the pros.

Scouting reports from 2009, the year Edelman entered the NFL draft, called him too small and said he would not be a high-impact player. Edelman was not even invited to participate in the NFL Combine, a show of physical tests for professional scouts. He was drafted in the seventh and final round.

His father (not exactly your stereotypical American Jewish dad) became an auto mechanic at age 14 but pushed him to succeed.

After his Super Bowl win Sunday night, Edelman told reporters:

“My dad was just a little trailer trash white dude that worked his tail off, didn’t have a dad. He started working at 14, didn’t get to play sports. He dedicated his life to his kids to let us live our dreams. I love my dad.”

ESPN ‘s Jackie MacMullan expanded on the influence of Edelman’s father, who pushed the future star to tears while training him.

His teammates nicknamed him “squirrel.”

Not much to explain here except that Edelman is noted for his constant hustle and energy.

It is worth pointing out that Edelman is not even the most Jewish player on the Patriots — backup safety Nate Ebner’s father was a Sunday school principal at Temple Shalom in Springfield, Ohio. In addition, team owner Robert Kraft is Jewish and, a week before the Super Bowl, spoke at an event honoring the rabbi of a Brookline, Mass., synagogue. (Kraft’s speech starts at 28:00.)

Who knows? Maybe Tom Brady’s menorah will inspire Edelman to become more involved with his Jewish side.

What Jewish ethics tell us about ‘Deflategate’


“Deflategate,” the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots that has made national news, made its way to a Houston business conference led by a rabbi.

Rabbi Yossi Grossman, dean of the Jewish Ethics Institute, on Monday transformed the football prattle into a high-minded look at ethics on the playing field in his bimonthly talk before some city businesspeople. To make his points, he cited the Exodus story, Talmud, the rabbinic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Code of Jewish Law and prohibitions against theft of money and of mind.

Theft of mind means presenting one’s credentials misleadingly, to the presenter’s benefit, Grossman said.

“The question is, who was actually committing fraud here? Was it the quarterback, the coach, the owner?” Grossman asked.

Discussions of right and wrong in sports typically tend toward on-field strategies: a baseball manager yanking a starter or a football coach opting for a field goal rather than a first down.

Rarely do ethical dilemmas enter the discourse, at least to the degree of “Deflategate” — allegations that the Patriots had deflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage during their Jan. 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game. Their 45-7 victory earned the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday against the defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks.

The controversy appears to stretch toward the scandal summit that over the past decade has witnessed revelations of steroids’ prevalence in Major League Baseball and bicyclist Lance Armstrong’s doping, to cite two extremes.

To Rabbi David Hoffman, who teaches a course on business ethics at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Western civilization and traditional Judaism codify ethical behavior, regardless of setting.

“Rules governing truth telling, honesty and misrepresenting ourselves are as applicable in sports as they are in business or other aspects of human relationships,” Hoffman said.

The Talmud’s prohibition on “misrepresenting” oneself is a bit tricky in sports, though. Diving outfielders and wide receivers routinely attempt to draw favorable rulings even knowing that a ball has hit the turf. Catchers “frame” pitches off the plate to induce strike calls.

Such efforts often earn fan praise; rarely do they prompt castigation for trickery. In any case, such deception violates nothing in their sports’ rulebooks and no punishments are risked.

In a juxtaposition at the Australian Open just days after Deflategate broke, an unranked American tennis player, Tim Smyczek, motioned to the chair umpire to allow the highly favored Rafael Nadal to retake his first serve after a heckling fan caused a disturbance. Smyczek wound up losing the pivotal point in the fifth set of the second-round match.

His actions sparked talk on sports radio about the merits of sportsmanship, including whether Smyczek unnecessarily exhibited fair play and even whether Nadal should have declined the waiver. But the discussion occupied a far different place on the sports-ethics spectrum than Deflategate.

In Judaism, Hoffman said, the rule is clear: Tell the truth.

“Lying and misrepresenting are bad anywhere, and we know it,” he said. “We want one area of our life to be pure, and we hope that’s sports.”

Hoffman emphasized that with the National Football League’s investigation continuing, he’s not suggesting that the Patriots are guilty of violating rules or of lying to present a false image of compliance. Nor in Houston was Grossman jumping to conclusions about whether the Patriots, who were punished for violating league rules by filming an opponent in 2007, did anything untoward against the Colts.

If New England created an unfair advantage to reach the Super Bowl and then proceeds to defeat Seattle, its punishment could be a championship tainted in many sports fans’ eyes, Grossman said. That is akin, he posited, to Pharaoh’s surviving the 10th plague only to endure the humiliation of the Jews’ exodus and his military’s destruction at the Red Sea.

The discussion made Scott Asarch, an insurance benefits manager, ponder the Torah’s and rabbinical decrees on acceptable lengths to which “you can push the envelope,” he said.

Asarch told Grossman at Monday’s study session that the Patriots — who have a Jewish owner, Robert Kraft — did not violate NFL rules because the balls’ air pressure fell within league guidelines.

“As a fan, I don’t have a problem with gaining a competitive advantage without breaking the rules,” Asarch said later. “You’re doing a better job.”

New ways to detect brain damage could be huge for NFL


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Football has come under increased scrutiny following findings that the contact sport has been causing serious brain trauma in players. Now, a team of researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev's (BGU) Brain Imaging Research Center has developed a method that can detect damage to the brain much earlier than previously thought.

“This is an important study, it gives us the opportunity for the first time to be able to look at a functional change in the brain and individuals who've had concussions or sub-concussive head injuries,” Dr. Lee Goldstein, Associate Professor at Boston University School of Medicine, told The Media Line. “We know that these injuries are occurring… but at the moment we don't have an easy or meaningful way to diagnose these injuries in individuals, and this is a technique that may allow us to do that.”

After nearly a decade of research, Dr. Alon Friedman and his team of researchers at BGU developed a contrast-enhanced MRI that is able to identify significant damage to the blood vessels of the brain much earlier than was previously possible.

“We developed the study following basic research in animals which showed that the blood-brain barrier can break down after trauma or strokes, which can lead to complications,” Friedman told The Media Line. “Following these studies we decided it was crucial to develop ways to measure leakage in blood vessels.”

The blood-brain barrier is a permeable membrane separating circulating blood from extracellular fluid. This membrane protects the brain and prevents certain substances from entering it. If there is a breach in the barrier, external factors can cause inflammation that worsens psychiatric and neurological effects of any present brain injury.

The new method of MRI detects and localizes pathologies in the brain's blood vessels caused by even mild brain injuries. The Dynamic Contrast-Enhanced MRI generates more detailed brain maps that are able to show brain regions with vascular abnormalities.

“We tested it in football players from a local team and used athletes in non-contact sports as a control group,” Friedman said. “The big difference is that 40 percent of the football players showed significant pathology [in the blood vessels and blood barrier] before any other pathology can be seen,” he said.

The damage only showed up in the MRI Friedman and his team developed. The same players who showed brain damage in the contrast-enhanced MRI showed completely normal brain scans in previous MRI exams.

Friedman said they focused the study on football players because they have been known to suffer complications from injuries to the head, including depression, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The previous studies they ran on animals showed that a breakdown in the blood barrier could lead to similar pathologies, but until now the diagnostic capability to identify mild injuries soon after the trauma didn't exist.

“There are two separate things we need to know about – the acute injuring which is what happens in and around the time of the single episode, and what happens chronically, over a period of many hits and what happens thereafter,” Goldstein said. “At the moment, we have no good way of sorting out either one, nor do we have a good way of being able to relate one to the other. This technique really offers for the first time a way to do both, to look at the acute injury and at what happens over a season,” he said, adding this technique could also provide a way to tell who is at risk for brain injury.

Although the study focused on football players, brain injuries are also common among soldiers which contributes to many neurological and psychological symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dr. Hadar Shalev, a psychiatrist in charge of the trauma clinic at Soroka Medical Center, told The Media Line that even though the vast majority of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are considered mild or moderate, the disabilities that accompany them can be quite serious.

Around 10 percent of patients with a traumatic brain injury will continue to suffer from post-concussion syndrome, which can cause dizziness and headaches that can persist for weeks after suffering a brain injury. Problems with concentration, memory and problem solving have also been associated with brain injuries; distressed moods, irritability, difficulty sleeping and low frustration thresholds are common as well,

“It's important to understand that most of the time we don't see the pathologies early enough. We have no objective measure of when they should go back to play, if at all,” Friedman said. “When the damage appears in the exams it’s too late. What we are trying to create is a test that can detect very early on the brain pathologies, at a stage where we hope it can still be reversed,” he added.

Since TBIs change the brains of patients, the psychiatric effects must be treated differently as well. Shalev told The Media Line that because many of these patients have brain damage, the effects are difficult to deal with, something the new detection method might be able to help with.

“Because it is due to brain damage in many cases, [symptoms like depression] are hard to deal with, the techniques we use to treat psychoses in non-TBI patients aren't applicable.” Shalev told The Media Line.

He said that some patients may not recognize the symptoms and often self-medicate in order to deal with issues like severe anxiety or depression. That in turn, leads to a growing incidence of substance abuse among TBI patients.

“If I can identify the process in the brain of the patient, maybe I will be able to provide different treatments to reduce stress around the brain,” Shalev said.

The initial study at BGU was relatively small, so it's essential to enlarge the studies and apply it to other fields in order to confirm the method works and is relevant. Additional studies which they hope to conduct in the US and Canada would specify the conditions in which the method works and areas where there is still room for improvement.

This new detection method is also applicable to other types of diseases, unrelated to brain injuries sustained in contact sports. A certain percentage of patients with Alzheimer's disease and dementia also suffer from the same brain pathologies the new MRI detects, which can lead to earlier detection and treatment of these degenerative diseases.

Facing a culture of violence


If you know me, you know I love watching and playing sports. I played soccer and tennis in high school, and blew out both of my knees playing daily basketball in my 20s and 30s.  Last week, I brought my Derek Jeter shirt to the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and I have many times been told the legendary stories of how Rabbi Galpert z’l would announce the scores of playoff games to the congregation from the pulpit.  That was in the age before smart phones and Tivo, so you are on your own now!  Yet, even though I love sports, I can see that we are facing a problem, one that we wish we could ignore as we cheer and wear our jerseys and support our teams.  This problem is a culture of violence and aggression that we all live in and that needs to be addressed.  And, the problem is severe in one of our most popular sports, which has been making headlines recently.  Friends, football, from tiny tots to college to the NFL, has become a problem.  I first addressed this issue 18 years ago, in my student high holiday pulpit, deep in New England Patriots country, and it has become even more important to talk about since then, if not any more popular.  I hope you will keep listening.

We read last week on Rosh Hashanah part of the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael.  One lesson of this story is that there are sometimes moments in life when what we do or how we act seems to make sense, seems to be the right decision, the right action in the moment, but in the aftermath, maybe immediately or maybe much, much later, even generations later, we discover that it was not the right choice at all.  Abraham follows Sarah’s lead and kicks Hagar and Ishmael out of the family.  It is a complicated story; God seems to tell Abraham to listen to Sarah, even though the text says Abraham was conflicted and cared about his son with Hagar, Ishmael, his first born child.  This mythical action might be seen as a beginning of the millennia old and sometimes seemingly intractable conflict between Jews and Arabs.  Had Sarah made a different decision, had she not acted on fear and jealousy, which the midrash states she did, things might have been different for our ancestors and for us today. If our story were told differently, we might feel differently about Arabs, and they might feel differently about us. In the moment, Sarah thought she was doing the right thing, protecting Isaac, following God’s plan.  Yet now, in the aftermath, we have to wonder. 

So here is where I might shock you.  I believe that American football, of all the competitive sports we play, watch and cherish, is a sport that we thought was a good idea at its inception in the late 19th and early 20th century, but has turned out ruinous.  Even before Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on a security camera video knocking his fiancé unconscious and then dragging her limp body out of an elevator, we knew there was a problem, a connection between football and violence, but we, as fans and as a society willfully turned the other way. Now, it is shockingly visible as this video is repeated over and over again on sports TV and on the internet.  Between the culture of violence that football glorifies and sanitizes, and perhaps even encourages, and the intense physical and mental toll that it has now been proven to take on its players as a result of repeated head trauma, I think that my thesis of 18 years ago, that football is a game that needs to be reconsidered, is taking on a more serious tone.  And hey, another idea I had when I was a rabbinical student still has legs today!

I am aware that the USC fans in the room are bummed because the game today is at 4:30, while the UCLA fans will be breaking the fast and running to try and make kick off at 7:30. I am also aware that not everyone in this room cares about or follows football. So before anyone gets up and leaves, or cancels your membership or attempts to sack me up here, either for criticizing football, or for talking about something outside of your personal interests, let me broaden the topic and explain why I think it is relevant enough to raise on this day, Yom Kippur, the holiest in our calendar.  I spoke on erev Rosh Hashanah about the decline of violence and Professor Pinker’s theory that we are actually safer today, living in a less violent world, than ever before.  And that may be true on a global scale, and that is a blessing.  Yet, if we look at the hugely influential entertainment of our popular culture, from sports to video games to music to films and television, one might not get the impression that violence is on the decline.  Football is a popular form of entertainment and a multi-billion dollar business that borrows heavily from militaristic lingo and metaphors, such as shotgun formation, holding the line, attacking the end zone, blitzing.  Examples besides football? How about Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games or endless loops of CSI – three TV shows and movies among too many to count with gruesome murder as central plot points.  How many of your children, or how many of you, play Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto? These are video games which exalt war and crime, in which we choose to entertain ourselves by pretending to steal and kill and rape.  Do we not think that this has an effect on the psyches of our young people and ourselves?  We have debated this for years as a society, and it continues to be maddening because the free-market tells us that if people desire it and pay for it, there is no problem selling it.  I am not going to talk about the insidious, self-perpetuating effects of an unchecked free market, or sensible gun control, or the multi-billion dollar business of producing and selling weaponry that our country continues to be addicted to, but don’t think that they are not related.  Despite Pinker’s prognosis to the contrary, our country is steeped in, and dare I say addicted to, a culture of violence.

In his chapters on repentance, Maimonides writes the following: “Free will is bestowed on every human being.  If one desires to turn toward the good way and be righteous, she has the power to do so.  If one wishes to turn toward the evil way and be wicked, he is at liberty to do so….This means that the human species is unique in the world, there being no other species like it in the following respect, namely, that humans of themselves and by the exercise of their own intelligence and reason, know what is good and what is evil, and there is none who can prevent him/her from doing that which is good or that which is evil.” (Laws of Repentance, Chapter 5:1).  Maimonides bases this teaching on the beginning of Genesis where Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and determine the fate of all of us: we are given the ability to choose and determine a fair amount of our destiny, and God acknowledges that we will sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.  And while God will always love us and accept us, God will not intervene to right wrongs that we choose to make.  That is the theology of free-will, a theology that allows our lives to unfold, and a theology that sometimes seems harsh and unfair.  God didn’t invent football or Grand Theft Auto, we did.  Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, teaches, “Everything is preordained, but we have free-will.”  A difficult paradox, but our tradition is clear that the power to choose or to change lies with us. 

So why am I picking on football?  I love the game of football.  The execution of the game is awesome, and I enjoy playing a good game of flag or touch football, too.  I could be picking on hockey, another game that is beautiful but destructive, and for some reason, they actually allow fighting to take place, and some people enjoy the sport just for that reason.  I grew up loving the Rocky movies; I could certainly pick on boxing or mixed martial arts.  How about skateboarding, or luge, or getting hit by a pitch in baseball or NASCAR?  All sports involve risk.  Athletes are people with free-will, and as the Rambam taught, they have freely chosen to take those risks.  But, the essence of football, play after play, down after down, especially for the linemen and linebackers, involves slamming your head at full force into others, even though they have tried to alter the rules, improve the helmets, and penalize for illegal hits.  We know the damage that is happening, with increasing numbers of lawsuits filed by players against the NFL, and more stringent rules for youth players being forced to sit out if concussion is suspected. But we don’t seem to care as long as we are entertained, and the powers that be in the sport don’t seem to care as long as they are making money and preserving tradition.  And because football is exponentially more popular than boxing or MMA or even NASCAR, its ability to influence us, or the people around us, with its violence merits our attention.

And, of course, we can’t ignore the off-the-field violence, which was highlighted this summer by the elevator video I mentioned earlier.  Domestic violence could have been its own sermon topic, and I am not suggesting that men abuse their wives or children because they play football.  But I am suggesting that the violence required in the game seems to exacerbate the violent behavior that some players exhibit off the field.  The amount of testosterone and drive that men need to play football, week after week, at the highest level, can turn them into animals for the time they are on the field.  That is what we crave, right?  That is what the Grant Theft Auto-playing part of our being craves.  The yetzer ha’rah, normally translated as the evil inclination, is a necessary force in our existence, so much so that the rabbis of the Talmud understood that without it, we wouldn’t survive or have the drive to become our best selves.  But, when our yetzer ha’rah is unchecked, we lose our ability to reason or show compassion or assert self-control over our basest impulses. 

Not all football players are violent people, and football fans are not bad people.  I can’t address today all of the socio-economic, racial, familial, and other complexities that contribute to the culture violence in society and in football.  I can’t address celebrities, politicians, CEOs and other people (mostly men) of power and prestige who are excused for many behaviors we find abhorrent.  But in highlighting the problems we know exist in one of our most popular forms of entertainment, I hope to wake us up to the power of our free will.  We can condone, excuse or ignore violence, or we can make changes to decrease and delegitimize violence. Teshuvah, returning, renewing, repenting, is about the choices we have to better our lives.  Teshuvah is about looking in the mirror, examining who we are, personally, societally, Jewishly, globally, and being brave enough to speak unpopular truths, and make hard, maybe painful decisions.  Teshuvah requires us to say that we made a mistake, we erred, we were wrong.  Abraham and Sarah made mistakes; Moses made mistakes; King David made mistakes.  In fact, one of the best stories about a mistake in the Bible involves King David.

King David sees Batsheva bathing, is smitten with her, and like kings of all generations, he wants what he wants.  Batsheva is married to Uriah, one of David’s top generals, so King David schemes to have Uriah placed on the front lines, and as expected, he is killed.  David then marries Batsheva himself and she bears him a son.  God was very upset about David’s action, and God sends the prophet Nathan to chastise the king.  Nathan offers David this parable: a hungry traveler arrives in a town hoping to eat.  The traveler goes to the rich man, who has thousands of sheep, and the rich man says no, he won’t feed him.  Instead, the rich man takes the one sheep of the poor man in town and gives it to the traveler.  Upon hearing this parable, King David flies into a rage and says that is horrible, that rich man should be executed.  Nathan tells the king: the rich man is YOU, your majesty, who has wealth and riches and wives galore, but still you took the one wife of Uriah and had him killed.  King David admits he is guilty and he is punished.  The ending is classic Bible, so go and read it, 2 Samuel, Chapter 11-12.

We have a culture of violence in our country that we have to face in the mirror.  If someone said to us, “imagine a society in which young men are trained for a sport that is known to inflict permanent damage to their precious brains, leave many of them crippled, depressed, and even suicidal, just so we can enjoy watching and being entertained; imagine a society in which children and adults play video games where they carry out violent and immoral acts, in harrowing real-life graphics, for hours on end; imagine a society in which people long for and believe in peace, justice and security for all, but spend billions of valuable, hard-earned dollars producing, buying and distributing entertainment that glorifies and illustrates violence incessantly, in mind-numbing endless loops.  Wouldn’t you feel like King David, and say, “that is horrible, that must stop!”  Yom Kippur is like the parable that the prophet Nathan tells, it is the mirror that we must look into, and I am asking us to look into it and see who we are and what we are doing.  We tolerate the NFL, and have for years, even though we know the dire consequences that come to many of the players, and we also know the destructive behavior that seems to go unchecked by other players.  But, come Sunday, we don’t care.  Maimonides teaches us, as does the Torah: we have the choice, we have free-will, we can decide to do things differently. 

Do I think that this sermon is going to end football, or violent video games, or cable TV’s obsession with violent crime, or our human fascination with violence?  Of course not.  Will I watch the Super Bowl?  Maybe, but with guilt.  Will I hope that when most of you watch the Super Bowl, you might think about what I am saying today?  Yes, I can dream a bit.  Will I pray that this year we can have an open discussion as a culture about the violent, damaging images we put in front of our kids and ourselves, on the field and on the screen?  Absolutely, and I hope you will join me in that discussion.  Like Sarah and Abraham, like all the people who came before us, like all the people in this room, we sometimes do things, create things, say things that in one moment seemed needed or right or positive.  But we later learn we were wrong.  We made a mistake.  The key to teshuvah, from the most personal to the most global, is to acknowledge error, to take responsibility, and to change and grow.  That is our task.  This year, I keep coming back to Rabbi Tarfon: the day is short, the work is long.  It is not up to us to finish the task, but we are never free to stop trying.  It is not up to us to finish, but it is up to us to begin.

G’mar chatimah tovah (and GO DODGERS).

Blockers and tacklers: Jewish gridders gearing up for NFL campaign


Blocking brothers, a college star seeking success in the pros, a fullback who hasn’t had a carry in four seasons and a couple of ace special teamers are among the Jewish players on NFL rosters as the league kicks off this week.

A punter may join the group after sitting out the preseason because of a personal issue.

Also, Marc Trestman is back for his second season as coach of the Chicago Bears after moving to the NFL following a stellar career on the sidelines in the Canadian Football League. The Bears finished 8-8 in his rookie campaign.

The National Football League season opens Thursday – not on Rosh Hashanah, like a year ago.

While the crop of Jewish players may not be stellar, Ephraim Moxson, a co-editor of Jewish Sports Review, sees hope – if not now, then five years off. That could be when the NFL welcomes Josh Rosen, a top high school quarterback who already is committed to attend UCLA, which this year is expected to be a top five team.

“It’s cyclical,” Moxson said. “We have some pretty good athletes in Division I.”

The 2014 NFL cohort includes:

Geoff Schwartz, New York Giants, offensive lineman, sixth season. Accomplished at guard and tackle, Schwartz was signed as a free agent by the Giants to a reported four-year, $16.8 million deal, with $6.2 million guaranteed – a key provision in NFL contracts, whose salaries are generally not guaranteed. Schwartz was brought in to shore up a weak Giants line, but injured a toe in the preseason and may be shelved for half the campaign. Pro Football Focus, an analytics website, praised Schwartz especially for his run blocking.

Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland Browns, offensive lineman, third season. Mitchell Schwartz, the younger brother of Geoff, is a solid player up front for an offense that NFL observers expect to struggle without its most explosive player, wide receiver Josh Gordon, due to a yearlong suspension, and possibly eventually featuring a rookie quarterback, the former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Nate Ebner, New England Patriots, defensive back, third season. His position is listed as safety, but Ebner plays almost strictly on special teams, where he excelled as an Ohio State University walk-on. As a Patriots special teamer, Ebner has performed well, recovering two fumbles last season to go with three tackles. He had been a standout in another contact sport, rugby. His high school rugby coach was his father, Jeff, who was beaten to death in 2008 during a robbery.

Gabe Carimi, Atlanta Falcons, offensive lineman, fourth season. The 2010 Outland Trophy winner as college football’s best interior lineman, Carimi was the Bears’ first-round draft pick but is on his third team in four years following his release from Tampa Bay after just one season there. With the Falcons boasting a top-flight quarterback and perhaps the NFL’s best corps of wide receivers, Carimi will be counted on to return to the form he showed at the University of Wisconsin.

Taylor Mays, Cincinnati Bengals, safety, fifth season. In 50 games with the San Francisco 49ers and the Bengals, including 10 starts, Mays has no interceptions and just six passes defended. But he plays regularly on special teams and last year showed versatility on defense, filling in at linebacker because of injuries. His own shoulder injury ended Mays’ 2013 season in October. Mays, an African-American who was raised in his mother’s Jewish religion, was a three-time All-America at the University of Southern California. The family boasts additional football talent: Mays’ brother, Parker, is a redshirt freshman wide receiver for the University of San Diego.

Adam Podlesh, Pittsburgh Steelers, punter, eighth season. A Bears teammate of Carimi for two years, Podlesh is a newcomer in Pittsburgh – if he winds up on the roster. While he is the Steelers’ only punter with NFL experience, Podlesh did not report to the team, instead staying with his wife during a reportedly difficult pregnancy. The former University of Maryland punter has a career average of 42.4 yards, with his longest kick going for 76 yards as a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Erik Lorig, New Orleans Saints, fullback, fifth season. A starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 24 of his 56 NFL games, Lorig has yet to carry the ball. With the Saints he’ll remain strictly a blocking back – and is “tremendous” at it, in Moxson’s assessment. In the past two seasons, the Stanford alumnus – he played defensive end in college – has caught 23 passes, including one for a touchdown. That score makes him unique among the current Jewish players.

 

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