Nothing trivial about these Jews on the gridiron


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the brothers, the answer is no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Days in the Arts


5Saturday

Young Artists International returns to Los Angeles with its third annual International Laureates Music Festival of classical and chamber music performed by gifted young professional musicians. In concert tonight, soloists Alexandru Tomescu (violin) and Valentina (piano) join members of the I PALPITI chamber orchestra in a program of works by French composers. 8 p.m. $25. Zipper Hall, Colburn School of Performing Arts, 200 S. Grand, Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 281-3303.

The Beverly Hills Civic Center Public Art Walking Tour is offered the first Saturday of each month. Art works viewed on today’s tour include sculpture by August Rodin and pieces by Henry Moore and Claes Oldenburg. 1 p.m. Departs from the front of Beverly Hills City Hall, 450 N. Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills. For additional information, call (310) 288-2201.

6Sunday

Celebrate the Jewish cultures of the Middle East at the Mizrahi Festival. Music, dance and storytelling performances highlight the artistry of communities across the Middle East, from world musician Yair Dalal’s concerts with AL OL Ensemble, to the Persian dance and music of Banafsheh Sayyad with the Namah Ensemble. Middle Eastern cuisine and an artisan showcase will be included in this family festival at the Skirball Cultural Center. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $8 (general admission); $6 (students/seniors); free for children under 12 and members. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Advance tickets recommended by calling (323) 655-8587.

7Monday

Though he was a carpenter by trade, Polish poet Mordecai Gebirtig wrote words that became theme songs of Eastern European Jewish life in the 1920s and ’30s. His songs were sung in ghettos and concentration camps during WW II, and provided inspiration for taking up arms against the Nazis. Dr. Sean Martin, scholar-in-residence at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust tonight presents a lecture on Gebirtig’s work, with both recorded and live performances of his songs. 7 p.m. 6006 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP, (323) 761-8170.

8Tuesday

In a bravura performance, concert pianist and actor Hershey Felder brings to life the struggles, triumphs and music of America’s beloved composer in “George Gershwin Alone,” a return engagement at the intimate Tiffany Theatre in West Hollywood. The uninterrupted, 90-minute show includes a generous menu of the man who “made an honest woman out of jazz,” ending with a breathtaking rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” (or, as Gershwin’s father insisted on calling it, “Rhapsody for Jews.”) Through Aug. 20 at the Tiffany Theatre, 8532 Sunset Blvd. Tickets for Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays are $35; Fridays and Saturdays $39.50. For reservations, call (310) 289-2999. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

9Wednesday

Photography and video art are featured in two exhibitions opening this week at MOCA at California Plaza. “John Gutmann: Culture Shock” focuses on a group of 100 photographs selected by the artist to exemplify more than half a century of work, including documentary photos of the odd and marvelous in Asia, Europe and the U.S., as well as his experiments with Surrealism. Another exhibit, “MEDI(t)Ations: Adrian Piper’s Videos, Installations, Performances and Soundworks 1968-1992” shows the artist’s increasingly political work in those forms. Both exhibits through Nov. 5. $6 (general admission); $4 (students and seniors). 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 621-2766.

10Thursday

Before the full torrent of this year’s political television commercials hits, brush up on the engaging and controversy-filled history of political ads at the Museum of Television and Radio. The new exhibit, “Madison Avenue Goes to Washington: The History of Presidential Campaign Advertising” is a screening of the most memorable and significant presidential ads created from 1952-1996, with narration placing them in historical context. Wed.-Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 12. Suggested contribution: $6 (adults); $4 (students and seniors); $3 (children under 13). 465 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills. (310) 786-1025.

11Friday

“Aimee and Jaguar”, this year’s German submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is a true story. The setting is Berlin in 1943; a love affair blossoms between two women. One of them, Lilly Wust (who told her story to the writer of the book upon which the film is based), was married and the mother of four sons, an exemplar of Nazi motherhood. The other woman, Felice Schragenheim, a Jew and member of the underground, finds in their love a hope for her survival. In German with English subtitles. Times vary. $8.50 (general admission); $6.50 (students); $5.50 (seniors). Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For recorded program information, call (310) 274-6869.