The Mensch List: Putting Sunday sports in play
Nowhere in the Torah does it say: “And on the seventh day, God played soccer.” Which is too bad for observant Jewish youths who would love to take advantage of the many local sports leagues that play on Saturdays.
Fortunately, there are Dr. Matthew Lefferman and Eric Weissman. These two members of the Modern Orthodox congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson have worked tirelessly to ensure the presence of Sunday sports games locally.
“People are delighted to know that there is an opportunity for their kids to participate in athletic opportunities and still practice their Judaism as they want to,” said Weissman, 38, a father of two.
The pair have taken a three-pronged approach. Both men coach with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), which already had Sunday games. Lefferman, who coaches two teams, has acted as an unofficial liaison to help recruit Sunday players, coaches and referees.
They also lobbied Beverly Hills Little League to create a Sunday division, then helped structure and run it. Now they sit on its board.
In order to further expand opportunities for Jewish youths, they formed the nonprofit Maccabee Athletic Club (MAC) a year ago. It started with a club soccer team and this year is expanding to basketball and flag football.
Story continues after the video.
‘Curly’s’ sidekick Nate Abrams a forgotten man in Packers’ lore
You know the old saying: Behind every Hall of Fame football coach stands a 5-foot, 4-inch Jewish cattle dealer with good hands, a big heart and a “Yiddishe kop.”
For Earl “Curly” Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers, that man was Nate Abrams.
Just a little kosher food for thought while watching Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Abrams (1897-1941) arguably was as instrumental in founding the Packers as Lambeau, the team’s first coach and eventual namesake of Lambeau Field, home of the “frozen tundra.” Abrams’ funds also kept the team afloat during its early years.
Yet Abrams receives no mention in the official founding story, which credits Lambeau.
These rarely heard arguments derive from the meticulously researched “The History of the Green Bay Packers: The Lambeau Years” by Larry Names (1987, Angel Press of Wisconsin). He writes that Abrams, the son of Russian immigrants, grew up in the same neighborhood as Lambeau, son of Belgians, and played football with him.
Lambeau became a star high school athlete and played the 1918 football season at the University of Notre Dame. Abrams had quit school at age 14 to learn cattle buying from his dad, Names writes. By age 15, Abrams was working on his own, and by 21 he was successful enough to sponsor the Green Bay semipro city football team known as the South Side Skidoos. He also played end and was team captain.
The Skidoos were one in a series of Green Bay city teams that began in 1897. Names contends that a famed 1919 meeting at which the Packers supposedly formed, held in the Green Bay Press-Gazette offices, actually was an organizational meeting for the Skidoos. The Skidoos had met at the offices a year earlier.
Names adds that Lambeau didn’t call the 1919 meeting but attended as a potential player. Abrams passed the captaincy to his old friend, a better and more popular athlete. Abrams played on the 1919 and 1920s teams with another Green Bay Jew, Charlie Sauber.
In 1921, the Packers joined the professional league that would become the NFL. Abrams played in one game, scoring a touchdown on an interception. Why he never played for the Packers again isn’t recorded, but it’s likely that the players in the new league were just too big for Abrams, the shortest player in Packers history.
But Abrams remained interested. After reading the cash-strapped Packers’ 1922 newspaper appeal for funds, Abrams handed $3,000 to Lambeau for operating expenses. In exchange, Lambeau handed ownership of the franchise to his friend, but Abrams let Lambeau operate the Packers. The team began its unique ownership system of selling stock to the public in 1923, and by 1925 repaid Abrams, who returned the franchise, writes Names.
Ignored in Packer lore, Abrams makes a cameo appearance in the slick Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field. He poses in the 1919 team picture and can been seen as a little, dark-haired man in life-size photos that cover some of the walls.
Two Jews are honored with plaques at the hall: Charles “Buckets” Goldenberg, who played from 1933 to 1945 and was named to the NFL commemorative 1930s all-star team as a guard; and former general manager Ron Wolf, who led the Packers to an NFL championship in 1996, was sometimes seen at the Cnesses Israel Congregation. Another Jewish player of note, offensive lineman Alan Veingrad, became ba’al teshuvah—one who turns to Orthodox Judaism—and a motivational speaker after playing for the Packers and Dallas Cowboys from 1986 to 1992.
Why is Abrams a seeming afterthought to the Packers? Names claims anti-Semitic attitudes in the 1920s prompted the team to emphasize Lambeau’s role and hide Abrams’. Yet Abrams never showed any bitterness.
“Nate never talked about it that way,” Howard Levitas, Abrams’ cousin and a former Packers board member, told The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in 1997. “He was interested in the team. He was always friendly with Curly Lambeau.”
Super Sunday Calls Raise $4.6 Million
Frank Ponder put in a long, fruitful day at the Feb. 13 Super Sunday annual fundraising campaign, helping gather the phone-driven dollars that became part of more than $4.6 million pledged that day for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Last year, the Federation raised about $4.5 million at Super Sunday 2004, about $800,000 more than 2003’s Super Sunday success. The money will fund agencies such as Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service, as these two critical-needs agencies join other non-profits in bracing for state and federal cutbacks.
“My goal is just to see if I can make about 100 calls,” said Ponder, 62, describing what turned out to be an easily achieved objective in the large phone bank room at The Federation’s headquarters. “I’ll take a dollar, anything. The hardest part is the noise in the room, but it also provides the energy.”
A Beverly Hills household’s polite brush-off was a request to call at year’s end, but minutes earlier, a Westside doctor and his wife pledged another $1,000, as they did a year ago.
Ponder’s Super Sunday was like that: a little donor gold struck here, an answering machine encounter there. But throughout five hours he maintained his drive to plow through the stack of salmon and yellow sheets containing donor data. Reaching a criminal defense lawyer known for her Court TV analysis during the O.J. Simpson trial brought a $500 pledge.
“People give every conceivable reason not to give,” said Ponder, prior to calling a reliable donor, a retiree who lives in a swank area of Wilshire Boulevard.
“Can we raise that to $1,500?” Ponder asked.
With his pencil marking a form-of-payment box, Ponder clicked off that under-a-minute call and said, “You just took $1,500 out of someone’s pocket, and they want to get off the phone as fast as possible.”
Ponder has spent two decades participating in Super Sundays. Great Southern California weather and answering machines are his enemies. His allies are an old-pro demeanor and the phone bank room’s camaraderie.
L.A. Federation staffers this year decided against Super Sunday T-shirts and instead donated several thousand dollars of planned T-shirt production money to Asian tsunami relief efforts.
Celebrities and politicians visited the main Super Sunday phone room, with prominent names also popping by the event’s Valley Alliance phone room in West Hills. The smaller South Bay Council phone bank volunteers worked in Torrance.
The Los Angeles mayoral candidates each made a cameo appearance at Wilshire Boulevard headquarters, along with other politicians. Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s phone pitch perseverance specifically impressed Ponder, whose seat was across from where the politicians each took a stab at phone pitching.
“Voicemail, voicemail, voicemail,” Garcetti exclaimed after another fruitless call, with Ponder nodding approvingly at his efforts.
“He’s been here longer than any other politico,” said Ponder, a retired retailer, who looked over at the young councilman and said, “Your father used to be a customer of mine.”
“Oh really?” said Garcetti, the son of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and a grandson of Federation pioneer Harry Roth.
“I used to run Bel Air Camera,” said Ponder, as Garcetti’s phone luck turned and he began getting real voices instead of answering machines.
The councilman’s personalized donor pitch included the phrase, “You probably know my grandfather, Harry Roth.”
By early evening on Super Sunday, a doctor took over Ponder’s spot, and other phones were taken over by members of the Federation’s Young Leadership and Women’s Campaign divisions.
“I’ve heard every make and model of answering machine,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hirsch, a Beverly Hills internist and the husband of Sinai Temple’s Rabbi Sherre Hirsch. He admitted to some culture shock due to growing up in a much smaller Jewish community in Baton Rouge, La.
“In L.A., a $3,000 giver just gets a phone call on Super Sunday,” he said. “A $3,000 giver in Baton Rouge is like, ‘God, we need that person.'”
Seated next to Hirsch was Diana Fiedotin, a fellow Jewish Southerner and Brown University alumnus who now handles West Coast development for The Federation-supported American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The college pals recognized the donor card of a 40ish doctor.
“He was at my birthday party,” Fiedotin said.
Beverly Hills real estate financier Eric Erenstoft kept his headset filled with call after call, his scribbled list of $1,000-$1,500 pledges becoming a testament to how he used his salesman’s energies as a closer to The Federation’s benefit.
“I’m closing!” Erenstoft said, finishing another call.
Super Bowl Wrap
You know that strange window of time Sunday morning before the Super Bowl starts, when you don’t want to start anything that won’t be finished by kickoff, but you’ve still got to find something to do?
Sinai Temple, nearly a dozen other local Conservative men’s clubs and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs have an idea: try joining 10,000 others who will be wrapping tefillin.
Sinai’s Men’s Club, along with men’s clubs and temple brotherhoods across the world, will hold a breakfast at which it will air “The Ties that Bind,” a 20-minute video produced by the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and Mark Rothman of Ness Productions.
Rothman wrote and directed the film, and he artfully interweaves the history, how-to and spiritual significance of tefillin. The video is educational and entertaining without being didactic or simplistic. And since it comes in two versions — egalitarian and all male — it can be meaningful across denominational lines for anyone interested in the mitzvah of winding around the arms and head the leather straps and black boxes containing the Shema during morning prayers.
“The number one goal of the film is to give people a tool to move closer to God,” says Rothman.
Rothman captures the power of tefillin through personal testimonials offered by men and women of all ages. One student likens it to wearing a satellite dish that opens up all channels to God. A women tells us it transforms her into a mezuzah. Someone else calls the leather straps healing bandages, while most recognize the symbolism of binding oneself — betrothing oneself — to God.
“It’s like God is grabbing my arm saying ‘You can do this, I’m with you,'” says Joel Grishaver, a local writer and educator.
Grishaver is one of many familiar faces that show up in the film, since Rothman is based in Los Angeles. The video is narrated by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood, and Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am on the Westside gives a detailed demonstration of laying tefillin.
Sid Katz, former president of Sinai’s men club and of the national federation, was instrumental in mobilizing the organization and clubs around the world to raise the $50,000 to produce the video.
“The federation has made a commitment to improving and increasing Conservative men’s Judaic actions,” Rothman says. “They want more Jewish men to do more Jewish things, and this was a great opportunity.”
“Ties that Bind” will be run Sunday, Jan. 28, at 8 a.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. For more information call (310) 474-1518. To find other locations in Southern California or to purchase the video ($28, $18 for members) call the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs at (800) 288-FJMC, (212) 749-8100, or visit