Posts on the topic of "Sports"
My dear friend Harve Linder in Atlanta has done it again: found a deep Torah message in the headline news. The definitive Penn State investigation report was released just as we were reading the Torah portion of Pinchas, creating an amazing juxtaposition.
Recall the scene: A young graduate student walks in and sees an unspeakable incident taking place. What action does he take? Does he shout at the aggressor to stop it? Does he run out seeking help? Does he call either campus or local law enforcement officials? The answer to all these questions is "no."
Instead, he seeks out his leader, the head coach. But the coach himself doesn't know what to do. So nothing comes of it, and no one involved does the right thing for the victim, for future victims, for the university. The end result is that the abuse continues, people lose their jobs, others will go to prison, the university is harmed, and an extraordinary legacy forfeited.
Let's compare this to events in the Torah. An audacious sex crime has taken place, and a young man, Pinchas, witnesses the incident. He is incensed and knows the appropriate response. Yet before acting, he goes to the leader Moses for guidance. But Moses himself does not know what to do. And here our tales substantially diverge: Pinchas does not wait around for an investigation. He does not allow a conspiracy of silence to blanket the incident. No, he acts swiftly, precisely, and in accordance with the law. He stops the act, sends a clear public message, and ensures there are no future victims.
This is not to suggest that the Penn State graduate student should have become a vigilante, circumventing the courts. But he did lack Pinchas' passion and total commitment to doing the right thing. A bit of righteous indignation would have been well-placed, propelling him to cut through the layers of bureaucracy and malaise.
The Torah instructs us to act whenever danger is present: "Do not stand idly by your brother's blood" (Leviticus 19:16). We cannot wait for political posturing, for committee debates, or approval from public opinion. We cannot allow cover-ups and conspiracies of silence to develop. We must consistently do the right thing. Sometimes the proper action is not obvious. Even Moses occasionally forgot. But we have to learn the parameters, consult with our leaders, and act with confidence and determination. Only then will we fulfill our role of tikkun olam, and ensure there are no future victims.
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One of my favorite themes is the unique Jewish character of the State of Israel. We should take pride in the fact that most public transportation takes a break on Shabbat, that the Army keeps kosher, and that all government offices have a mezuzah on the doorpost.
On the other hand, I wish there were more individual displays of classical Jewish (as opposed to "Israeli") pride by the country's political leaders.
So imagine my thrill at the news that Israeli President Shimon Peres will be skipping the festive opening ceremonies of the London Olympics – because they extend past sundown on Friday night (July 27).
Peres had sought to avoid the conflict by sleeping overnight in the Olympic Village. Yet despite numerous appeals to the Olympic Committee, his request was rejected on the grounds that only "athletes" are allowed to overnight in the village.
I guess organizers consider the 88-year-old too big a security risk.
Though Peres is not personally observant, he does not travel publicly on Shabbat out of respect for millennia-old Jewish tradition and in deference to his role as representative of the Jewish State.
It appears to me that Peres' decision to forgo the opening ceremonies will have a far more positive impact on the Israel public than anything he could have gained by attending them.
Interesting to note a historical precedent: When the original Greek Olympics were featuring athletes running and jumping stark naked, the Jews were teaching the importance of looking past physical externalities and into the deeper spiritual values.
In this instance, Shimon Peres has sent that same message again. Kudos!
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Mention "Poland" and many people think of the millions of Jews decimated there by the Nazis.
If you're a European soccer fan, you think of Poland as the site of Euro 2012, the European soccer championship currently underway.
One curious side effect is that athletes are taking time off to see the local sites. The national squads of England, Netherlands and Italy are all based in Krakow – and went to visit the Auschwitz death camp.
"Most youngsters today have a glorified image of a ghetto, but the ghettos we have learned about today are not like that," British player Joleon Lescott is quoted in Sports Illustrated. "I did not have a full understanding of what the word means… You see it in films and learn about it in music but to learn the origins of the word ghetto opens your eyes."
While Holocaust education is standard in most of the civilized world, the experience of being at the death camps makes it much more real. As the Talmud says: Aino domeh r'iya l'shmiya – there is no comparison between hearing about something and actually seeing it.
"You see the children's clothes and shoes, it's really sad," British player Wayne Rooney told AP. "You have to see it firsthand. It puts football (soccer) into perspective."
England team manager Roy Hodgson donned a kippah and lit a memorial candle at the site. "There are so many lessons to be learnt and understood from the Holocaust, and we believe football (soccer) can play its part in encouraging society to speak out against intolerance in all its forms," Hodgson told AP.
Those lessons came to the fore for the Holland squad. The day after returning from Auschwitz, at a practice session attended by 25,000 spectators in Krakow, the team's black players were subjected to monkey noises and loud jeers. Unfortunately, hatred and intolerance are still rife today.
In 2007, a British woman named Claire Lomas was paralyzed from the chest down after breaking her neck and back in a horse-riding accident. She had no chance of ever walking again.
Until the Israelis came along.
When an accident left Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer as a quadriplegic, he designed the ReWalk suit, an ingenious device that enables people with lower-limb paralysis to "walk." ReWalk uses an array of motion sensors to detect upper body movement, which then causes the bionic leg braces to ambulate.
This month, Lomas became the first paralyzed person to complete a marathon not using a wheelchair. She began the London Marathon on April 22 with 36,000 other participants and completed the 26-mile route 16 days after the race began.
"Once I started, I just took each day as it came," she said. "And every step got me a step closer."
The change from wheelchair to walking is profound. Not only in terms of mobility (ReWalk can climb stairs), but also being able to speak eye-to-eye with others goes a long way in building dignity and self-confidence. Goffer, the inventor of the system, says: "When I was injured the first thing I was offered was the only thing: a wheelchair… There hasn't been a real change [in technology] for centuries."
Ironically, Goffer cannot benefit from his own invention. As a quadriplegic, he has only partial use of his hands, but not enough to operate the ReWalk.
To me, this is another chapter in the Israeli story of bringing positive change to the world. The Jewish people are masters of hope and spirit - for millennia the cutting-edge leaders in agriculture, medicine, technology and, of course, the ethical system we're now celebrating on the Shavuot holiday.
I love this story.
Elena Delle Donne was the number one women's high school basketball player in America. All the top schools were drooling at the prospect of having her join their team. So it was no surprise when Delle Donne chose the University of Connecticut, the most dominant program in the history of women's college basketball.
Then, just 48 hours after arriving on campus, Delle Donne left. She went home to Wilmington, Delaware, and enrolled in the University of Delaware.
The reason? ABC News reports:
"Skype, cellphone, texting, email ― doesn't work with Liz," she said. "We've never spoken a word to one another so the only thing we have is our physical contact. So that's our whole relationship. It's everything.
"She knows me by my smell and my feel, so, physically, physical contact is the only thing she knows," she said. "So when I did leave, I lost Lizzie..."
The rest of the story? This past season, Delle Donne led the nation in scoring with 28.1 points per game, while leading Delaware to a 31-2 record, the best season in school history.
Score one for family values, loyalty, commitment and selflessness. Yay!
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Quick quiz: What are the two most popular spectator sports in America?
Football and auto racing.
Believe it or not, NASCAR, the elite auto racing group, boasts 17 of the top 20 attended single-day sporting events in the world.
And now, a NASCAR team is looking to spread a pro-Israel message on the race track.
America Israel Racing (AIR), based in the NASCAR hub of Charlotte, North Carolina, was founded in 2011 by two entrepreneurs, Rich Shirey and Mark MacCaull. Their goal is to raise awareness of the importance of supporting Israel.
"The message to the world is that we support Israel 100%, and we want that proudly displayed at these high-profile racing events," Shirey said.
With its unique paint scheme for its No. 49 Toyota – the left side is emblazoned with an Israeli flag – AIR is attempting to place their car in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The AIR car is driven by JJ Yeley, currently 38th in the NASCAR standings.
It is a multi-million-dollar endeavor to field a competitive NASCAR team, but the AIR team is committed to making it happen.
“This is a crucial time in American history,” said Shirey. “We must reaffirm our commitment to Israel. If enough people take a stand, the world will take notice.”
United with Israel, the pro-Israel website with over one million “Facebook likes,” is a co-sponsor of this unique effort to promote grassroots support for Israel.
For more information, visit AmericaIsraelRacing.com.
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The second annual Jerusalem Marathon is set for March 16, with 15,000 participants from 50 countries – each with his own motivation, challenge, and goal to reach.
One of these is 26-year-old David Haft, originally of Los Angeles, now living in Jerusalem. David shared with me his story:
"I grew up as the fat kid. I got picked on for being slow and fat, and was always chosen last in sports. I ate fast food almost every day and spent hours in front of the TV – a terrible combination for physical and mental well being."
Now weighing in at a healthy 160 pounds, David has been training the past four months for the grueling 26-mile run up and down the hills of Jerusalem. A daily routine of stretching, weight-training and distance runs, coupled with a healthy eating regime, has gotten him into great physical and mental shape needed to take on this challenge of a lifetime.
David’s turnaround came when he began getting more interested in his Jewish roots. “My mother is Israeli and the last time I visited I was six years old,” David says. “I thought Israel was an undeveloped, dirty place. But then I went on a birthright trip and that really opened my eyes.”
David returned to Israel to pursue his Jewish education at the Aish Yeshiva, where today he continues to study full-time. David says:
“I learned that the only way to achieve my purpose and potential is to have a strong and healthy body, which can lead to a more positive state of mind. Maimonides writes (Deyos 4:1) that the body is the vehicle for the soul – the stronger the body, the more we can achieve our purpose in the world. Our body is a gift and we have a duty to look after it."
The Jerusalem Marathon is also a forum for philanthropy. Many participants are using the run in order to raise money for good causes. David found one that really spoke to him.
"Self Discovery is an organization which inspires people to think big, get focused, reach their potential, and then positively influence others around them. They run seminars that help young people identify their personal strengths and goals, and eliminate obstacles standing in the way. It's a great cause which is making a huge difference in many people's lives. In fact it helped motivate me to run the marathon in the first place."
David is hoping to be an inspiration for other kids who grew up not feeling great about themselves. He wants to show that with focus and discipline, everyone can achieve great things.
It is poetic justice that David is making the Jerusalem Marathon a focus of his mind-body transformation. Jerusalem, the Holy City, is also well-known for its beauty and challenging terrain. The March 16 event will take runners through important historical sites including the Old City, Sultan's Pool, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, the Knesset, Mount Scopus and many more.
The Jerusalem Marathon offers five options for runners: the full marathon (42 km), half-marathon (21 km), 10 km race, 4.2 km race, and a “community jog” of 400 meters.
FINAL: In Friday's rescheduled semi-final game, the Shabbat Stars of Beren Academy won a decisive 58-46 win over Dallas Covenant to advance to the State Championship, as Zach Yoshor led the team with 24 points.
In the final, following a well-deserved Shabbat rest, the team fought valiantly, going into locker room at halftime tied at 19-19, but couldn't hold on and lost 46-42. A dramatic ending to an amazing story. Beren-sanity!
UPDATE: In what one U.S. newspaper called "a Purim miracle," an injunction filed with U.S. District Court has prompted the Texas league to rearrange its schedule and allow Beren Academy to participate in the state basketball tourney.
Though Beren officials had opposed legal action, some players and parents filed suit alleging a violation of religious freedoms ― essentially forcing the league to abide by what should have been a common-sense decision. The lawsuit itself is a fascinating read.
Throughout the ordeal, Beren's players have acted with graceful maturity and brought loads of positive PR to the institution of Shabbat. Whatever happens in their playoff game, these kids are total winners.
Remember when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur ― and became a Jewish hero?
A similar clash of principles is playing out this week in Texas.
Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, won its regional basketball championship to advance to the Final Four of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools.
Unfortunately, the tournament game is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday, which falls on Shabbat. Beren's players announced they would not attend, saying that nothing ― short of a medical emergency ― would trump 3,000 years of Jewish observance.
Beren Academy appealed for a change in game time, but the league refused ― even though the other three semifinalists announced willingness to make the accommodation. The league has been heavily criticized by a wide spectrum of concerned citizens including an NBA coach and a U.S. Senator.
Interestingly, the league's bylaws expressly forbid any games from being played on Sundays, in deference to Christian teams. In other words, the league already makes an accommodation for religious observance.
Why the double standard?
* * *
But I think there's a bigger question: Are these boys being short-changed? Are they missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize their championship dreams, to excel in the spotlight, and to bring positive PR to a Jewish day school?
To me, the answer is obvious. After having worked hard all year to post a 23-5 record (the best season in school history, what one writer called "a Hoosiers season in yarmulkes"), these kids are surely disappointed.
But in the long run, loyalty to Jewish ideals and standing up for what's right are much greater lifelong lessons.
Especially in today's world, with fads fleeting at cyber-speed, young people need strong core values.
Nobody knows whether Beren would have won the championship. But with write-ups everywhere from ESPN to the New York Times, they have, paradoxically, excelled in the spotlight and done an award-winning job of representing the Jewish people.
Albert Katz, a junior guard, told the Houston Chronicle:
Talk about a teachable moment.
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The biggest sports story of the year is Jeremy Lin, the 23-year-old Asian-American basketball player now lighting up the NBA.
Here’s a guy who – despite being a high school star – was ignored when they handed out the college scholarships.
Instead of complaining, Lin worked even harder: He was accepted to Harvard (with no scholarship), got good grades, led the Harvard basketball team to its best season ever, and set all-time Ivy League records.
Incredibly, Lin was ignored again – totally passed over in the NBA draft. (Perhaps because he doesn’t look like the stereotypical basketball player...)
What happened next is an amazing testament to human perseverance.
A few weeks ago, Lin was languishing in obscurity, playing with the D-League Erie Pennsylvania Bayhawks.
Meanwhile, all four point guards on the New York Knick’s roster were being eliminated – one by one – due to injury or incompetence. That’s when Lin was propelled into the Knick’s starting line-up and got the chance to prove himself.
And that’s when it all clicked. In his first four starts, he scored 109 points – getting off to the fastest start of any player in NBA history. (See Lin tearing apart the LA Lakers for 38 points.) Overnight, Lin electrified the league and became a superstar.
Superlatives like Lincredible and Linsanity are being tweeted at record rates, and he has become a role model for 15 million Asian-Americans and billions of Asians worldwide.
The only one who isn't talking hype is Lin himself, a spiritual and humble person who credits his success to God and his teammates.
This story – of a man widely ignored, who believed in himself and shone bright when opportunity knocked – reminds me of the biblical story of King David (1-Samuel ch. 16).
David was a humble shepherd whom nobody paid much attention to. With a ruddy complexion, he looked a bit different. He was the youngest of eight sons.
Then the big day came: God told Shmuel the prophet to go to the house of Jesse and select the most worthy of the sons to be the King of Israel.
Shmuel examined seven of the sons, one by one, but did not find the special quality he was seeking. Then, almost as an afterthought, Jesse mentioned his youngest son, David.
Shmuel immediately knew that he was to coronate King David.
We all know the end of the story: David went on to slay the mighty Goliath, establish the Jewish capital in Jerusalem, compose the timeless Book of Psalms, and lead the Jewish people to extraordinary material and spiritual wealth.
None of us know when our moment will come. It may sometimes seem that life is conspiring against us, and we may question whether we even possess the talent to succeed. The key is to continue to work on ourselves, to believe in ourselves, and to keep our eye on the ball.
Then, when the right moment comes, we will recognize it, rise to the occasion, and achieve the true greatness we were all born to possess.
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Of the six closest Super Bowls of all-time, the New York Giants have won three of them, and this year was spectacularly close. But the real buzz in the news grinder is M.I.A.’s finger malfunction. The rapper’s impromptu salute during the halftime show has got the Parents Television Council and others up in arms about indecency during family programming.
I'm not a TV watcher, but something tells me that children today are exposed to a lot worse than an errant finger gesture. Of course, this doesn’t mean that watching an episode of Glee will turn a child into a social delinquent. But in Judaism we have a saying: “You are what you see.” Images that enter the mind have a lasting effect – at the least, subconsciously desensitizing us to whatever “indecency” we’re exposed to.
And yes, it can escalate. In the Aish.com article, “The Truth about TV,” Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen cites research that posits a clear correlation between the viewing of “indecencies” like violent crime, drug use, marital discord – and the rate they occur in the real world.
Mussar, the Jewish character-building system, speaks about the idea of Shmirat Einayim – lit: “guarding one’s eyes.” When it comes to inappropriate images, we have the ability to make a choice. Just because something is out there (think of an Islamic beheading video) doesn’t mean we have to watch it.
Making discriminating choices is a value – a skill, actually – that we need to teach our children. And the need for this is growing, with the increasingly constant bombardment of images and information on the Internet, billboards and smart phones. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l offers some practical tools here.
Maybe this Super Bowl incident will draw much-needed attention to what seems to me a genuine educational priority for today.
P.S. Now is a good time to say "hats off" to Rabbi Yaacov Deyo, who invented the concept of SpeedDating in 1998 while teaching at Aish Los Angeles. SpeedDating has garnered dozens of TV and film mentions over the years. On Sunday, before an audience topping 100 million, SpeedDating made its Super Bowl debut in this hilarious commercial for e-Trade.