Tag Archive: sports

Of Curses, Seforim & Kareem Abdul-Jabaar!

A little over a month ago I wrote about a reported meeting between Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This post went viral and was even cited in this article on ESPN.com. I have received emails from many readers around the globe who have responded to this story. One reader in particular shared the following story with me and was even so kind as to photocopy the following story that appears in a sefer entitled Birkas Abba Yaakov. This sefer was released in tribute to Rabbi Abba Yaakov Liff zt”l and shares many stories and vignettes about his life and passion for all things Torah. While he passed away now over 23 years ago, he will forever be remembered as one of the original students of Ner Israel Rabbinical College as well as the name behind the Yeshiva known as: Ner Yaakov.

On page 50 footnote 37 Birkas Abba Yaakov documents that the Rabbi was ill for several years before succumbing to his illness. On one occasion, the Rabbi had to fly to Cleveland to have an operation. And so, he took not one but two cases of seforim which were with him the entire stay. On his return flight back to Baltimore, passengers were up in arms that there was a famous basketball star on the airplane by the name of none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabaar! This name didn’t really register to Rabbi Liff until he returned home with all the suitcases and the two cartons of seforim; instead, there was a television and other electronics that belonged to none other than Kareem! The Rabbi quickly surmised that the airline must have mixed up the box with the seforim and this box (this was clearly in the days prior to the TSA!).

Indeed, when Rabbi Liff called the airline to alert them to the mix up he was told that Mr. Jabaar had already called requesting his electronics, but he denied that he had seen the seforim . In the interest of being the upstanding citizen that he was, Rabbi Liff sent him the box with the electronics but was visibly shaken by the loss of some of his favorite seforim.

A number of days passed and out of the blue an unaffiliated Jew called Rabbi Liff from of all places Washington. He told the Rabbi that he had found seforim with Rabbi Liff’s name and address inscribed in them in the middle of the highway between Baltimore and Washington! Rabbi Liff could only assume that the young basketball star threw the box out of his car window when he realized that it didn’t contain his electronics. Regardless of who actually treated his holy seforim this way, Rabbi Liff remarked then and there that whoever defiled his seforim in such a manner deserved to be cursed for having them be literally strewn onto the highway. After all, if not for a good Samaritan who happened to read some Hebrew—they would have been lost forever!

Within a few days, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar broke his right hand while playing a basketball game. It was such a hard hit that it broke the backboard as well as his hand. Reports of his injury were all over the media, and it took him months to recover. However, Rabbi Liff believed that the reason why his hand in particular was punished with this career altering injury was because it was this very hand that carelessly disgraced the Torah by throwing out the seforim of Rabbi Liff.

This is not the first report of a Rabbi cursing a public figure. There are alleged reports all across the Jewish world and perhaps even snopes.com as to which Rabbi supposedly cursed Joseph Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates because of his resistance to help Jews flee the Holocaust. I am not here to debate the accuracy of either “The Kennedy Curse” or “The Jabaar Curse” that has only recently come to my attention. The take away that I believe we can all learn from these instances is that we never know who we may meet—even ever so casually—who will forever alter our life. We must treat every person, every human life, and the belongings of everyone with the greatest of respect! We never know what may come back to haunt us down the road or days later. By truly working this message into every aspect of our life (and not just from 9 to 5) we will show a great amount of honor to the Torah and the ways of Hashem.

UPDATE: I received the following from Rabbi Yechiel Liff (Rabbi Liff’s son). Despite the Sefer printing that Rabbi Liff was going to Cleveland, he son told me that he traveled to Milwaukee to have open heart by pass surgery. Indeed, this sits better with the overall story as the first city that Mr. Jabaar played basketball in was Milwaukee.

UPDATE 2: Kareem did not break a backboard. During the 1974 preseason, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand after punching the basket support stanchion following a hard foul. On the play, Abdul-Jabbar scratched his eye and he would wear protective goggles for the rest of his playing career. The broken hand sidelined Abdul-Jabbar for the first 16 games of the 1974-75 season. With (Oscar) Robertson retired, the Bucks went 38-44 and missed the playoffs for the first time since Abdul-Jabbar was drafted (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/bio/_/id/4145/kareem-abdul-jabbar).

UPDATE: Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story

A little over a month ago I wrote about a news report here in Israel that detailed the history and upcoming meeting of Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Recently, that post of mine has seemingly become viral and has brought thousands of new visitors to this site. And so, I’d like to thank a reader of mine, Eric, for directing me to this article on ESPN.com.

Henry Abbott of ESPN.com linked to the story reported on my blog and asked Kareem, “I have heard this amazing tale about your dad and a boy he helped liberate from a concentration camp at the end of World War II. Would you mind recounting briefly the story of Rabbi Lau and your dad?”

Below is Kareem’s answer:

That story — people have gotten that all mixed up. There was a reporter in Israel who put my father into the tank battalion that liberated Dachau. My dad was a police officer in New York. One of the guys that he was a police officer with was in a tank battalion that liberated Dachau. Rabbi Lau was a boy in Buchenwald, which was also liberated by black troops, but it was a totally different group than the one that my dad’s friend was in. The group that helped liberate Buchenwald was the 183rd Combat Engineers, an all black unit.

To further illustrate the mix up, (perhaps due to the language barrier of the Israeli reporter?) Mr. Jabbar continued to clear the air swirling around this story by explaining that:

The reporter in Israel mixed all of the facts up, and got it all conflated. People were thinking my dad was a lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion. My dad was a lieutenant in the New York City Transit Police! And that’s how he got to know Smitty, who was one of the liberators of Dachau and other camps.

That said, he did express his great respect for the Rabbi when he mentioned that as early as 1997 he had met Rabbi Lau when he was in Israel. Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar remarked that, “I just wanted to say hi to him because he had a particular regard for the black Americans that were involved in his liberation!”

However, this recent claim of Mr. Jabbar goes contrary to what friends, acquaintances, and even published author and the former Dean of Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles, Rabbi Dovid Landesman, had heard from Kareem himself!

A number of years ago, Kareem visited an Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills by the name of: Beth Jacob Congregation. Indeed, he addressed the audience and as Rabbi Landesman, (who ironically enough wrote a book entitled, There are no Basketball Courts in Heaven) recalled here:

He retold the story, mentioning that he had been amazed that Rabbi Lau a]had remembered his uncle’s name (after all these years) and b] gone to the trouble of making a reception to express his gratitude (towards Jabbar during his visit to Israel). He told the audience that it had been a life lesson on what it means to express thanks!

While I was not present at Beth Jacob that particular Shabbos, I remember there being many teens who were not only buzzing about the fact that a Lakers great visited their Shul—but also about the powerful message that he relayed. And so, I wish I could utter with certainty the famous line of the legendary newscaster Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story. Good day!”

However, I can’t. There seems to be a contradiction between Kareem’s words in his recent interview with ESPN and his words that Rabbi Landesman recalled him making to the Orthodox congregation.

In Abbott’s piece Kareem dismissed the story by not simply being “misquoted” (which seems to be a line used by athletes sometimes) but  instead being “mixed up” or perhaps lost in translation.

On behalf of all the the seemingly hundreds of people who have emailed me asking for any more information on this story, I can only hope that Henry Abbott of ESPN.com or perhaps Brian and Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O’ Lakers Blog on ESPN.com, can help us all clarify this story once and for all.

For the record I do believe that Kareem should get his coveted statue outside of Staples Center!

Chief Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Meet!

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is a tall man who brightens any room with his Torah depth and stature. He is viewed as a someone who has achieved wondrous feats! From surviving the Holocaust and continuing on the Rabbinic dynasty that he hails from, to serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel and now Tel Aviv—he remains a legendary figure to all of Jewry. On the complete opposite spectrum stands the legendary Lakers Center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Born Ferdinand Lewis “Lew” Alcindor, Jr., he had a prolific college and NBA career becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. In 1971 Lew Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. To the naked eye it would seem that the only thing he shares in common with Rabbi Lau is that they are both luminous figures.

And yet, these two men—one a Jew and another a Muslim—are eagerly looking forward to meeting one another this July in Israel!

Why?

The former NBA star is making a film about none other than World War II, and will honor the final wish of his father. You see, Ferdinand L. Alcindor Sr., had one dying wish. He requested that his son visit Israel and meet the little boy that he personally rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent Rabbi. This Rabbi is none other than Rabbi Lau!

Indeed, Rabbi Lau, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem remarked that, “the fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting. I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative.”

Rabbi Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American solider came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: “Look at this sweet kid, he isn’t even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him.”

As someone who grew up in Los Angeles and followed the Lakers, I never thought I’d see these two figures mentioned in the same sentence—let alone meeting in The Holy Land! However, after reading about what Mr. Abdul-Jabbar intends to do with his film and his visit, I look forward to seeing these two legends of their respective fields work towards educating the world about the horrors of the Holocaust.

For the full story see here.

UPDATED: Kareem Responds to my blog post on ESPN.com! http://j.mp/ljvaTr

2 Recent Uplifting Moments of Chizuk from Sports!

I’m sure we all remember the cutesy message from the famous story The Little Train that Could in which the little train is able to persevere against seemingly impossible odds and delivers goods that people expected only a Big Train could deliver. Sadly, while we may believe in this story as children, we often forget it’s message as we mature and enter adulthood. So what can we turn to as men? I believe one of the places we can look to is the world of sports! Below are two inspirational stories of people who aren’t well known, but who worked against all odds to achieve greatness.

Meet Anthony Robles. Although he was born without a right leg, young Anthony didn’t let that stop him from dreaming—and ultimately achieving his goals. The Arizona State senior won the national title at 125 pounds earlier this month on March 19. What’s more, this victory capped an unbelievable 36-0 season. For him to achieve this feat with both legs would have been a seemingly impossible accomplishment. And yet, he didn’t let his lack of a right leg get in the way!

On the flip side of things meet Kelly Gneiting (full story here). He weighs a whopping 400 pounds! Still, Gneiting is a dreamer. Finishing a marathon and running 26.2 miles is a goal he’s wanted to reach since he was a young boy. Unfortunately, he feel on hard times and turned to food for comfort. He ate and ate and ate until it got in the way of his being able to even earn a living. In the late ’90s, he discovered sumo wrestling after watching a tournament on ESPN. Eventually, he used his weight to become a national champion sumo wrestler! Still, he wanted to achieve his boyhood dream of running a marathon. And so, for weeks on end he trained to finish the L.A. Marathon and set a Guinness record in the process.

Guess what? After 9 hours, 48 minutes and 52 seconds he crossed the finish line and sent a message to a society obsessed with being thin. “Big people,” he said, “can do the unimaginable.”

And so, while the world marvels at Kobe Bryant’s ability to shoot a ball yomam valaylah (see video below and this link), both Anthony Robles and Kelly Gneiting are the latest on a long list of recent uplifting moments in sports that can teach us how to win the Game of Life and stay true to our plan for spiritual success.

If you gain Chizuk from sports, I recommend you checkout the blog of Rabbi Joshua Hess or follow him on Twitter @RabbiHess. He blogs about sports and religion as the FANatic Rabbi and will give you a great perspective on life using the world of sports as the backdrop!

Chachma from LeBron James & Coach John Wooden

Just last week, the nation turned in to hear where, the self proclaimed, “King James,” a.k.a. LeBron James would decide to play the game of basketball! Indeed, people are still wrapped up in all the hoopla of LeBron James leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, and joing the Miami Heat! However, I’d rather focus on a man who recently passed away, just a few months ago, on June 4th, at the age of 99: Coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden, was someone who in my opinion fulfilled the words of our Sages who teach, “yesh chachma bagoyim” there is wisdom among the nations! Indeed, Rashi also contends that he who truly values wisdom will seek it wherever it can be found. In fact, our Sages even institute a special blessing to be said upon meeting a great non-Jewish scholar. In short, Coach Wooden is the polar opposite of “King James.” For instance, despite receiving other offers throughout the years, he never left his beloved UCLA Basketball Team. Moreover, he was a man of great ethics and principals. However, as related in this Rick Reily ESPN.com Video below, his greatest love was not the game of basketball. Instead, it is and remained, even after she died – his wife. For years on end, he would still write her poetry and cry over his lose of his beloved life companion.

Additionally, being that we believe that Secular knowledge is not inherently negative (see here), I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that although his UCLA Bruins won a record 10 NCAA national championships and their 88-game winning streak is the longest in major collegiate basketball history, his favorite part of coaching was leading the practice sessions in which he taught the fundamentals that were the foundation of his success. He would teach his players everything from the proper way to put on their socks to lacing their shoes! After all, he used to say, “It’s the little things that make the big things happen.”

All in all, Coach Wooden was more than a basketball coach, he was arguably the first Life Coach and always more pleased by his players’ success in life than on the basketball court. There’s much we can learn from him. Here are some of his quotes that can relate to us in our daily lives:

  • “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
  • “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
  • “Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
  • “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”
  • “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
  • “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
  • “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
  • It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”
  • “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
  • “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
  • “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

In the midst of the era of athletes and sports figures becoming so ego-centric that it’s news when an athlete makes a subtle quiet announcement (see here in regards to Keven Durant)  I hope Coach Wooden’s words will be an inspiration and remind us to keep our eyes on the real prize of life!

I highly recommend: Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life.

I highly recommend: LeBronathon: How to Hype Up Your Life, by Rabbi Boruch Leff.


What Twitter Can Teach Us about Tisha B’Av!

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been taught to be careful with my words and how they can have long lasting ramifications. That said, being that we are all human, this is a very difficult topic to grasp, as our words are often just spoken and never really carefully and tactfully communicated. To that end, Judaism stresses the importance of not participating in slander, gossip, and so on and so forth. Indeed, seemingly every Tish B’Av,  thousands across the globe gather to view the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Tisha B’Av Video. This Video features different Rabbis who remind us of the Torah’s wisdom on human relations and personal development, and by extension, inspires the public to be aware of the far reaching effects that just even a few words can have.

Indeed, our Sages relate that the episode that led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is recorded in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Unfortunately, the public undressing that Bar Kamtza received from the few powerful yet hurtful words of baseless hatred that was displayed towards him, led Bar Kamtza to walk right out the door and create a devious plan that would cause the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

In contemporary times, when you mention the ability to communicate in just a few words, many of us will think of Twitter. Twitter is a social networking tool that lets you easily follow other people and receive “Tweets” from this person. However there’s a catch!  Tweets are short messages that must be under 140 characters. Hence, you’ll have President Barack Obama making political statements on this platform or we’ll hear news directly from NBA All-Star Keven Dorant (see here) in which he announced his contract extension on Twitter. Both the politician and the athlete are limited to positioning their message in under 140 characters! And yet, Twitter has shown the world that even with just a few words, one has a powerful platform and can influence millions around the globe. Indeed, for making the wrong comments on Twitter, people have been fired from their position (see here)! Hence, if we ever needed a reminder of the power of just a few simple words, other than once a year on Tisha B’Av, this tool, used by millions on a daily basis, is a great way to keep this message on our “Spiritual Radar!”

Moreover, there are companies that are beginning to reveal to the general public that our words, yes even written, or in this case Tweeted, are in fact being watched from above, by not just the Almighty – but by corporate America as well! You see, PepsiCo’s Gatorade, Nabisco’s Wheat Thins or even Delta Airlines, realize what our Sages have known for years: that the collective words, comments, Tweets, or Facebook “Likes” can have a lasting positive or negative influence on society, or in this case, their brand. And so, as reported here:

“Gatorade is taking its social media strategy very seriously indeed – so much so that it has built a mission control center replete with screens beaming out brightly-coloured visualisations of what people are saying about it on the likes of Twitter…the room, in the center of Gatorade’s marketing department, contains six big monitors depicting real-time events in the social media ether. One screen is a representation of the tweets relevant to Gatorade, be they about the brand, its athletes, its competitors, or sports nutrition-related subjects. Another tracks and measures conversations across the blogosphere and allows Gatorade to conduct ’sentiment’ analysis around key topics and on product and campaign launches.”

Also see this Video:

Likewise, Wheat Thins “Crunch Control” monitored the Tweet of Tabitha Hancock and surprised her with enough Wheat Thins to feed an army! For more on the story see here and here.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the fact that Delta Airlines recently created a @DeltaAssist Twitter account to only further their Online Ears and show people that they’re listening to feedback, kvetches, and what not. Indeed, I’ve been traveling for several years and have heard other frequent fliers remark that they get quicker/better service through Tweeting their issue that they are having at GATE X or Y or Z, then if they’d have to call the airline or wait for a Gate Agent. Truth be told, this matter got national attention when Filmmaker Kevin Smith sent a series of exasperated Tweets claiming that he’d been kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being “too fat”. Proving, perhaps, the speed at which Twitter can spread messages about your brand, his Tweets have been picked up by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ABC and other major outlets (see here).

All in all, while these businesses realize that every word, every character, can hurt or hinder their brand and image, it is incumbent upon us, especially during The 9 Days leading up to Tisha B’Av to realize that every word or character that we say can build or destroy the Beis HaMikdash! In so doing, may we merit to no longer celebrate Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning, but rather as a day of joy!

If you are on Twitter, feel free to help bring the Geula by keeping the message of Tisha B’Av on our collective screens! Use in your Tweets this hashtag – #mtjbrd = May the Temple in Jerusalem be Rebuilt in our Days.

How to Still Have a Fun Passover Vacation on a Budget!

With the economy in the doldrums, many families won’t be able to afford amusement parks or attend a big concert over Chol HaMoed. To that end, without some suggestions of how to still have fun this Pesach, I’m near certain that there will be a good amount of Jewish kids spending their time in front of a computer screen, playing PlayStation, or hanging out on social networking sites. Frankly, as this and this article indicates, that’s not something that I, as a Rabbi, would encourage spending hours and hours of time on!

As such, I’ve compiled a list of  5 economically friendly but fun activities that will allow you to have a great time over Pesach vacation.

  • If you’ve got little kids, they will most probably love this economically friendly but creative Portable Art Studio. It will certainly keep the kids occupied while cleaning for Pesach!
  • As a kid, I enjoyed watching private planes or small commercial airliners land and arrive at Santa Monica Airport. In fact, because there’s less of a crowd, President Clinton used to land there when coming into the LA area. Indeed, I even got to meet the President, shake his hand and see what a real Presidential entourage looks like up close and person. Even today in a post 9/11 world, you and your children can go to one of the local but smaller airports around your area and watch for the flying planes in the sky!
  • As far as snack food, purchasing Kosher for Passover products can add up to one pricey bill! Indeed, growing up as a kid, something that we always looked forward to on Pesach was my Mom’s homemade potato chips or homemade ice cream.  As Passover became more of a commercialized event, and as the Jewish community rapidly grew in Los Angeles, one could easily purchase Kosher for Passover Potato Chips, ice cream and so on and so forth. Nowadays however, people may not want/be in the position to shell out hundreds of dollars on just eight days of Passover. To that end, if you are looking to have a great snack, such as potato chips, check out this recipe.
  • During Pesach vacation, instead of going to commercial venues, Why not try the outdoors? Consider a family hike. Go fishing, cherry picking, pick-nicking on a beach, or bike riding together as a family. You may walk away from this even surprised to find that you had more fun doing an activity such as this, as opposed to going to Six Flags!
  • If your family is like most, you may have just a couple people who may enjoy a great sporting event and cheering on the local team. That said, with the ever-growing price of tickets, taking your family to a MLB, NBA, or the like event can make a major dent in your wallet. As such, in addition to checking for promotional days or nights to lower the cost somewhat, why not try the minor leagues or become a fan of your local college teams. In general, tickets are usually less expensive, the games are more festive and you can sit closer to the action for a lot cheaper!

A Female Orthodox Basketball Star

Being that I work for Sharfman’s Seminary, a wonderful post high-school program for young Orthodox Jewish women, I often take particular interest in any story that may speak to our student body. That said,  I never thought that I would find any of the words from the title of this post in one sentence…but sure enough the day has arrived!

Every heard of Naama Shafir?

I certainly hadn’t heard the name until I came across this article. And while I do not agree with the position that her particular Rabbi took, that of allowing her to play competitive college hoops on Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest not of exercise), she does nonetheless come across as a good teammate as well as an Orthodox Jew struggling to define herself in a contemporary world and in a sport that she loves.

Indeed, the first high profile Orthodox basketball player was a lanky red head from Baltimore named: Tamir Goodman. Truth be told, the man once featured on magazine covers and labeled, “The Jewish Jordan” now finds himself more spiritually in tune and fervently devoted to God and Judaism. Interestingly, this is seemingly due to the fact that his playing career led him not to the coveted NBA. Rather, he ended up playing ball for several years on various Israeli teams. Spending time in the Land of Israel allowed him to discover his heritage while playing the game that he loved and by extension, has allowed him to develop into the person he is today. On the other hand, it appears that Ms. Shafir seems to be pursuing her dream while making the opposite move. She has traveled thousands of miles away from the Holy Land to American soil.

And yet, what I took away from the article that features Ms. Shafir is how far America has come in terms of the acceptance of Shabbat within the workplace. Indeed, many great Rabbis have remarked, that when they were growing up in America, they would sit in Shul, and following the morning services, men would have to go off to work. Nowadays however, the need to express this level of religious observance is being accommodated to an unprecedented level.

May it be Hashem’s will, that it today’s economy this level of understanding and religous acceptance does not creep backwards but only continues to be accepted!

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