Jews & Sports

from Big Mo's Sports Desk

Said the Rebbe to the Politican: Be Like a Professional Athlete


"Career Hinges"

[by Tuvia Bolton]

A week ago I attended the celebration of the circumcision of the eight day old son of a good friend: Tamir Goodman. Close to a hundred friends and family were there. In the middle of the festive meal, a well dressed, perhaps sixty year old woman suddenly stood up, asked for silence, and began to speak.

She introduced herself as the widow of the departed Knesset member Professor Avner Shaki, of blessed memory (a native of Tsfat --ed.). She then went on to explain the reason for her being there. About a year ago Tamir called her home, asked for her husband, and when he heard that he had passed away, asked if he could speak to her. He introduced himself and began thanking her profusely saying repeatedly, "You and your husband saved my life!"

At first she thought it was a prank from some old political enemy or from a madman until she calmed him down and heard his story.

Tamir Goodman, an observant Jew, is well known in Jewish circles as a star basketball player from Baltimore. In high school in the USA he had averaged 35.4 points per game. In 1999, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and interviewed by ESPN, 60 Minutes, and Fox Sports. A follower of Chabad, he wore both a kippah headcovering and a tallit katan fringed undergarment during all his games, and continues to do so until this day. In 11th grade, he was ranked the 25th-best high school player in the country.

In university all the games his team played were re-scheduled so as to not fall on the Sabbath; an unheard of precedent in America.

When he graduated college, the best team in Israel, Macabbee Tel Aviv, signed him to a long-term contract. It was in all the papers. He became the darling of the Israeli media and was interviewed countless times in all the newspapers and on television. He made aliyah, served in the IDF, married and had a daughter before this son.

But suddenly his luck changed. He began having troubles with his left knee. It was giving him such pain and discomfort that the team doctors were pessimistic. He had to sit out many games. The team that brought him over traded him away, he was demoted to a minor league, and the future looked dim. And the Israeli media that once adored him began attacking him like crows. Every week someone had a vicious remark to make about him which made his life almost unbearable.


Intense physical therapy helped only temporarily. There was no other recourse than to operate. But the experts told him that the chances for success were very small… maybe five percent.

So, being a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he decided he needed the Rebbe's advice and blessing. He went to the Ohel (the place in Montifiore Cemetery in Queens, N.Y. where the Rebbe's grave is) wrote a letter asking for help and read the letter aloud. He poured his heart out asking for some sign as to whether he should make the operation or not.
Then, exhausted, he left the Ohel and went to the Chabad House which is located adjacent to the cemetery. He sat down to rest in the reception room, where a screen shows around the clock thousands of hours of videos of the Rebbe speaking, often to individuals.
Mrs. Shaki continued, "The reason he called to thank me has to do with one of these videos. But I have to first give you some background.

"Some forty five years ago in 1963 the Israeli government passed a horrendous law that could have been low point in the history of Judaism and, indeed, threatens to this day the entire Jewish world. The law of 'Who is a Jew'.

"A certain officer in the Israeli Navy married a gentile woman from Ireland who underwent a illegitimate conversion and bore him several children. He then brought them all to Israel and wanted the government to register them as Jews to make them eligible for government benefits. (Israel is, ostensibly, a haven for Jews. The only question is…who exactly is a Jew. Previous to this awful episode, the Torah definition i.e. one whose mother was Jewish or who converted to Judaism according to Jewish law, was law). But the Israeli 'High Court' agreed to change it!

"They decided five to four that the Torah was no longer a factor! Rather anyone called Rabbi, whether truly observant of the Torah or not, could make Jews.

"True their pitiful decision had to be ratified by the Israeli parliament, but at that time the Knesset was controlled by a 'leftist' coalition of nearly one hundred out of 120 members that were all for the change.

"This is where my husband of blessed memory, Professor Avner Shaki, came in. His party, the National 'Religious' Party, was officially part of this ruling coalition, and their orders were to abstain, which everyone understood is the same as token support of the change. So although he, personally, was abhorred by and totally opposed all this, he was obligated by party loyalty to keep his opposition to himself.

"We discussed it and decided he had no recourse other than to bite the bullet. In any case his one vote would have no real swing value anyway, and if he broke coalition discipline we would lose everything.

"But then, the night before the vote we received a long distance telephone call from New York. It was the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself!

"The Rebbe asked for my husband and when he answered the Rebbe introduced himself and actually begged my husband to stand up and vote 'No'!

"My husband explained that to do so would mean the end of his political career. The leftist media would make mincemeat from him, and he would almost certainly get expelled from his party. And in any case his nay vote wouldn't be significant; one hundred votes were against him and the law would go through in any case.

"But the Rebbe replied as only the Rebbe could. He said SOMEONE had to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the truth, to M'kadish Shaim Sh'maim (publicly sanctify G-d's Name).
"Well, it was hard to believe and, look, after all, we are not Chabad Chassidim. But the next day my husband did it! He actually stood up, raised his hand and voted against! I don't know if such a thing every happened in Israeli politics.

"The Israeli newspapers and television ridiculed him; his fellow party members were blazing mad! They despised him. He made hundreds, if not thousands of political enemies. We were suddenly alone. But we refused to sell out.

"Shortly thereafter we went to New York to visit the Rebbe. When my husband entered the huge auditorium where the Rebbe was speaking to thousands of Chassidim, the Rebbe actually stood for him. Afterwards we had a private audience with the Rebbe that was videotaped.

"The Rebbe thanked us for our bravery, especially thanking me for supporting my husband. But then when my husband complained of how he was fired from his party position and the media was descending on him, the Rebbe replied.

"Pay no attention to the media. And regarding your job; you are like a professional athlete; you are just taking a step back in order to jump ahead with doubled and redoubled power and success."

" Sure enough it was just like the Rebbe said. Several years later my husband, Professor Avner Chai Shaki, was asked by his party to return, but this time as its leader! He truly jumped to redoubled success. But we never understood why the Rebbe talked about athletes. After all, my husband was certainly no professional athlete.

"Well, about a half a year ago; twenty five years after the Rebbe said those words to us we found out.

"Tamir Goodman was sitting in the Chabad House near the Ohel wondering about his operation, when suddenly our video appeared on the screen before him and the Rebbe said the words he was waiting to hear:

"'Pay no attention to the media. You are like a professional athlete; taking a step back in order to jump ahead with doubled and redoubled power and success.'

"The words perfectly fit his predicament! The Rebbe was encouraging him. He returned to Israel and made the operation, despite the reservations of the Professor who was to operate. It was, thank G-d, a complete and miraculous success! That is why he called to thank us and that is why I'm here at this meal today!"

[Adapted and supplemented for the "Big Mo Sports Page" by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition of his friend and colleague Rabbi Tuvia Bolton, the popular teacher, musician and storyteller, in his weekly email for the yeshiva which he heads, Ohr Tmimim (].

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