SUPER BOWLS

I have no idea how many rabbis devoted their sermons last week to the Super Bowl. Nor do I care. For me, and hopefully, for all Jews, the Super Bowl has nothing to do with 100 million Americans glued to the television set, nor does it involve companies prepared to shell out 5 million dollars for a 30-second commercial being aired at the same time when many viewers in all likelihood, have momentarily absented themselves from the television set, because they are heading to another room of the house, either to satiate their needs or to tend to their needs.

Long before the first Super Bowl took place long on January 15, 1967, there were three other Super Bowls that were in no way connected to Football. While I am not able to provide the exact date, I can tell you what took place at the first of these three Super Bowls: There were two brothers in that first Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, those two brothers were fraternal twins. Even though neither brother had ever seen a football before, that first Super Bowl had all the makings of a competition. It centered itself around a bowl of lentil stew. One brother had prepared the stew and was just about to pour it in a bowl when the other brother walked into the kitchen totally famished. He had spent the entire day in the field hunting.  “Fork over some of those vittles”, demanded the hunter. “I’m starving.” “Be happy to,” answered the other brother. “But it will cost you your birthright.” Without the least bit of hesitation and totally without a word of remonstration, the hunter went and exchanged his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Unlike the Super Bowl of today, there were no winners. That first Super Bowl produced only losers. In addition to giving up his birthright, the hunter lost his self-respect; in addition to acquiring a birthright, the other brother lost his integrity.

The world would have to wait a few centuries until the second Super Bowl. Here too, I am not able to provide the exact date, but in addition to telling you what took place, I can also tell you where it took place. The second Super Bowl did not involve lentil stew or any other food. The second Super Bowl involved sparkling jewels and glowing coals. It took place at a royal palace in Egypt. In that second Super Bowl, there were also only two players: The Pharaoh himself and his adopted toddler son whom we know as Moses. It turns out, however, that the Pharaoh was no match for the toddler. As paranoid as the day is long, the Pharaoh feared that the day would come when he would meet his downfall at the hands of the toddler. After all, the toddler had just raised his little arms and removed the crown from Pharaoh’s head and placed it on his own head. Surely, a sign and portent were to be found in what had just occurred. At the suggestion of one of Pharaoh’s three advisors present, who was adamant in rescuing the toddler from certain death, a test was hastily arranged and two bowls – one filled with sparkling jewels and the other filled with glowing coals – were set before the toddler. That second Super Bowl produced two winners, one immediate and the other ultimate. True, Pharaoh walked away with a big smile and put his paranoia on hold, but it was the tongue torched toddler who would one day bring down Pharaoh and his country, as he led his people from slavery to freedom.

The third Super Bowl took place in this country during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Benny Shapiro entered a non-descript Drug Store on Delancey Street on New York’s Lower East Side, walked up to the soda fountain at the back of the pharmacy, and climbed up onto a stool. He caught the attention of the waitress and asked: “How much is a sundae?”  “Thirty-cents,” answered the waitress. Benny reached into his pocket and began to count the coins. The waitress was impatient. There were other customers to be served. Benny looked up at the waitress. “How much is a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream?” asked Benny. “Twenty cents,” answered the waitress with more than a hint of irritation in her voice. Again, Benny counted the coins. Finally, Benny said: “I’ll have a bowl of plain ice-cream.” Benny put a dime and two nickels on the table. The waitress took the money, brought the bowl of ice cream and walked away. Fifteen minutes later, the waitress returned. The bowl was empty. Benny was gone. The waitress picked up the empty bowl and began to cry. There, next to the wet spot on the counter where the bowl had been, was a nickel and five pennies. Benny did have enough money for a sundae all along, but he ordered a bowl of plain ice cream instead so that he could leave the waitress a tip. Unlike, the previous two Super Bowls, both the waitress and Benny were winners – the waitress for being the recipient of the thoughtfulness of a ten-year-old boy, and Benny for being such a mentsch.

Yasher Koach to the Kansas City Chiefs, the winners of this year’s Super Bowl. When all is said and done, however, the three Super Bowls of this article, and not any of the previous 53 televised Super Bowls are the ones worth remembering.

HEY, DON’T YOU WALK OUT!

Close to 25 years ago, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, prominent American Jews known for their generosity and largesse agreed that something had to be as far as Jewish youth between the ages of 18-26 identifying as Jews. They came up with “Birthright.”

Known in Hebrew as Taglit, or “discovery,” Birthright brings Jewish youth from gateway cities in this country to Israel for a 10-day, all expenses paid trip of Israel, which includes sightseeing, lectures and meeting with Israelis. As a matter a fact, seated across the aisle from us on our recent flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, were Canadian college students beginning their Birthright experience.

Little did we know, that a mere four days later, five participants (not those on our flight) would walk off their Birthright trip and onto a tour of Hebron led by Breaking the Silence, a group sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. The five participants were also members of  If Not Now,  an American group opposed to Birthright, in that they maintained that Birthright had a “one-sided”  agenda, thereby concealing the “truth” about the “Israeli occupation”.

Pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe what took place, just as Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the behavior of the If Not Now members. If there were any justice in this world, other “friendly” Palestinians from Hebron would have greeted the five defectors with a welcoming committee, slingshots armed and ready, tires burning, while screaming “Allahu Akbar.” Heaven forbid that any physical harm would befall them, but I for one would have hoped and prayed that the experience would have left them shaken. Birthright goes out of its way to ensure and guarantee the safety of all its participants, yet a group determined to “save Israel from itself” meanders off to neighborhoods where they could very well be greeted with Arabs chanting “Itbah al-Yahud” (Arabic for “slaughter the Jew”).

Birthright is totally transparent as far as its itinerary and its goal. If that itinerary and goal is too one-sided for your tastes or political views, no one is forcing you to participate. Speaking of one-sided political views, Zehut is a political party in Israel, espousing Jewish sovereignty in all parts of the Land of Israel. Zehut encourages voluntary emigration of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Yet, I am not aware of any members of Zehut or any college age students who identify with Zehut ideology signing up for Birthright and then walking off their Birthright trip only to proceed with a tour of Hebron with the express purpose of meeting with nationalist Jewish settlers, living in a city surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. For them to do so would be an affront to Birthright. To sign up for what amounts to an all expense paid for trip to Israel, only to walk off that trip because of one’s personal political agenda is antithetical to Judaism. My upbringing instilled in me that this is simply no way for a mentsch to behave. Would these same “walkers” accept an invitation to spend an evening with a family, only to get up partway through that evening, to walk over to and visit with a problematic neighbor?

If groups such as “If Not Now” maintain that Birthright is presenting our youth with a jaundiced view of Israel, then let “If Not Now” offer our youth an alternative Israel experience, replete with their own political agenda. They have every right to do so, provided they present themselves honestly. I will be the first to applaud their integrity regardless of how I feel about their orientation. If on the other hand, the behavior of such groups is less than forthright and honest, and their constituents sign up to participate on Birthright only to undermine Birthright, then they’ve reminded me how very repulsive it is when Jews turn against each other. And that, is a shanda of the highest order.

BIRTHRIGHT or BIRTH LIGHT

Last month I read about a program which is essentially Birthright turned on its head. Birthright as many of you may know is the brainchild of Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt. Twenty-two years ago, these two philanthropists came up with the idea of bringing Jewish youth (where at least one parent is a member of the tribe) to Israel. Whether you call it vitamin I (Israel) or vitamin J (Judaism), the purpose of Birthright is to introduce and hopefully whet the appetite of American Jewish youth toward their heritage. As far as numbers (participants), Birthright has been a phenomenal success.
The converse has been now created. A little more than a month ago, twenty-five students at the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at Haifa University embarked on a trip to these United States as part of a program to introduce them to American Jewish history, religion, and culture.
Kol HaKavod (way to go)! Yet, as important as it is for American Jewish youth to be exposed to Israel and as important as it is for Israelis to be exposed to Jewish America, it is vital that American Jewish youth be exposed to American Jewish history, culture and heritage. Sad to say, this has yet to happen. American Jewish youth – for that matter American Jewish adults as well – know bupkess when it comes to the contributions Jews have made to these United States and the ways Jews have shaped American culture.
If there are two abysmal failures inherent in the upcoming generation of American Jews, then it is the failure to take pride – real pride – in our country as well as the inability (due to ignorance)  to take pride in our American Jewish heritage.
Polish Americans have every right to shep naches that there is the Pulaski Skyway named for Casimir Pulaski founder of the American cavalry and hero of the American Revolution or that Henryk Magnuski, an engineer at Motorola was the principal engineer on the team that created the first walkie-talkie. Italian Americans have every right to shep naches that Christopher Columbus, Giovanni Verrazano and others played a major role in discovering this country. Irish Americans have given us no fewer than six presidents including, Andrew Jackson and J.F.K. as well as actors and television personalities such as Gregory Peck, Gracie Allen and Ed Sullivan. American Jews have every right to boast as well. The only problem is that American Jews are woefully ignorant when it comes to prominent American Jews such as Jonas Salk, Sergey Brin and Hal David, to name but three of so very many.
I love Israel. I truly do. But as proud as I am that Benjamin Netanyahu is the first Prime Minister to have been born on Israeli soil, I’m equally proud that Jack Lew, our current Secretary of the Treasury is a Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observing) New York born Jew. My heart would soar every time I would watch the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin make havdalah; my soul soars when I know that Ben Braffman, one of the leading defense attorneys in New York, would never dream of missing a Shacharis, or a Mincha, or a Maariv service. If it’s true that charity begins at home, then perhaps it’s also true that pride begins at home. I am so amazed, that I am at a loss for words when I see that Israel has become number one so many fields, despite all the obstacles it must overcome; I am so amazed that I am at a loss for words when I see how, in previous generations, American Jews became number one in so many fields, despite all the obstacles that they had to overcome.
Jewish leaders, secular as well as religious are bewailing the fact that we are losing so many of our best and brightest to assimilation. Perhaps these leaders ought to get up from their self-induced shivah they are sitting and realize that the epidemic that threatens American Jews is not assimilation, but ignorance. By all means, full steam ahead with Birthright Israel. At the same time, let’s use all means to sound the alarm, loud and clear for Birthright America.