Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

ACCORDING TO A MIDRASH, THE JEWS WERE redeemed from bondage in Egypt because they retained their Hebrew names. These days, Jewish kids outside Israel aren’t given Hebrew names in addition to their Bradleys or Brittneys as a matter of course, as they were once – unless, of course, they’re called something like David, Joshua or Rachel instead of Shawn or Ashley.

And even kids who do get an Avraham, Sarah or Hayah early on don’t have a clue as to what it is: The name exists in the memory of some elderly relative, on a piece of paper, or in a drawer next to other “important” family documents.

At a recent American bar mitzvah, the mother related that James was named for film character James Bond and singer James Taylor; she only noted in passing the boy’s Hebrew name (I forget what it is, but James could be Ya’akov, or Jacob).

Some parents, of course, care dearly about giving Hebrew names. Today, in addition to advice and wisdom from family members, expecting or new parents can surf for a name. For advice on baby namings in interfaith families, and links to lists of names, visit http://www.jewishbabynames.net For example, it suggests Batyah or Bruriyah for Bettina, and Dov for Dylan.

For helpful hints on naming your Jewish baby, with sections on ancient Biblical and modern Israeli names, try http://judaism.about.com

At http://www.tricityjcc.org the user-friendly JCC of Tempe, Arizona site, there’s a section on “look up a Hebrew name” and a search engine to find names starting with each English letter. At http://www.ritualwell.org ritual.html?docid=164, the “ceremonies for Jewish living” website, you can learn about birth and naming symbols (henna, for one), and reasons for giving tzedakah at a baby naming.

And how do you make sure your Bradley and Brittney will never forget their Hebrew names? You can write it down in the front of a family Bible, or at http://www.jewishbabynames.net you can order “The Hebrew Birth Plate: a unique birth certificate on ceramic, carrying your baby’s Hebrew name and Hebrew birth date inscribed on a lifelong keepsake,” for $25.90-$35.90, depending on size.

Unfortunately, there is always the chance the name will not match the child’s personality. For a hilarious look at this problem, check out the new children’s book “Shemot Muzarim” (Strange Names) by Shari Dash Greenspan (with illustrations by The Report’s Avi Katz) by following the link to Children’s Books from http://www.urimpublications.com If you can’t read the original Hebrew, there’s a translation, at http://www.jbooks.com where you’ll meet Keshet (Rainbow) who only loves black, Binyamin (Son of My Right Hand) who’s a southpaw, and an entire kindergarten class with names that couldn’t fit less.

Read more

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Ask an American Jew in his 40s or older to name his most memorable Jewish experience, and there’s a good chance he’ll say Sandy Koufax sitting out the first game of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur. Ask the same man how many Jews have ever played Major League baseball and he’ll have a hard time filling the fingers of one hand. He’ll instantly name Koufax, Hank Greenberg and maybe Moe Berg, and might come up with Ken Holzman and Shawn Green.

And yet, 142 Jews played in the Major Leagues between 1871 and the 2003 All-Star break. Remembering their names is one thing; finding baseball cards to teach your kids about them is another.

Like many American boys, Martin Abramowitz, Boston Jewish community professional and baseball fan, collected baseball cards as he followed the New York Yankees and Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers in the 40s and 50s. At some point, he stopped collecting, starting again only when his youngest son became interested. When Abramowitz dug out his dusty cards, he couldn’t stop thinking of those 142 Jews.

Abramowitz did his homework: He learned that Jews make up 0.8 percent of the 16,700 men who have ever played major league baseball; they’ve had 22,246 hits, 2,032 home runs and 10,602 RBIs, and they boast a combined.265 batting average (three points higher than the averages of all players in the same time period). The pitchers compiled a win-loss record of 1,134-1,114 with 810 complete games (164 shutouts) and 11,632 strikeouts. Sandy Koufax and Ken Holtzman account for five of the 230 all-time no-hitters (Koufax: 3; Holtzman: 2).

And 42 of the 142 have never appeared on a baseball card. Who, Abramowitz thought, would tell the story of Reuben Ewing? Ewing was born Reuben Cohen in Odessa in 1899, and emigrated to Connecticut in 1901. He joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 1921 and appeared in three games at shortstop; he was flawless in his one fielding opportunity and hitless in his only at-bat.

Or Henry William Scheer, a part-time infielder who played in 120 games. “Heine” served as a second baseman for the 1925 Reading Keystones of the International League, where he combined with then- shortstop Moe Berg as the only documented Jewish double-play combination in the history of professional baseball.

To give all these guys their due, Martin and his 11-year-old son, Jacob, decided to create a set of Jewish baseball cards. Harrison Grass, a Camp Ramah buddy of Jacob’s, had amazed bunkmates with his extensive card collection – and with the fact that his father Roger was president of Fleer Trading Cards. After the two dads found a few minutes to schmooze on Visitors Day, Grass was hooked.
Fleer offered to produce the set for the American Jewish Historical Association and to work with Major League Baseball and with the Major League Baseball Players Association to make it happen. The agreement was to produce 15,000 sets of cards. (Full sets can be ordered, for $100 and up, at http://www.ajhs.org) Abramowitz loves the sepia-colored photo of Moses H. (Moe) Solomon, standing on the field in his Giants uniform, his right glove hand extended in the air. “He’s in an obvious Statue of Liberty pose, looking longingly in the distance, symbolizing for me aspiration and the American Dream,” says Abramowitz. While Solomon appeared in only two games as an outfielder for the Giants in 1923, he had 3 hits in 8 at- bats – an impressive.375 average. And his 49 home runs as minor leaguer earned him the twin nicknames, “The Jewish Babe Ruth” and “The Rabbi of Swat.”

Read more

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Maccabiah sports competitions were a highlight for many of us in our Jewish summer camp days. Some of those camp athletes went on to compete against others in the Maccabiah Games, and most Israelis root for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of Europe’s top basketball teams.

The association of the Maccabee Hanukkah heroes and sports is obvious; both have to do with striving for victory. But the origin of the Hebrew adjective makabi is still unclear, over 2,150 years after Judah and his brothers retired from army service, the monarchy and the oil business. Some theories suggested on http://www.jafi.org.il and on http://www.hebroots.org include the well- known idea that Maccabee is an acronoym for the siddur’s “Mi Kamokha Ba’elim Adonai” (“Who is like You among the gods, O Lord”). Others posit that Maccabee is hammer, from the Hebrew makevet, and transliterated from a similar Greek word, makkabaios – the title given to Judah, third son of Mattathias the Hasmonean.

If you wonder what Judah and the brothers ate, however, you’ll get no insight from http://www.macabeefoods.com where you’ll read about frozen kosher products but nothing that was on the Hasmonean menu. And if you can’t battle the enemies of the people, like Judah, but nevertheless want to support the national economy, try http://www.macabim.com for Israel-made snack foods. (Would Judah recognize himself on the company logo of two Maccabees with beards and helmets?) Even more remote from what the Maccabbees ate, obtainable through http://www.maccabeans.com are “Maccabean legendary jelly beans.” The Judah look-a-like in white toga, blue headband, and an “M” on his chest, guarantees the jelly beans are “sure to make your day victorious!”

From food to footwear: Ever wonder what shoes the Hasmoneans’ wives and daughters wore? Could they have been the Reebok Women’s Court Macabee RB shoe, described at http://www.tennis-warehouse.com
Remember the pictures of Macabees on elephants? Perhaps they learned to ride at Macabee Farm – though Woodbridge, Connecticut, is a long way from Modi’in, the Hasmonean hometown. At http://www.macabeefarm.com we learn that the 16-acre ranch has horses, not pachyderms, and was once a U.S. Nike missile site Finally, if Judah and the boys would want to get away from it all, they could make for the Macabee Beach, near Cannery Row and Monterey, California. (Follow the links from http://www.bayareadiving.com http://www.montereyherald.com or http://montereyinfo.org) Unfortunately, there’s no explanation of the name, which sometimes appears as MacAbee. On second thought, a California beach is probably too cold and too damp for a Hanukkah celebration.

Read more

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

In these troubles times, with anti-semitism and worse apparently on the rise everywhere, it’s not a bad idea to learn some kind of self-defense. The fact that lots of other people are doing so is demonstrated by one simple statistic: The martial arts industry reportedly generates annual revenues of more than $1 billion.

The Jewish segment of that market is, understandably, much smaller. But there are ways to protect body and soul with a Jewish twist, or kvetch.

You might start out with an Israeli technique. Recent ads in New York’s Village Voice for krav maga (translated as contact combat) invite people to “learn street effective techniques designed by the Israel Defense Forces” at http://www.kravmagainc.com). The history of krav maga provided on another site, http://www.kravmaga.com explains how Imi Lichtenfeld, born in Bratislava, developed the form in Israel just prior to independence, when “Israelis were not permitted to bear arms, yet individuals needed to defend themselves.”

Martial arts in Israel have a rich history. At http://www.geocities.com (site of the Hisardut [Survival] Dennis Ju- Jitsu Foundation), learn how founder Dennis Hanover left Moshav Moledet, and opened a dojo in Tel Aviv in 1966. He taught Budoka (the first multiple martial arts style), then Judokwai, the first Israeli mixed judo-karate-jujitsu program. You will also learn about Japan disinviting Israel from a karate tournament in 1979 (“under Arab pressure,” it says), and about the debate (at the time) over whether martial arts in Israel should be taught under police supervision.

http://www.jujitsu.org.il notes that jujitsu’s roots are ju meaning “gentle” and jitsu meaning “art” in Japanese. On this site, you can also view actual techniques (with a warning that they are “dangerous and it is forbidden to do them without guidance”). There’s also a list of dojos, or clubs, in Israel.

If you are more comfortable reading than kicking, go to http://www.kodesh.org “Tora-Torah” is a weekly column on the portion of the week, with insights into the inner aspects of Jewish martial arts as taught by Grand Master H.I. Sobers Association.

For another faith’s take on martial arts, read “Should a Christian Practice the Martial Arts,” at http://www.equip.org Or try http://www.probe.org to read entries like “Self-defense or turn the other cheek?”
Finally, you can read about Rabbi Sarah Graff of Palo Alto, California, at http://www.jewishsf.com She “combines the movements of tae kwon with the traditional cantillations used in the Torah reading, saying, “I teach the side kick, which resembles the wishbone shape of etnachta [one of the cantillation marks, or tropes], with the chanting of etnachta.”

Read more