Said the Rebbe to the Politican: Be Like a Professional
[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
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
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
"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
"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
"'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 (www.ohrtmimim.org/torah)].