From the other side of the bench


Going for the gold

By David Seidemann

Issue of August 22, 2008

Once every two years, the nations of the world are supposed to lay down their arms, cease all military conflicts, and unite behind the concept of “sports,” to unify a severely fragmented world. It rarely happens though, and as was the case in the Munich Olympics, it results in violence itself. Every Olympics brings with it the horrific memories of the murders of Israeli athletes at the Munich games, the decision to proceed with the games and the decision of the Jewish Olympic gold winner Mark Spitz to pack his bags and return home.

If you ask me, perhaps that’s how all military conflicts should be resolved. Hand the combatants bathing suits, volleyball and a stage of sand. Winner takes all. At least there won’t be any loss of life. In fact, as war was raging between Russia and Georgia this week, members of both countries embraced each other and then played beach volleyball in Beijing. The female duo from Georgia bested the ladies from Russia competing for medals instead of killing each other with metal, as their fellow countrymen were doing back home.

The Olympics also serves as a break of sorts and allows the youth of America to find heroes in the gym and in the pool as opposed to the scantily dressed, anorexic-looking models or gangsta rappers of Hollywood. It’s short lived, but nevertheless a diversion. The games also serve as a reminder that any success we enjoy is a result of hard work, patience and perseverance. Unlike the Russian-Georgian conflict, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals by staying in his lane, his territory, and not seeking victory by drowning his opponent.

The Russian-Georgian conflict was born of Russia’s interest in once again becoming the “Soviet Union” of old. Such a plan cannot be tolerated by the free world. And so the question, as always, is: what is the appropriate response, understanding the risks? The most effective way to respond to an enemy is to evaluate what they really want. Yes, Russia seeks to revive its empire, but what they really want is global acceptance from the economic leaders of the world. Accordingly, economic sanctions are both appropriate and in all probability would be successful.

The Arabs, on the other hand, are primarily focused on driving Israel into the sea. Accordingly, economic isolation, while warranted, will never suffice, as their bottom line is the destruction of the Jewish State. Therefore, the proper response to their aggression is a policy of “do unto them what they wish to do unto you before they do it unto you.” Unfortunately, Israel has not shown the resolve to adopt that philosophy.

In all walks of life, what works for one is not necessarily what will work for another. Conversely, in certain situations, it’s never too late to teach an “old dog new tricks.” So let me share with you a story I heard just last night, while attending a wedding in Chicago.

Carol, her husband Steve and their four children recently moved from California to her hometown in the Midwest. She was raised in that town and her entire family, parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins — 62 of them in all — belong to the same Temple. Though the Temple has close to 1,000 seats, even on Yom Kippur no more than 200 are filled, with over 60 of them seating Carol’s family.

When Carol moved back “home,” the entire extended family was overjoyed. They looked forward to worshiping with her and her husband and children in the Temple where she worshiped as a child. She was a little girl then, but they all attended Yom Kippur services together and then broke their fasts at Grandpa and Grandma’s house at about 5:00 pm. That was the case even though Yom Kippur didn’t end until 8:00 pm.

But since Carol moved away, she became Orthodox, married Steve and raised four children in the Orthodox tradition. Her family simply could not accept her decision not to worship with them at the Temple. They castigated her for being anti-family and in fact anti-religion for not joining them at the Reform Synagogue where she grew up. Sixty-two of them attended Yom Kippur services at the Temple last year, but Carol was steadfast in her refusal. She invited her parents to worship with her in the Orthodox Shul. They dismissed it outright.

At the conclusion of services last Yom Kippur, at approximately 8:30 p.m., Grandpa came to Carol and Steve’s house. Gramps asked the children how their Yom Kippur was. They replied that they were exhausted, yet exhilarated. Gramps said he was exhausted too and was bored out of his mind all day. “The rabbi preached and the cantor sang,” Gramps said, “and all of us, the whole family, sat there wishing the day would finally conclude.”

The children countered, “We didn’t want the day to end. You, Grandpa, you and all of our family sat there as the Rabbi spoke, and you listened. We, on the other hand, we spoke and G-d listened.”

He was so moved by what his grandchildren said, Carol told me, that he has already made reservations to sit with Carol, Steve and the grandkids this coming Yom Kippur in their shul, his new shul. “All these years I thought prayer was about listening. I realize now,” he said, “that it’s about talking.”

That, my friends, is a performance worthy of the gold.

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann & Mermelstein. He can be reached at (718) 692-1013 and at