I have been in Jerusalem, the Holy City for over a week know. One of the first questions I get asked from folks back in the US, especially my foodie friends is: How's the food?! I wouldn't say that I have eaten my way through the Middle East, but I've certainly enjoyed trying and tasting Israeli food. I'm intrigued by the rich and contrasting spices they use on meat, in salads, etc. I believe my culinary experiences serve as a metaphor for what I have learned as well.
I am at Yad Vashem for an 18-day seminar for 30 teachers from the US, Canada, Italy, and Serbia. We are studying the Holocaust—known here as the Shoah—and how the events before, during and after relate to the world and our classrooms today.
Our days are long, as we have professors from all over the world giving lectures on historical, sociological, religious and ethical matters. I am learning about The Final Solution and its Implementation on one day and the history of the state of Israel on the next. During our breaks, I am having conversations about the roots of Anti-Semitism only to be lightened by debates over my super team, the Golden State Warriors...AND they just signed Israeli star Omri Casspi! I have learned about the Maccabiah games and the Palmach. I came to Israel knowing that my time here would be very spiritual. I had no idea or expectation for what I might learn about sports. I needed little time to make a connection.
One of my favorite lectures was "Antecedents to Holocaust Writing in Eastern European Jewish Culture." In order for us to understand this topic, we had to learn about Jewish life and the use of Yiddish. I love language and the origin of words. Yiddish colors the vernacular of many Americans today but before the war was spoken among eight to nine million Jews. Today, Yiddish expressions pepper our conversations but this language—a combination of German and Hebrew, continually offers me new and deeper insights about people and personalities.
For example, In this afternoon's session: An Introduction to Jewish Leadership during the Shoah, I came to learn about Rabbi Leo beach, a German theologian and scholar. He served as the president of a German organization that united Jews from 1933-1938. The rabbi teaching the class said "he was a real mensch." Familiar and yet unfamiliar with this word, I inquired further. According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, a "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being 'a real mensch' is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous." The term is used as a high compliment, implying the rarity and value of that individual's qualities.
I started to wonder if this is a term I should be using more often with my students or athletes.
I have written about awards in athletics many times: my favorite (Defensive Player of the Year), who deserves what, mistakes we have made, and a case for others. I'm not convinced the Mensch Award could work. To me, the word sounds derogatory (it shouldn't) and kitschy. I believe awards can serve as a teaching opportunity, so honor with this title could be bashert, but during my lunch break, I discovered another idea....my palette encountered a new flavor. I finished my Chicken Pomegranate Shawarma and read a great piece by Shane Battier in The Players' Tribune: Elite 'Glue Guys' 101.
I'll let Part Two of this article unpack what it means to be the glue guy or the glue girl: A player who makes everything work when they're on the court. I've encountered her as an athlete and a coach. They are different than Steve Nash, who makes everyone better. They are, exactly what the word suggests.
Enjoy—he's got an incredible personal story, and he is a good writer. He's observant, thoughtful and I think it's safe to say, a mensch. And, I have to admit, LeBron is a decent singer...no surprise, a good dancer. Check out the video in the story! #Battioke2017