I have been a Jew my entire life.
I have been a sports fan for most of my life.
I have been a rabbi for more than half of my life.
I have been a Boston sports fan for the past 40 years.
My family started out as Conservative Jews, but we became affiliated with the Reform movement about 60 years ago.
I started out as a Kansas City sports fan, but switched allegiances when I moved to Boston—except when the Kansas City Royals won the World Series and the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
So, whether you are a sports fan or not, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that my two heroes are members of the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs — and they are Jewish, proudly Jewish, publicly Jewish, vocally Jewish, bravely Jewish.
They are my heroes because they spoke out against anti-Semitism. And the two reasons I’m writing about these men for this website are in these two questions: Is speaking out against anti-Semitism a sacred act? Do we get more or less courageous as we grow older?
Their courage and commitment has been written about by the Forward (forward.com) and kveller.com. Amid all of the positive effects of Black Lives Matter, there are troubling elements of it as expressed by some of its supporters. One of them is DeSean Jackson, a man of color and a Philadelphia Eagles player, who posted quotes falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler on his Instagram Stories. His post read, in part:
“. . . the white Jews knows that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep America’s secret the Jews will blackmail America. . . . They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they are.”
Responding to criticism of these statements and his quoting of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Jackson said: “Anyone who feels I have hate towards the Jewish community took my post the wrong way. . . . I have no hatred in my heart towards no one!” He later removed and apologized for the posts.
Julian Edelman, a member of the New England Patriots, replied to Jackson on Instagram with a video. A Jew who identified with Judaism in his 30’s, Edelman said in a video on Instagram:
“I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, and to me, it’s not just about religion, it’s about community and culture as well. . . . It was only after I became a part of this community that I learned how destructive that hate is. Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest forms of hatred, it’s rooted in ignorance and fear. . . . (The Black community and the Jewish community) have a lot in common — “both attacked by the ignorant and the hateful. . . . We need to listen. We need to learn. We need to act. We need to have those uncomfortable conversations if we’re going to have real change.”
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But Julian Edelman is not just a man of words — he’s a man of action. Here’s how he ended the video:
“Desean, let’s do a deal, how about we go to D.C., and I take you to the Holocaust Museum, and you take me to the Museum of African-American History and Culture. Afterward, we grab some burgers, and we have those uncomfortable conversations. This world could use a little more love, compassion and empathy.”
In a subsequent post, Edelman said:
“DeSean and I spoke for awhile last night. We’re making plans to use our experiences to educate one another and grow together. Stay tuned.”
Kansas City Chiefs player Mitchell Schwartz’s work environment is characterized by racial and religious diversity, and he has not experienced anti-Semitism from his teammates. In fact, he says that “they have always been supportive and interested in my faith.” He posted his own response to Jackson on Instagram:
“My hope is we can use this moment to shed light on and bring awareness to the hate and oppression the Jewish community still faces while standing strong with the Black Lives Matter movement. We can only have change if we denounce racism and bias in all its forms. Our platforms as athletes are a powerful tool, and with them comes immense responsibility. We can all do better.”
How did you respond to anti-Semitism when you were younger? Would your response be any different now? Does it take courage to speak out? And does it increase as we grow older? These are important questions to consider in the political and social climate in which we live.
I am reminded of two statements from the Pirkei Avot, the Sayings of the Fathers from the Mishnah, which I am translating somewhat broadly:
4:1—Ben Zoma said: “Who is a hero? One who controls one’s [natural] urges, as it is said, ‘One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and one who rules one’s spirit than one who conquers a city.” [Prov. 16:32]
2:5—Hillel said: “In a place where no one is behaving like a mensch, try to be a mensch.”
As far as I’m concerned, Julian Edelman and Mitchell Schwartz are Jewish heroes. They have controlled their anger. They are mensches.