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Welcome to the World, Maayan Shalva Weitzman

12 Jun

On Thursday, my wife and I welcomed our first child, a daughter, into the world. This morning we named her Maayan Shalva. Here’s why:

Dear Maayan Shalva Weitzman,

First off, welcome to the world. Right now I’m sitting at the kitchen table in Bubby Marla’s (is Bubby what we decided, Marla?) and Grandpa’s house, and you’re in the family room, on uncle Corey’s lap wrapped in your pink swaddle and so small and cute and beautiful, and you’ve only been in this world for three days, and yet somehow I already can’t imagine my life without you—though as I read this over I hear you wailing away upstairs and, well, let’s just say this parenting thing is really weird.

Anyway, please forgive the hackiness of this post—I mean formatting it as a letter? Such a cliché. It’s just that I really wanted to explain why your mother and I decided to name you Maayan Shalva. Also, I thought one day you might like to know how it is that you came to hold such a seemingly strange and non-American sounding name. After all, the name Maayan Shalva didn’t just appear out of thin air. Mommy and I gave it tons of thought, and even threw a few jabs at one another.

So let’s start with your middle name, Shalva. Shalva is a Hebrew word, it means tranquil, or peaceful. It can be found in verses in Job, Proverbs and other Judaic texts. It’s the feminine conjugation of the word Shlomo, which in English is Solomon.

Your great grandfather’s name was Solomon (Solomon D. Rosen, to be precise). He was my mother’s (I’d use her grandmother name here but she’s having some trouble picking one) father, my Popi. He died this past January, just about six months before you were born.

I know that as I write this you’re barely a person, but I have no qualms saying that you would have loved him. How could you not? He was everything you look for in a role model: smart and challenging but also kind. Proud but also selfless. Others came first. He always had a smile on his face, even as his body continued to fail him over the years in cruel ways. He never stopped learning, never stopped being curious about the world around him. He loved his family, his religion, his people, his countries (America and Israel), and a good corned beef sandwich. Also, he was a huge NBA fan. Need I say more?

We’re naming you after Popi so that we can honor him and keep his memory alive. But also, our hope is that giving you his name, Shalva, inspires you to follow in his footsteps and live a life that he would have made this great man proud.

As for Maayan, well, let’s begin where Mommy and I did—with the letter “M.” That’s for your Mommy’s Zayde, Bubby Marla’s father, Max. Like you, I never had the pleasure of meeting Zayde. But over the years I’ve heard so many stories about him and learned so much about his life. He was the epitome of a special man.

First, there’s his life story. Max is one of the millions of European Jews who spent time in one of Hitler’s concentration camps during World War II. Zayde spent years in Bergen Belsen, before being liberated and eventually making his way to Passaic, New Jersey. I won’t make you read here about the horrors of the Holocaust, or about the many ways that Zayde was tortured during his time in the camps. I will, however, share with you one story that I believe personifies the man you were named after:

Once, while in the camps, Nazi guards discovered a pair of hidden tefilin and phylacteries. They began threatening prisoners as they tried to learn to whom they belonged. Zayde, knowing the owner of the tefilin was too weak to withstand the punishment that would no doubt come his way if it were learned that he was the owner, claimed them as his own. He was beaten, but survived. And he never regretted the decision.

Despite all this, Zayde insisted on building a Jewish home in New Jersey. Which is great, but the trait that those who knew him use most when describing Zayde, and which I hope you imbibe, was his kindness. By all accounts, Zayde was as kind a man as there is. Need proof? Just ask Mommy’s Savta. Edith Horowitz is not a person who suffers fools. She’s not a woman who doles out compliments just to be nice. But ask her about your Zayde—a man she was not related to and didn’t have to love—and she’ll tell you what a special and sweet person he was. Our hope is that you live up to his name.

Now let’s talk about your full name. Maayan is Hebrew for wellspring, meaning a light in darkness. For one, Zayde’s Hebrew name was Meir, which means one who shines. The idea behind the names are the same—a Maayan brings comfort and warmth to those in need.

It was also important to your mother and I that your name be Hebrew. We wanted you to always be aware of your heritage, religion and culture, and to always feel connected to your second home—Israel, and to be proud of all of it and not slink into the background. Will it sound strange to some in America? Perhaps. But my hope is that one day you grow up and realize, like I, as someone named Yaron did, that being able to correct people (it’s Ya-rohn, no Yah-rin) is actually a blessing, to be able to explain to people what language your name is, and what it’s like to be Jewish and connected to Israel—that’s a great honor and gift, and also a responsibility we want you to have.

So, Maayan Shalva, that is how you got your name. Your name is there to honor Zayde and Popi, but also to serve as a beacon for the life we hope you live. Our blessing to you is that you live a life that would have made both them proud, and that you serve as a wellspring, a light, a comfort, to your friends, family, people and countries.

With love,

Abba and Mommy.

Who Wants to Read a Lot of Words About the NBA?

26 May

Time for my sort-of-bi-weekly update on things I’ve written and podcasts/video hits I’ve done recently.

  • I got to go to the NBA Draft lottery, which was interesting and fun but also weird and a bit boring. Anyway, here’s my write-up from the night, on the now all-powerful Boston Celtics, with quotes from the team’s co-owner, who was downing pizza while speaking to me. Apparently billionaires get hungry too.
  • Have you guys heard about this LeBron James guy? He’s pretty good. If I may toot my own horn for a minute, though (isn’t that the point of this website?) I was actually proud with how I handled this game story. Instead of waiting by the podium for the players to come out, I sort of posted up in the Cavs locker room and wound up getting some good scenery of LeBron reveling in his performance. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m awesome.
  • I spoke to Cavalier newcomers Kyle Korver and Deron Williams about the notion of magical switches. They both had interesting things to say.
  • Oh, hey, more drama with the Knicks.
  • I had the great Katie Baker on the Krispod Porzingcast to talk about the ’90s Knicks, which was fun because Katie’s great but also because it’s nice to take a break from talking triangle and other shapes.
  • Here’s my spitting hot fire about the NBA on CNN Philippines. And here, apparently, is my new stalker.
  • Spent a decent amount of time helping the awesome Brandon Sneed report this awesomely weird story about the need for NBA coaches to wear suits. Check it out.

I Did Some Stuff

14 May

So, been a busy few weeks with the NBA playoffs in full swing. Here’s all the stories I’ve written and podcasts I’ve recorded over the past couple of weeks:

Cool? Cool.

Hey, Look, I Wrote Some Stuff

7 Apr

Good friend Josh pointed out that, being that I’m so prolific, it would be smart for me to compile a newsletter of some sort linking to all the stories I’ve written the previous week. I’m not sure I want to invade the sacred space of an e-mail inbox, but figured why not do a weekly post containing all my links and the like (because who wouldn’t want to read everything I write, right?

So, here you go (we’re going back a little further with this list):

  • Marshall Plumlee takes trains and Ubers to games, and sometimes it gets him in trouble (Bleacher Report)
  • Meet the new breed of assistant coaches in the NBA, and read about the one place the Knicks are actually ahead of the curve (Bleacher Report)
  • Javale McGee is sick of being labeled a clown (SLAM Magazine)
  • How much blame does Jeff Hornacek deserve for the Knicks’ awful season? Good question, right? (Bleacher Report)
  • What should the Knicks do this offseason? Another good question, right? My friend Mike Scotto from Basketball Insiders came on my podcast to discuss (VSporto). Also broke down the draft with CBS Sports’ Howard Megdal (VSporto)
  • Tal Brody could have played in the NBA. Instead he decided to bring basketball to Israel (SLAM Magazine)
  • Speaking of Israel, meet Noad Lahat, the MMA fighter who happens to be Israel’s most boisterous supporter in the world of sports (Tablet Magazine)

Six Other Euphemisms for Lies

24 Jan

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  1. Substitute assertions
  2. Fact-less fact-based evidence
  3. Auxiliary accounts
  4. Half true half-truths
  5. Diverging declarations (we give additional points for alliteration)
  6. Things you say that I don’t like therefore I say they’re false because I can and more people will believe me than you

The Hardest Part About Keeping Kosher

26 Dec

screen-shot-2016-12-25-at-11-38-53-amForget the prohibition against eating milk and meat together, though cheeseburgers do sound, and look and smell, delicious. And forget all those other mystifying rules (the Bible doesn’t specify why God wants Jews to observe certain dietary restrictions; it just lists the rules and assume we’ll listen) that keep us (semi-) law-abiding Jews from enjoying treats like lobster and crispy fried bacon.

If you’re someone who tries to keep kosher, such as myself, then as the years go by you get used to the feeling of missing out. It becomes part of your DNA.

Some things, though, seem inane, and I’m not talking about any of the laws. The other day I was at Madison Square Garden and I decided to treat myself to a beef burrito from MSG’s kosher stand, ran by a kosher restaurant named Carlos & Gabby’s. The burrito comes with this creamy avocado ranch dressing. Sounds delicious, right? I thought so, too. Then I sat down and tried to unwrap the damn thing. That’s when I ran into this piece of orange tape that I swear the Hulk himself would have trouble ripping. I spent 10 minutes gnawing at this tape with my nails and teeth and plastic knife. It was like trying to break into Fort Knox.

Anyone who keeps kosher no doubt knows what I’m referring to, and has experienced this frustration before. But for those unaware, here’s a quick primer:

For kosher food to remain kosher it can’t come in contact with any non-kosher food, or, technically, with anything that’s even touched non-kosher food. So a chicken could be killed in accordance with all of Judaism’s laws, and it could have been cooked in a kosher kitchen, and packaged under the watchful eye of a mashgiach, meaning someone who is aware of all of Judaism’s kosher laws (and no, contrary to popular thought, there is no blessing from a rabbi required, nor does one take place), and all that could happen and yet if at some point the piece of chicken is rested on a plate that at one point served a cheeseburger then it immediately morphs into a non-kosher piece of food.

That’s where the tape comes in. It’s there to signify that the food hasn’t been tampered with since it left the kosher institution. If the tape is broken, then you have a problem, or at least those who care about such things do. And so I get why it’s there, and why it can’t just be a piece of CVS-brand scotch tape.

But I think the Jews have taken this too far.

Opening my sandwich should not cause me to break a sweat. You know what happened when I finally broke my burrito free of its prison?

Chunks of beef and rice came pouring out. All the shifting back and forth had ripped a hole in my tortilla.

I understand the desire to ensure that everything remains kosher, but certainly there must be a better way. I say we either adopt more of an honor system (if someone decided to fuck with all the Jews by taking every MSG kosher burrito out its foil, then dipping them all into some sort bacon sauce, only to re-package them and sell them to Jews—well, I say that person deserves his or her victory just for the putting in that much work). But keeping kosher is hard enough without this obstacle course.

So, God, here’s my offer:

Either provide one of your followers with the plans for some sort of special tape.

Or it’s back to “non-kosher” tuna wraps for me.

The choice is yours.

 

A Sad Day

9 Nov

There’s a scene from the movie The Hammer that I love. You’ve probably never seen the movie. I don’t think many people did. It’s a solid low-budget comedy. Adam Carrolla wrote the film and stars in it. He plays a down-on-his-luck boxer trying to qualify for the Olympics. His primary competition is a younger black boxer. They start out enemies and later become friends. You know how these types of plots go.

Before the climax, though, there’s a scene where the younger black boxer asks the Olympic coach why Carrolla’s character, who’s over the hill and out of shape, is being granted this opportunity.

“I bet you wouldn’t give this shot to a 40-year-old black man,” he says to the coach.

“Yeah, coach, when is the black man finally gonna get a fair shake in the fight game,” Carrolla’s character responds.

Last night, as I watched the voting results come in, I couldn’t help but think about this line.

Finally, the voice of oppressed white man has been heard.

*  *  *

I haven’t spoken to my dad yet, who’s in Europe for work. We talked early Tuesday before the election, but not since Donald Trump was declared the victor.

My dad has spent his entire adult life fighting anti-Semitism, and all forms of racism and xenophobia too, both in the United States and abroad. That’s been his area of expertise, and his profession; he works for a Jewish human rights group. His life mission has been to make the world a better place. His tool has been history. He wrote a book about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and laid out the reasons why that centuries-old myth about Jews secretly wanting to run the world, a myth that has led to the deaths and percussion of a countless numbers of Jewish men and women and children throughout history, is false. He’s currently fighting the desire of European white nationalists to erase and distort the history of the Holocaust.

His life’s goal has been to keep the world, and Jews in particular, from succumbing to the cliché about what happens to those who don’t know history.

This morning I asked both my mom and brother if they’d heard from my dad. My mom said yes, she said he was distraught.

“He told me that he always thought he’d leave his kids a world that was better than the one he came up in,” my brother told me. “He doesn’t feel that way anymore.”

A few hours later my brother sent me an instant message. It was a link to Philadelphia website. I clicked.

“Police Investigating Two Swastikas Painted on South Philly Building,” the headline read. The word “Sieg Heil”—Hail Victory—was spray painted in black onto a glass window.

*  *  *

The first tears came last night. Actually, I think it was officially the morning by the time it became clear that Trump would win. I cried then, and I cried during his spine-chilling acceptance speech and I cried this morning while watching President Obama address the nation. I cried as I tried to get on with my life and write about the Knicks’ defense.

I cried some more when, for the first time in my life, this thing I’d devoted so much energy to—sports—seemed futile.

*  *  *

I’ll leave the in depth political breakdowns to others. I’m not a political scientist. There is one piece of voter information I’d like to share though, courtesy of Bread Heath of USA Today:

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Ignore all the talk about the White Working Class and Frustrated Rust Belt. That’s cable news horse race talk, futile bullshit deployed as a warm blanket to avoid confronting what really happened last night.

A white nationalist running a xenophobic campaign—one in which he regularly insulted Mexicans and black people and Muslims and women and people with disabilities and Jews (more on this in a bit)—was elected President of the United States.

That didn’t happen because a large group of people felt disenfranchised. That’s what Beltway pundits and soulless Republican leaders said. But it’s not what the voters themselves claimed.

DRAIN THE SWAMP, they chanted. DRAIN THE SWAMP!

This had nothing to do with the economy.

This had everything to do with race.

*  *  *

Show me a time throughout the history of the world that xenophobic rage STOPPED before reaching the Jews?

This is a question I’ve been posing to Jewish Trump supporters I meet or anyone else attempting to peddle a softer image of this day. Find me a moment in history when a nationalist rage directed at minorities didn’t endanger the freedom and safety of the Jewish people.

And so, to the large swath of Orthodox Jews out there (of which I am one and so I will focus on here, though you we are not alone in being targets of the Trump clan) who supported this demagogue throughout the campaign because of #EMAILS and #CROOKED and #BENGHAZI I say this to you:

What the fuck is wrong with you people?

Forget, for a moment, the idea that Trump is a morally repugnant human being who’s mere mention should cause every decent human being to vomit. And let’s also move past the notion that it’s utterly insane for any person of Jewish faith—a faith which for thousands of years has been attacked for the sin of being different—to side the a leader preaching hate and not pro-inclusion.

Forget all that for a second, as hard as it is.

Instead I ask you this less humane question: where are your self-survival instincts? What do you believe separates Jews from other minorities? Your white skin compared to their brown and black complexion? Have you checked Twitter recently? Have you seen the millions of Neo-Nazis who have been energized by Trump and come out of hiding? Have you seen the attacks being lobbed at Jewish journalists? Have you heard that David Duke is once again relevant?

Have you heard radio host Alex Jones, a trump buddy and ally, reference the “Jewish Mafia in the United States”?

You know I was thinking, they’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption I’m anti-Semitic, there’s mafias of all different stripes and groups but since you want to talk about it, the Emanuels are Jewish mafia. So there you go. But, I mean it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.

These are the people that catapulted Trump to the White House. These are the people he owes his position.

Trump knows this, too. His campaign was proof. There were all the Nazi tweets and memes, most of which we’ve forgotten about. The pile of cash with the Star of David on it. The Benito Mussolini quote. His son’s love of Nazi twitter accounts. The refusal to denounce David Duke.

Then there was his latest commercial, ripped from the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Here’s the Washington Post (liberal MAINSTREEM MEDIA rag, I know) on the ad:

Well, Trump just gave his reply. On Friday, he released a closing ad for his campaign repeating offending lines from that speech, this time illustrated with images of prominent Jews: financier George Soros (accompanying the words “those who control the levers of power”), Fed Chair Janet Yellen (with the words “global special interests”) and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (following the “global power structure” quote). The ad shows Hillary Clinton and says she partners “with these people who don’t have your good in mind.”

This is usually the point where I hear about Ivanka (you know, the daughter he wants to fuck) being Jewish and how her husband, Jared Kushner (a good Jewish boy who comes from an upstanding Jewish family that stands for everything good in the religi…) and how his lawyer is Jewish and they all say he likes Jews and therefore all these claims are just the CROOKED media distorting the truth.

To which I answer: pick up a history book. Go speak with a Holocaust survivor. Learn what anti-Semitism truly looks like, how it actually manifest itself.

“Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day,” Trump is quoted as saying.

“I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money …Look, I’m a negotiator like you folks, we’re negotiators,” he told the Republican Jewish convention this year.

Anti-Semitism, like racism, isn’t just the use of derogatory epithets. You don’t need to toss around words like nigger or kike to be a racist, to believe that people who are different are inherently lesser beings.

Donald Trump and the majority of his voters who made this a reality view minorities the same way: black people, brown people, Jewish people, they believe these large swaths of people are all inferior beings, that white Europeans are the stronger race.

That’s racism. That’s anti-Semitism. That’s xenophobia. And it doesn’t disappear because a campaign is complete.

*  *  *

People will suffer. We don’t yet know how, we don’t yet know. But the suffering will come. It could come in the form of deportations. It could be revoked health coverage. It could be an attack on a woman’s right to choose. Perhaps black people will continue to have their voting rights attacked. Gay freedoms. It could be more subtle. There’s going to be an Alt-Right leaning executive branch and House and Supreme Court.

What do you think is going to happen? I’ve been asked. It’s not so bad.

We now know we live in a country in which millions of people believe a demagogue should hold the most important position in the world. Millions of people were okay with handing a career con man.

But Clinton was crooked and nasty and a crook

Trump’s personal charity foundation has been proven to be a front, one used to enrich himself. There are numerous documentations of him refusing to pay his end of a contract simply because he felt he could get away with it and out spend smaller people in court. He hasn’t released his tax returns. An ex-wife of his claimed he raped her. We have a fucking videotape of him admitting to being a sexual predator.

The tape led to the firing of Billy Bush. The standards for hosting the Today Show are higher than those for being President.

The press, the backbone of a free and vibrant democracy—my opinion, but also one belonging to those old white men that Republicans masturbate to at night—is no longer valued. We now have proof that citizens can no longer differentiate between reported journalism and the moronic dribble that populates outlets like Breitbart. On Facebook everything looks the same. If there’s one thing we learned this election—one in which almost every single reputable newspaper and magazine endorsed Clinton and sounded the alarm about Trump—the media no longer has the ability to influence. It’s (and I hate the tossing of all of The Media under one umbrella) is not trusted. It’s viewed as a problem.

Not of this is an accident either. Trump is the culmination of decades of dog whistles and conspiracy talk coming from the right wing. The difference is he’s the first to realize that he could take off the mask, skip right over the Wall Street Journal editorial types and speak directly to the so-called Alt-Right, a group that no longer exists.

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The Alt Right is The Right. They won.

So, please, spare me the cable news-like narrative that clearly Americans just wanted a change. Spare me the bunkum that Demagogue Trump was just a pawn for campaign season and that now everyone is going to come together and sing Kumbaya. Spare me any thing that attempts to normalize Trump’s past behavior and actions, or paint a picture of a man who’s spent the past 60-plus years lying, cheating and stealing suddenly changing his ways after becoming MORE powerful.

Spare me the canned anti-Hillary lines, and anything that attempts to portray the behavior of these two in the same light.

Trump is a different beast, and a beast is exactly what he is. I know my writing this doesn’t change anything. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak up.