21 December 2012
8 Tevet 5773
Two Dreamers: Joseph and the “Jewish Jordan”
During this emotional week before winter break, it was an inspiring change of pace to welcome to Wednesday’s Limud Clali our guest speaker, Tamir Goodman, otherwise known as the “Jewish Michael Jordan.” Tamir regaled us with stories of his personal journey as a devout Orthodox Jew who rose to play Division 1 college basketball and professional basketball in Israel. In many ways Tamir is the perfect role model for Gann’s vision of Jewish education and the Jewish identity of our students—not because we want or expect all of our students to be Orthodox or even observant but rather because we aim to prepare them to fully express their personal Jewish identities with integrity and authenticity while living full, integrated lives in pursuit of their passions.
Tamir structured his message to our students around four basketball themes, each of which punctuated essential moments for him and life lessons that he learned. One of them was the metaphor of the free throw. In basketball, when you get fouled while shooting a shot, you go to the free throw line to shoot two uncontested shots. When great players are off their game, Tamir explained, they often get back into a rhythm by making a free throw shot. What is the deeper meaning for life? When things get tough, don’t change who you are. You get back on your game by going back to your home base, back to who you are.
I loved Tamir’s four lessons, but equally inspiring for me were his passion and clarity about his Jewish faith and commitment. As the students who introduced him said, his life was riddled with what the Jewish Mussar tradition calls “bechira points”—choice points. Over and over again, he had opportunities to place basketball over his Jewish beliefs and practice, but, time and again, he “went back to the free throw line”—he stayed true to who he was. Amazingly, each choice he made that would seemingly end his basketball career brought new learning and new opportunities.
Perhaps, most powerful to me was Tamir’s sense of purpose. At one point he said, “I am here on this earth for a reason. Hashem (God) brought me into this world to do good through basketball.” In spite of all the challenges he faced along the way, he sees a larger picture and vision for his life. This reminded me of the opening of this week’s parsha, Vayigash, and the dramatic culmination of the Joseph story. Right after Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and reminds them, quite directly, that they sold him into slavery, he repeats in various different ways the same refrain: “Don’t be afraid of sad…. for God sent me before you…It was not you who sent me here, but God.” With the simplicity, clarity, and the almost-naïve lack of ego of the child dreamer, Joseph suggests that his entire journey is simply the unfolding of God’s plan for him, his family, and the world.
Tamir’s story combines complexity and clarity. There were so many moments when he was faced with seemingly impossible choices between conflicting values, conflicting passions, and conflicting visions of who he was and who he would become. At the same time he was guided by such a clear sense of purpose and personal authenticity by the message, the blessing, that his parents gave him: “You can do anything in the world you want, as long as you see it as an opportunity to do a Kiddush Hashem (literally ‘sanctifying God’s name’ – which refers to bringing honor to God and to Judaism by publically living out positive values and doing good in the world).
What a beautiful message for all of us as we head into winter break! We make choices everyday about how we want to live and who we want to be in the world. May we be blessed with the courage and humility to pursue goodness and truth while embracing the complexity of our competing values, and may we also be guided by inner strength, personal integrity, clarity, and a sense of purpose for our lives.
Wishing all of you a restful and restorative winter break and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Marc Baker