Page 4 of 4
Muscles bulging as he grabs his duffle bag in Fenway on his way out for a road trip, Gabe Kapler tells me, "I've always been intrigued by the stronger, more powerful Jewish role models versus -- not that these guys aren't interesting people -- role models like Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal."
A month later on the phone from his off-season home in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, he continues, "The portrayal of Jews is as weak and that fires me up. It's our own fault. It's kept up by the parents of Jews because they stress education so hard rather than letting a person develop into whatever they are."
He says that if he was a big star, he'd make an even bigger deal about being Jewish, trumpeting it from every magazine cover and TV show he could.
Before he gets off the phone to spend time with his wife Lisa and their two young children (P), Kapler gives his bottom line: "I don't like our stereotypes. I think our stereotypes are bullshit." He says some Jews don't like the histrionic big time wrestler Goldberg, but to him the loudmouth is a modern Koufax. "He's charismatic and interesting and he's a stud. We need a stud."
More strident studs do seem to be stepping forward and volunteering for duty -- but those obsessed with Jews in sports aren't necessarily welcoming these new arrivals into the fold, no matter how prominent. In 1999, German tennis great Boris Becker told Inside Tennis magazine that his mother has a "Jewish background," and had fled Czechoslovakia in her youth. Then in 2003, international soccer superstar (and Posh Spice husband) David Beckham revealed to OK! magazine that his mother's father is Jewish.
"Beckham is a quarter Jewish, but doesn't practice Judaism," scoffs Ephraim Moxson of the Jewish Sports Review. "Becker's a crock. I don't think there's anything to that at all. It's like that Buffy Sainte-Marie song from the 60s where everyone claims to have Indian blood. Now everyone's claiming to have Jewish blood." Moxson also sniffs at claims by Russian ice skater Oksana Baiul that she is Jewish. "At best, one-eighth," he says. For the JSR, only one-half or better, or a convert who actively practices the faith will do. But there is hope on the horizon -- the next Koufax may arrive in the guise of a basketball player.
"Not like this guy from Maryland a few years ago, who Sports Illustrated called "The Jewish Jordan.'" Moxson says. "We knew from the beginning he wasn't good. Now he's playing B-level ball in Israel." Moxson can't even remember that player's name anymore. (It is Tamir Goodman.) Then, his voice turns from bitterness to raw excitement. Moxson spells the unusual last name of the could-be hero: "F-a-r-m-a-r." Jordan Farmar, a senior basketball player at Taft High School (Kapler's alma mater) in the San Fernando Valley, who has already committed to attend UCLA in Fall 2004.
"He's half-Jewish, half-Black. Bar Mitzvahed. Not only is he good, but he's the number one high school shooting guard in the nation, according to two national ratings guides. Two!" he exclaims, underlining the veracity of his claim. "He is the real deal."
This article first appeared in Heeb magazine.