When I saw that the Sacramento Kings picked Israeli Omri Casspi in the first round of the NBA draft, images of the movie Airplane flashed through my mind:
Elaine Dickinson: Would you like something to read?
Hanging Lady: Do you have anything light?
Elaine Dickinson: How about this leaflet, "Famous Jewish Sports Legends?"
The stereotype is hard to shake. I also think that it's a stereotype most Jews would just laugh at if a gentile made a joke about. I certainly can't think of many professional openly Jewish athletes in America today. (My father would scream, "what about Sandy Koufax?" To which I'd reply, " Sandy Koufax who refused to pitch on Yom Kippur during the 1965 world series? 1965!" of course, Shawn Green of the LA Dodgers also refused to play on Yom Kippur in 2004 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3935847 How many people even know about that?)
Obviously, in Israel the stereotype of the weak athletic abilities of is moot. Almost every Israeli athlete is a Jew, and there are many great ones. So, I felt a rush of excitement at Omri's draft. While not the first Israeli to ever be drafted by the NBA, he will be the first one to ever play in the NBA. Maybe it's silly, but I couldn't help wondering: if he's good and he's noticed will he actually be good PR for both the Jewish people and for Israel? 1) Good for Jews by showing we are good athletes 2) Good for Israel by having an Israeli in the spotlight that has nothing to do with conflict.
On a personal level it also makes me smile. My own nice little Jewish boy might walk around with a Casspi jersey one day. Not to mention the fact that when my father brings my Israeli cousin presents from America, he asks for an NBA jersey. Now, he can love an Israeli in the NBA!
Parashat Mishpatim: Radical Empathy
9 months ago