At twenty I was having problems in my personal life. I felt depressed. A wise man by the name of Bob Burns said to me: Pray. But Bob, I protested, I don’t believe in G-d. “I didn’t say ya had to believe in Him, I just said ya had to pray to Him.”
I had nothing to lose. I started talking to G-d and indeed, I felt better. Wanting to make sure I was praying the right way I went out and bought a Jewish prayer book, written in Hebrew. I started going to synagogue on Friday nights. Saturdays I worked out.
Looking out the window of my Brooklyn, Massachusetts apartment I saw families dressed in Sabbath finery, women and girls in pretty dresses, the men and boys in black pants and white shirts. They looked happy. They knew where they were going. I wanted what they had.
I stopped working on the Sabbath (but continued driving my car and turning the lights on and off, and shopping – acts prohibited by Jewish law). I decided to keep kosher.
So when Jerry Thomson told me that I needed to compete on Rosh Hashanah I knew I couldn’t. That was my holiday. My holy day. I would be in synagogue.
I called Alex Sternberg who was quite upset. His student, Lea Sukenik, was an orthodox Jew who also had a spot on the team. He was on the coaching staff.
When Jerry insisted I had to be there or I’d lose my spot on the team I called the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nei Brith in Boston. I reached a young, charismatic leader named Lenny Zakim, z”l. (Today there is a bridge in Boston named after him, and when I go back to visit I am always stricken by traffic reports, “The Zakim bridge is backed up…”)
I sat in Lenny’s office and told him the story. Later he would tell me that he had a policy to never take his work home, but he was so moved by my tale that he told his wife the entire story when he got home that night.
Lenny called Jerry Thomson, Jerry spoke to his committee members and they reached a compromise: The team trials would go on as scheduled but Lea and I, and Marla Cohen of Illinois, would be given a separate tryout soon after.
At the September 18th trials the committee met and voted not to give us a separate trial. I was devastated. Lenny was incensed. Alex Sternberg, Lea Sukenik and Marla Cohen were all furious. We had been duped.
Lenny picked up the phone and called Sheila Decter of the American Jewish Congress, an organization which included a battery of lawyers who met once a week to discuss politics, policies – a legal think tank of sorts. My first sensei (when I’d get punched in the face and react emotionally) used to say, “Don’t get mad, get even.” Lenny Zakim and Sheila Decter said, “Let’s sue.”