The wheels of justice turn slowly, and it became clear that by the time we went to court it would be very close the date of the world championships. Meanwhile, 30 young attorneys worked hundreds of hours, pro bono, on my behalf. And, for the principles which the case represented to them.
On the morning of the trial there was a confrontation between Alan Dershowitz, who had been consulted about the case, and Boston attorney George Abrams, who had attended every meeting and been highly involved in writing the brief. Dershowitz, who wouldn’t deny that he enjoys publicity, wanted to represent me in court. Abrams was fuming. He’d “done all the hard work” and wasn’t about to let Alan steal the limelight. Abrams won.
I sat with George on a hard, worn wooden bench in the federal courthouse and faced Judge Rya Zobel. Sitting across from us were two Jewish lawyers from New Jersey who’d been hired by the AAU. After both sides argued the case a compromise was reached. I’d get my karate trial and if I won, I’d compete, but I’d have to fly to Taiwan; the referees couldn’t be gathered on such short notice.
After the gavel fell the two lawyers from New Jersey shook my hand and smiled. “Way to go,” they said. Then George tapped me on the shoulder. “The judge wants to speak to you in chambers.” I had that horrible sinking feeling that you get when the principal want you in his office. I’d done something wrong, and now I was going to be punished.
Rya Zobel, who was married to a Jew, had a large picture of Golda Meir hanging on her wall. She smiled and held out her hand. “I just wanted to meet you,” she said. Boy, was I relieved! And surprised.
Later, there was a press conference. Flashbulbs went off and the reporters asked questions, all of which were easy to answer. Until a reporter from the Boston Herald, an older guy, crusty, (turned out he was Jewish or he never would have come up with the question), should have been smoking a cigar, said, “Are you an Orthodox Jew?” I shook my head, no. “Then why didn’t ‘ya just go and compete?”
I could hear Lenny Zakim draw in his breath. The truth was that it had never occurred to me to “just go and compete.” Not for a second. It was one of those major life decisions made without any cognitive effort. But that wasn’t something you’d say to the press.
“Anti-Semitism is increasing in the world. I thought it was important to stand up and say, ‘I’m a Jew, and I’m proud of being Jewish.’” Lenny breathed. More flashbulbs went off. My story made newspapers all over the world, including the Jerusalem Post. My competitive career had just ended, but I didn’t realize that yet.