Beyond The “Triple Crown” — A Prize For Which We All Can Compete
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Beyond The “Triple Crown” — A Prize For Which We All Can Compete

Rabbi Michael Levy: As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition, boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons, boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to email him.

Rabbi Michael Levy
Rabbi Michael Levy

Competition and the possibility of victory can awaken the American “can-do” spirit in us all. We rightly support initiatives for people with disabilities to compete in athletic events. Everyone should have the opportunity to strive (and even struggle) to achieve his or her “personal best.”

The Sports Dilemma

The parents of some children with disabilities face a dilemma every summer. If they send their children an integrated camp, the children may actually be segregated when it comes to the portion of each day devoted to athletic activity.

To prevent these children from feeling “out of it,” parents may choose to enroll their children in segregated camp settings where, in some cases, campers with disabilities are lavished with attention that nobody gets in real life.

Parents are not to blame. American society, for all its lip service to education, still broadcasts unspoken messages that incompetent athletes are losers.

A More Open-Minded Approach to Competition

The exploits of a horse and his owner reminded me that meaningful “competition” is not limited to the racetrack, baseball diamond or basketball court. On June 6, American Pharaoh won horseracing's Triple Crown: a feat last accomplished 37 years ago. The horse’s value rose by $10 million and his owner, Ahmed Zayat, gained instant fame.

However, Mr. Zayat will also be lovingly remembered for another area in which he excels: his kindness.

Socializing among horseracing enthusiasts, Mr. Zayat befriended Nick Modico, a young adult athlete and horseplayer. When Nick was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, Mr. Zayat stayed in constant touch with him and supported him.

He asked Nick to name one of his horses. Nick chose “Thirtysevenliveson.” 37 was the number on his high school baseball jersey. The friendship and the horse brightened Nick’s final days.

Mr. Zayat supports the Frisch Academy, a Jewish day school in northern New Jersey. In doing so, he practices a Jewish tradition which sheds a different light on athletic competition in general, and horseracing’s Triple Crown in particular.

The Jewish Triple Crown — And Beyond

In Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Shimon declares (Chapter 4, Mishna 14):

“There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of Kehuna (priesthood) and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name is more valuable than them all.”

What would it be like if Jewish camps gave as much prestige to the crown of a good name as they give to athletic and related competitions?

Racing for the Crown of a Good Name

As Jews, we all should have the opportunity to "compete" for the crown of a good name. This means creating an environment in which campers, students, worshippers and others —non-disabled and disabled alike — can use their unique talents to benefit others. You don’t need brain, brawn or a seven-figure bank account to clean up a classroom, put prayerbooks back where they belong, knock on bunk doors when it’s time to wake up, calm a crying baby, clear the table, stuff envelopes for a charitable cause, visit the sick or bring fatherly or motherly support to the child of a single parent.

Like Mr. Zayat, we can all win the race for the "fourth crown," so that our small portion of the world becomes a better place because of us.

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