The Hebrew Hammer and Life’s Platinum Medal

It’s a first for my wife.  She’s obsessed with this year’s Winter Olympics.

To be more specific, she’s interested only in the sliding competition and, as a result, is building her schedule (and that of the entire family) around it.  Why?  His name is AJ Edelman, the first Orthodox Jew to compete in the Olympics.

What does my wife have to do with AJ Edelman who is also known as the “Hebrew Hammer”?

According to her, plenty.  Allow me to elaborate.

AJ and my wife are both Bostonians, having grown up in Brookline, Massachusetts. Both are graduates of the Maimonides School, albeit decades apart. To be clear, my wife grew up with the Edelman boys (AJ’s father and three uncles) whom my wife describes as “superstars” who are also “nice guys.” Their mother A”H and father raised four sons who attended Ivy League schools, graduated from world class professional and graduate schools and are leaders in their chosen fields. AJ’s dad is a world renowned cardiologist, engineer and scientist who holds the Thomas D. and Virginia W. Cabot Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s impressive.

Professional accomplishments aside, my wife and I are inspired that all four Edelman sons are shomrei Torah u’mitzvos. When their mother passed away about fifteen years ago, they buried her in Jerusalem, saying kaddish and observing the year of aveilus.  Imagine the kiddush HaShem they must have made when it was time to say kaddish during mincha, each busy in their professional lives and a minyan might not have been readily available. No doubt others were moved as well by their adherence to mitzvos. Indeed, the Edelman boys are accomplished professionals but they are Torah Jews first.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. My wife reminisces about their maternal grandmother, Mrs. Muskin, a gracious woman who davened every Shabbos at the Young Israel of Brookline. The octogenarian’s walk to shul and then walk home up Brookline’s aptly named Summit Avenue must be etched on her grandsons’ hearts.

AJ’s grandparents modeled a Torah life. My wife’s family moved into Brookline in August 1969 and the following January was AJ’s father’s bar mitzvah. The very first simcha to which my in laws were invited was that bar mitzvah and it warmed their hearts to be so welcomed. And my wife recalls in detail the chol hamoed dinner she and her family enjoyed in the Edelman sukkah.  Memories for a lifetime.

Our family has read the Jew in the City’s profile of AJ and it’s clear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He has prepared for the Olympics with a singular focus that rivals his father’s and uncles’ preparations for their careers. He is a trail blazer who says Tehillim before a competition and has remained steadfast in his religious observance, bringing his own food and sitting out games rather than being michallel Shabbos. AJ is right, that changes in sports scheduling can happen only if Orthodox Jews remain firm in their religious observance.

Understandably, my wife is excited. She’s davening and saying Tehillim for a Blue-and-White (a/k/a Israeli) victory of an Olympic gold medal. We are waiting to hear HaTikvah at the medal ceremony and trust me – we are stockpiling tissues now for my wife for that moment. My wife is also davening for AJ’s safety in this crazy sport he’s chosen; after all, she’s a mother and grandmother. But she has wondered who is AJ’s Rav and how they worked out the halachic implications of attending the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony on leil Shabbos.  She would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, privy to all the preparations.

I pen these lines before the sliding competition even begins. I too daven that AJ is safe all the way through and that the world hears HaTikvah in his merit. I don’t know AJ’s yichus prior to his regal great-grandmother but he’s at least the fourth generation of shomer Torah u’mitzvos. Wow. Awesome.

So, AJ, if you read this – After you wrap up the Olympics, we’d love to have you for a Shabbos in Lawrence, New York. You and my wife will have lots to talk about. And she’s salivating to set you up with some fabulous “out-of-the-box” girl so, with G-d’s help, you’ll get married, build a Torah home and go for the fifth generation of shomer Torah u’mitzvos.

That’s a platinum medal.