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Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images

A player from Team Israel is greeted by teammates after scoring a run during a game against Team Cuba at the Tokyo Dome in 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images)

Metro Minute

Baseball and banking

Meet the New York analyst who will be a baseball pitcher for underdog Team Israel at the Tokyo Olympics

A New York moment: 

I had lunch with Eric Brodkowitz, 23, who by day is an analyst at Goldman Sachs and by night is preparing to be a starting pitcher for Israel’s Olympic baseball team. A Jewish New Yorker, he has taken on Israeli citizenship to join the Israeli team and helped lead it over the last year to one of the six spots in the Olympic baseball tournament. 

Brodkowitz sprinkles training into a high-stress, 60-hour-a-week, finance job. He keeps dozens of baseballs at work and takes an hour at 2 p.m. every day to sneak out to a baseball field near the Goldman Sachs offices, just in the shadow of the World Trade Center. 

“I don’t know how I got so lucky,” he said about having a baseball field near his office. He works until 7 or 8 p.m., and then does yoga. On weekends he and another teammate drive north of the city to train with their coach.

Though baseball began in the United States, the American baseball team has not yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. So far Mexico, South Korea, Japan, and Israel have the slots. Almost all of Team Israel are Jewish Americans by birth, so they’re encouraging Americans to root for the underdog team if the United States doesn’t make it into the Olympics—and if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t halt the games.

The coronavirus outbreak caused officials to postpone qualifiers for Team USA.

Major League Baseball—which canceled the rest of its Spring Training Thursday and delayed its opened day because of the coronavirus—will not allow active players to go to the Olympics, which derailed Team USA’s prospects at the last summer games. South Korea (the previous gold medalist) and Japan are allowing their professional players to represent their countries.

“The caliber of talent is very high,” Brodkowitz said of facing South Korea and Japan’s top players. “But the Jewish spirit is there!” 

Yale University recruited Brodkowitz as a starting pitcher, but after four years of pitching he didn’t think a professional team would draft him. He focused on securing a job. But between graduation and starting his job, the Israeli national coach called and asked him to join the team. His new bosses at Goldman-Sachs assented, though Brodkowitz assured them the team had a “very low probability” of making it to the 2020 Olympics. 

He was wrong. The team went 17-4 in international tournaments over the summer to win an Olympic slot. The upstarts have been fundraising from American synagogues and groups like the Jewish National Fund to support their Olympic journey. 

Brodkowitz grew up a Yankees fan, and his dad is from the Bronx. 

“Baseball had been my entire life for 20 years,” he said. But playing for Israel felt more meaningful than playing “for me,” he said, especially when he hopes team sports in Israel will help heal divides between Jews and Arabs. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to July in Tokyo, and hoping the coronavirus doesn’t cancel the games. 

This week I learned: 

It’s popular for New York politicians to go after big developers constructing luxury buildings. But new studies find that as high rises go up in a city, housing prices go down, although middle-to-high income residents tend to benefit from the price decrease. 

A court case you might not know about: 

A blockbuster trial in Manhattan ended with a conviction of former CIA coder Joshua Schulte for lying to the FBI. But the jury deadlocked on whether Schulte leaked information to Wikileaks, in what the agency says is the largest loss of top secret data in its history. 

Culture I am consuming: 

The Possibility of Prayer, a new book by John Starke, my pastor! I’m biased but I think it’s good. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org 
 

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Christopher Capozziello/Genesis

David Berkowitz (Christopher Capozziello/Genesis)

Metro Minute

Interviewing a criminal

Sometimes reporters don’t have all the details they want when writing a profile

A New York moment: 

I recently went to a maximum security prison north of the city to interview serial killer David Berkowitz, who now describes himself as a Messianic Jew. At the same time, I happened to be working on a piece on the rise of anti-Semitism, and Berkowitz mentioned after our interview that he has been following that trend as well, and praying for the Jewish community. 

I had some follow-up questions for him after our interview, mainly about whether he has community in and out of the prison walls, or if he feels lonely. Since I can’t pop into a maximum security prison or give him a phone call, I wrote him a letter. At the end of January, he wrote back, using his prison-approved typewriter. He hadn’t yet seen the now-published article about him.

To answer my question on community he said, “Yes, as a whole, many who are now members of the body of Christ and remain incarcerated, do sense varying degrees of loneliness and detachment from the body of Christ. I thank God for those who are involved in jail and prison ministries. The Lord uses such to bring prisoners much needed encouragement and hope. But prison ministry is not for everyone.” 

He insisted that he is “not lonely for fellowship” and has “a number of dear and faithful friends.” He said he has received a “fair amount of acceptance from the Christian community as a whole,” but added, “Of course, there will always be a certain amount of skeptics.” 

This is a nice answer, but doesn’t provide much specificity. That’s not necessarily Berkowitz’s fault, but rather the journalist must draw specificity out of a subject. If we were talking more in person, I could press him. Who do you talk with most regularly inside prison? Who do you talk to most outside of prison? How much time in the day are you by yourself? 

We had two hours to talk face-to-face in prison, but I had to decide in the moment what to prioritize in that short time. He insists he isn’t lonely; I came away with a different impression, that of someone who has sporadic visitors and has no contact with his family.

Sometimes you have to draw a portrait of a subject without as much interview time as you would like, with a limited window into someone’s life, with only a sketch of his psychology, and you pray that what you gathered is fair and true. 

Worth your time:  

Writer George Packer gave a wonderful speech on the purpose of writing, which I think can apply to any endeavor in these polarized times. I’ll be going back to this piece regularly. He seems to be on the same page as Alan Jacobs in his wonderful book, How to Think, which emphasizes the importance of empathy in our arguments over important issues.

Packer says the current mentality in much writing is needing “a community behind you, vouching for you, cheering you on, mobbing your adversaries and slaying them.” But he counters: “Writers are individuals whose job is to find language that can cross the unfathomable gap separating us from one another.”

This week I learned: 

The new order blocking immigration from Nigeria (among other restrictions on other countries) affects many people around me in New York, including people in my church, who have family back in Nigeria. This segment on WNYC helped explain, mostly in an informative and balanced way, the details of what the order means.  

A court case you might not know about: 

A New York appellate court has upheld a lower court ruling that fantasy sports bets are illegal gambling.

Culture I am consuming: 

Kirk Douglas died on Feb. 5 at 103, which brought to mind a great film Douglas starred in, Ace in the Hole, from writer/director Billy Wilder. Nearly seventy years after its release, it still feels like a relevant look into the media environment. Based on real events, the story follows an ethically challenged journalist looking for his big break so he can leave a small town paper and head to the glittery newspapers of New York. It’s a dark film, unlike most of Wilder’s work, but it is one of the great take-downs of journalists’ hubris, which I think is needed alongside the movies like Spotlight or All the President’s Men. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org 

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Robert Kalfus

Lincoln Park Jewish Center (Robert Kalfus)

Metro Minute

Darkness and light

A snippet from a strained Shabbat in an Orthodox congregation in New York

A New York moment: 

While working on an article about rising anti-Semitism in New York, I visited an Orthodox synagogue just north of the city called Lincoln Park Jewish Center. Detectives from the local police station had attended the service the week before to show police support amid fears of violence. The atmosphere this Shabbat was strained but still warm. The congregation sang a song that concluded, “God is with me, I shall not fear.” 

Rabbi Levi Welton delivered the week’s sermon about Joseph in Egypt. He told a story about a Lyft driver recently asking him where he was from. Welton told him, “the Bronx,” but the driver persisted in asking whether he was originally from the United States. Welton was annoyed but decided to acquiesce to the question under the question and said, “I’m Jewish. Where are you from?” 

The driver was from the Dominican Republic and told Welton he had been reading Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian. He showed him the book sitting next to him in the car, then said it was his dream to visit Israel. 

“I realized I had been so defensive: ‘You want to fight the Jews, come on!’” said Welton. “But the way to fight the darkness is with light.” 

The service concluded, congregants gathered for lunch, and Welton warmly introduced me to everyone in the congregation. Talking about those who have negative views of Jews, Welton added: “According to the Torah, the most effective way to defeat your enemy is to transform them to your friend.”

Worth your time:  

The Sloan Kettering Institute here in New York released new findings about the nature of cancer metastasis, where cancer cells spread in the body. The research indicates cancer cells take advantage of the wound healing process to spread—which seems like microscopic evidence of the fall and a broken creation.

This week I learned: 

Rapper Noname declared Jan. 11 to be “Library Card Registration Day.” The attention excited a number of librarians and workers. 

Noname highlighted the importance of having human interaction: “I’ve been put onto some crazy books I never would have ordered online just because I was in person talking to another human being,” she said. 

A court case you might not know about: 

Related to a current legal fight between Apple and the Justice Department: A private contractor will charge law enforcement about $15,000 to hack into an iPhone. Just a few years ago that price was $1 million. 

Culture I am consuming: 

Robert Caro’s book Working, one of WORLD’s Books of the Year. There’s so much in there that is useful for my work, but I think his example of meticulousness and persistence is useful for anyone. Reading this book as a journalist gives me a feeling of, “Oh, you felt that too!” and also a feeling that Caro’s slow investigation process is from a bygone era. 

He talks about early in his journalism career realizing “there was a whole level of ruthlessness … of which I hadn’t conceived.” I remember shocking moments like that in my reporting, realizing the ruthlessness of people. It’s a good reminder to be generous with subjects, as Caro is, and aware of the ruthlessness of the world. 

Metro Minute will be on hiatus until February. 
Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org 

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