Tag Archives: Philadelphia

How the lesson of Kobe Bryant’s life can be connected to a Jewish teaching

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game

After a few days of reflecting over the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 others this past weekend, I felt compelled to share my thoughts as to why Kobe’s death had such a huge global impact on society. I came to the conclusion that in many ways it had to do with an old Jewish lesson of how to live a successful and happy life.

Although Kobe Bryant grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia and even once was quoted as saying “I wouldn’t mind being Jewish. I wouldn’t mind. Really.”, I tend to think that the philosophy he had that made his presence so powerful and his life so appealing was likely more a product of a good upbringing and life’s experiences.  Ultimately I believe that what drew people to Kobe more than anything was the fact that he appeared to be a truly happy man.

The blemish, for lack of a better word, in the Kobe story deals with the Colorado rape accusation.  I generally have little tolerance and no respect for celebrities involved in situations where they hurt others, particularly when they chalk it up to a “mistake”.  They get on the airways or social media and often even go as far as portraying themselves as a victim, in many instances displaying behavior showing that rather than being a mistake, what they did was indicative of their character.   In the case of Kobe Bryant, it truly appears as though at worst he did make a terrible mistake and did a terrible thing, at best there are aspects of this story we may never know and tell at least a somewhat different and significantly less incriminating story.   I do not say this to challenge the woman in Colorado’s claims. I say this because in every thing he has appeared to do since that time, Kobe Bryant was not only a model citizen, but everywhere you turn you see a man who not only treated women well, he advanced their causes.  Whether it was reporters, friends, athletes or celebrities, every single woman who has spoken of him since his death has done so in loving admiration, respect and gratitude. So Kobe was either never that bad, or his growth from a true mistake was significant and profound.

The most powerful images of Kobe were with his family.  This was clearly a man who was surrounded by a wife and daughters whose lives were wonderful, to no small part because of what he gave them.  And in every single photograph you see with his family, you see a truly happy man.  This was a man who adored his family, valued them in a way you would hope everyone would, and always seemed to want for nothing more, while always working to accomplish more.

It is my belief in seeing these images and learning more about this man that the old Jewish teaching Kobe lived by was the teaching that is the foundation of a happy life.  It comes from Ethics of our Fathers and states,  “Who is Rich? Those who are happy with their portion”.  In Kobe Bryant you clearly saw a man who was grateful for everything he had, from the time he had less to the time he had more.  This man appeared to always be happy with his portion in a manner that so many fail to reach.

Those close to him are devastated because they lost him and his beautiful 13 year old daughter from their lives.  Basketball fans are saddened by the loss of an all time great and wonderful global ambassador of the game.  And everyone with any degree of compassion knows how tragic the helicopter accident was that took the lives of Kobe, his daughter and 7 other people.  But what I believe is the reason this has had such an impact on the world is that because of the aura of happiness that appeared to be all around Kobe Bryant, people who struggle to be happy felt a sense of hope.  He was a tremendously gifted and talented man, but the center of his happiness seemed to revolve around those he loved, and the commitment to excellence that was manifested in hard work and determination.  Things that are more attainable to the every day person than the ability to play basketball.   And his death, as tragic as it was, happened in the pursuit of something pure, something that reflected positive values.  In seeing the pictures of him with his daughter Gianna, I can’t help but think that the 2 of them died in the company of their best friend, each other.

I would offer this lesson to be learned from this tragedy.   Rather than asking why, make your pursuits the reason why.  Look at a man who improved himself constantly, strengthened his character and values, and was truly happy with his portion. Try to emulate those positive attributes. Become a better person, a happier person.  Become someone who, if you are not already, is happy with their portion.  Do this and hope does not ever have to die with the loss of someone you idolize or even when in your life it is the loss of someone you love.








Open Letter to the Jewish community: It’s time to unite



Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have an important choice to make.  Do we continue to battle each other over differences in political ideology or do we move forward and work towards our mutual safety and survival?  I have no doubt that most people reading this letter will choose to work towards our collective well-being, the question is whether or not we are willing and able to put our differences aside.  I am hopeful the answer is yes.  I realize that many believe it is impossible to make that distinction,  but the threats we face today are far more serious than political philosophies.  They are a matter of life and death.

With graves being desecrated in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and bomb threats against JCCs throughout the country becoming far too frequent, the threat to American Jewry appears to be coordinated and organized.  That would make it significantly more dangerous.  From the time of the first round of bomb scares I was concerned that it was a test run to see how the Jewish community and law enforcement would respond.  The gamble that these will only remain threats is a gamble no one can or should be willing to take, for it is a gamble with lives.

Whether we support or oppose our new administration, it is now time to make a concerted effort to make sure we help our government protect us. Regardless of whether we are staunch Liberals or Conservatives, blaming the other side for the threats and atrocities of today is neither the answer nor is it fair to either side.  Jewish Democrats and Republicans need to stop attacking each other over differences in political ideology.  That doesn’t mean we need to agree, and it doesn’t mean we need to cease our opposition of the other side’s political platform, but it does mean we need to stop the opposition towards each other. We need to cease with the personal attacks and unite against the enemy.We need to realize and accept that most of us want the same thing, a peaceful existence for our people and community.  That means it’s time for both sides to stop seeing the other side as culpable for the dangers facing us, no matter how much we oppose the other’s politics.  If we fight among ourselves we are aiding and abetting the the true enemy.  An enemy who at best wants to terrorize us, at worst wants to kill us.  I guarantee each and every one of you, no matter how far you may lean to the left or the right of the political aisle, the vast majority of Jewish people do not want to see their fellows Jews terrorized or physically harmed.  In most cases the intensity and in some cases extremism is actually motivated by a powerful desire to see our people live safe and happy lives.

It is OK that we disagree on certain policies, even if those policies impact the lives of the Jewish community in Israel and abroad, but that disagreement must stop taking the place of unity, because if it does the enemy has won a very key element of the war, and I know that most of us do not want that.

All discussions can easily descend into criticism of Liberals and Conservatives, but we need to step back and ask ourselves if by doing so we are allowing ourselves to be dangerously distracted.  If we need to mobilize and organize in defense of each other we need to put politics aside.  We need to spend our energies being vigilant in identifying and exposing dangers to the community and we need to provide each other with critical support when needed.

Our next steps need to work with law enforcement and each other in finding out who is doing this and stopping it from not only continuing, but developing into something worse. Our next step is not to bash the other for his or her political choices but to openly discuss and study what’s happening in the hope we find important answers that will help keep our communities safe.

I extend this challenge to all of you, but no less than I extend it to myself.  Let’s work together.


David Groen










Remembering the Rally cry of my youth: Torah v’Avodah

Bnei_akiva_logoTo all those out there who have either been members of, or been exposed to the Jewish youth group B’nei Akiva, the title of this post will immediately strike you with what will most likely be a fond and warm recognition. Although the practice of my faith has a lot to be desired, the rallying cry of Torah v’Avodah seems more important to me today than maybe any other time in my life.

Some of you reading this will have shared some fun times with me when I was part of the organization as a teenager in Philadelphia and London and belonged to what was called, Shevet Amichai, literally the “Tribe of Amichai” based on the names given to each age group.  I have no trouble admitting my reasons for being a member were social more than anything else.  There were the few, such as the late great Ari Horowitz, or my dear friend Danny,  that seemed to be motivated by some idealism at that age, but for me it was simple.   It was about the girls and the fun gatherings of friends.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to do with B’nei Akiva.  My last memory was one I should be somewhat ashamed of, but seeing as it was over 30 years ago and no one got hurt, I look back at it with more amusement than shame.  Me and 3 other friends, 2 from Dublin Ireland and one from Liverpool went to the small town of Petach Tikvah, right outside of Tel-Aviv, went to a B’nei Akiva gathering and falsely portrayed ourselves as the heads of branches.  Two in Dublin, one in Liverpool, and myself in London, where I was a member of the organization from 1976-1980.  It worked like a charm.  We achieved a degree of celebrity status for the day and each of us had dates with some of the cutest girls in the group for one very enjoyable summer Saturday night.  It was all in good fun, not all that serious, and went no further than that.

Today I think of B’nei Akiva, and being significantly more mature than I was 30 plus years ago, the 2 words that represent the group have a far greater importance than ever before.  Jewish unity is critical.  Everyone needs to do something during this very difficult time in our history.  It is my feeling that what makes the term Torah v’Avodah so poignant today is that no Jew who genuinely cares about the Jewish people and the State of Israel has an excuse not to at least choose one or the other.  If you are a dedicated and practicing Jew who follows the laws and listens to and studies Jewish teachings(TORAH), then you are strengthening the Jewish people.  If you question religious dogma or philosophically struggle with Jewish practice, that should not stop you from making some efforts or working (AVODAH) towards helping Israel and the Jewish people.  And which ever one you choose, unless it is both, I implore you to show respect towards those who choose the other.  For without unity we are lost.

And then there is that one lesson I learned from being part of B’nei Akiva even when I was just there for the girls.  That the future of the Jewish people is tied to the State of Israel.  Something all Jews need to realize today more than any other time in my lifetime.

Shabbat Shalom.

Of Course Holland lost..They’re my team

USP SOCCER: WORLD CUP-ARGENTINA VS NETHERLANDS S SOC BRABehind every perception of destiny, irony sits waiting and ready to pounce.  But I will get back to that.  The title of this post is by no means rooted in self-pity. Pity is never the feeling I have regarding the futility of the teams I support.  As a somewhat well-adjusted individual, I generally get past the pain of my sports teams’ demise within an hour of it happening.  I must say I am pretty good when it comes to that.  After all, and this is the root of the title, I have a lot of experience with it.

We can of course start with the most recent result of which irony played a major factor as well.  But again, I will get back to the irony later.  When the Netherlands lost to Argentina yesterday in the FIFA 2014 World Cup semi-final, I knew that another World Cup would be played without Holland lifting the trophy.  I watched Holland once again secure its position as the best team to never win the World Cup.  I took solace in the fact that they lost with class to a team with class, but nevertheless, once again, their World Cup ended in defeat.

I move on to the National Football League.  I credit the great New York Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor with getting me into football.  Sure I watched the game and followed the playoffs and Super Bowl, admiring the skills of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in particular, but it was LT who got me excited about the game.  And living in New York I cheered on the football Giants when they won their Super Bowls with Taylor, Simms, etc.  But it was not till I began to admire the tough character and skill of Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan Mcnabb, and enjoyed games with my family that I considered myself a true fan of a team.  The Eagles would go on to 4 straight NFC Championships and one Super Bowl, but would never win the big one.  And as football fans know, they still haven’t.

In 1976 I began what would be 4 years of school in London, England.  I picked a team.  Sure, I could have picked Arsenal just as easily, a team that won titles and cups, but no, I picked Tottenham Hotspur, probably the most consistently mediocre team in any sport in any country.  And since they are exceedingly mediocre, that’s all they are getting in this piece.

Being a marginal Basketball fan I put my allegiances behind the home team New York Knicks and watched as they always came up short against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.  Except of course for the times the Bulls were without  MJ when the Knicks came up short against Hakeem Olajuwons’s Houston Rockets.  Whatever, they came up short.

Then there is the team I am most emotionally invested in on a yearly basis, the Philadelphia Flyer of the National Hockey League.  Having lived in Philadelphia during their 2 glorious Stanley Cup victories, I will always be a devoted fan.  Even if we end up never winning another cup.  Does it count at all when the Los Angeles Kings win?  Flyers fans and educated hockey fans understand that question.

Lastly I will speak of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.  In 1985 when I moved to New York I picked a team as my local team.  I picked the very charismatic and entertaining Mets.  In 1986 I got my immediate reward, s the Mets not only won the World Series, they won it in the most dramatic and exciting of fashions.  The 1986 Mets have been the reason I have remained a fan of theirs till now, despite the fact that they are generally not very good.  And since I am a fan, when I say it that way, I am being nice.  The greatest overall significance of my support of the Mets now is that their 1986 team is the last team I am a fan of to win a championship in their sport.  Yes, that is almost 30 years.

And on it goes.  Yes I pushed the idea of Holland’s World Cup destiny, and the fate surrounding the teams they would need to beat, and of course started the online campaign of “Win it for my mother”, but in the end it was not to be.  My mother, whose maiden name was Rodrigues-Lopes, or in every day use, just Rodrigues, was the son of Marcel Rodrigues.  My grandfather’s nickname was Max.  So he was indeed known by many as Max Rodrigues.  So when Argentina needed just one more goal in penalty kicks to put them through to the finals and send Holland packing, I looked down, smiled wryly, shook my head and mumbled to myself, “of course”.  Stepping up to take the kick was Argentinian football veteran Maxi Rodriguez, who subsequently put the ball in the back of the net and guaranteed Holland would once again not the win the World Cup.  I guess I was right.  Sports destiny did play a factor.  It just did so with a tremendous sense of irony.  Good thing it only takes me an hour to get over it.

The President, My Brother, and The Book Jew Face

marcelObI sometimes think, if only my book would get into the hands of someone important, someone with some influence.  The benefit it would have to its exposure would potentially be tremendous.  How about……the President of the United State of America?

Thanks to my brother Marcel, President Barack Obama now owns a copy of Jew Face.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and a member of the Democratic National Committee.  With Pittsburgh  traditionally voting Republican, and Philadelphia traditionally voting Democrat, Montgomery County, the third largest county in the state usually determines which candidate carries the state.  Having once again been instrumental in carrying Montgomery County for the Democratic Party, Marcel has met the President a number of times and this past Friday had the privilege of a personal meeting.  During this meeting he gave a copy of the book Jew Face to the president.  What happens now?  I certainly don’t know, but I do feel honored that the president now owns a copy of something I have written and a tremendous gratitude to my oldest brother for respecting and appreciating my work to the extent that he was comfortable giving a copy to the leader of the free world.

This is not a political post.  I am hopeful that no one reading this chooses to turn it into one.  And if you want to own a copy of the book that is now owned by the President of the United States, please CLICK HERE.  And to show my gratitude I present you with an excerpt from the book that speaks of the birth of my brother, Marcel Lubertus Groen.


Excerpt from Jew Face:

 After the birth of her son, the miracle that so often looked like it would never ever happen, Sipora gave the little baby two names: Marcel, after her father, the man to give her life, and Lubertus, after Bertus te Kiefte, who, other than Nardus, was the man most instrumental in helping her to keep that life.  Marcel Lubertus had been created by Sipora and the man who empowered her, saved her from death’s grasp, and loved her even through times when love was so overshadowed by death and evil.

 The circumstances were less than ideal, and their lives were filled with questions yet to be answered, but as Sipora lay there with Marcel in her arms, it almost felt like God was making a statement, a statement that even with the forces of evil at their most powerful, good will survive, love will prevail, and life would go on.

When Thea had been born to David and Martha Groen, it was a symbol of life in the midst of horror and devastation; the symbol held a beauty and power that made it unique. When Marcel came into the world, he would be a symbol of even greater significance.  What was once the bright light of a great world of Dutch and European Jewry had been diminished to a mere glimmer, and a strong powerful fire of life had been reduced in so many places to mere ashes. And now despite all of that, there remained hope. The flickering light of what remained in Nardus Groen and Sipora Rodrigues’s life had now turned into this bright, new, and strong flame. The light that was their son Marcel.

 This significance would carry a burden, but it would carry an even greater importance and virtue. It would take an almost extinguished light, an almost destroyed world, and turn it into a strong flame, building not one but many new worlds in the years to come.  On this day, as Sipora looked at her son, it did not matter that Nardus was not here. It would not have even mattered anymore if she had been here. What only mattered today was that this baby was here. And whether she was right or wrong for feeling this way, Sipora felt like this was the reason she had survived, and this would now be her reason for wanting to survive.