Printer-friendly format                   

Special to The CJN

Cal Ripken Jr., centre, with the Mandell family [Photos courtesy Carrie Devorah]

December 8, 2005

TEKOAH — When Koby Mandell was in grade school in Silver Spring, Md., the Baltimore Orioles were his favorite baseball team and Cal Ripken Jr. was his favourite player.

When Cal broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played (2,130), Koby was eight years old, and although it was close to midnight, he refused to go to sleep until he had watched the entire 22-minute standing ovation.

As we watched Cal on TV, circling the bases, waving at the fans standing and clapping, I thought to myself-what an incredible feeling to have that kind of achievement and adulation. And yet I wondered about the achievement. Cal broke the record basically because he had shown up. I was impressed and yet, I didn’t really understand the power of showing up, until I was privileged to spend time with Cal at the first Koby Mandell Humanitarian Award Dinner.

On Nov. 8, more than 500 people joined together in Bethesda, Md., to honour Cal and Koby and to support the work of the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs therapeutic healing programs for individuals who have lost a family member to terror.

Koby continued following Cal Ripken’s career when we moved to Israel in 1996. He tried to follow the games on the Internet. He also continued to collect baseball cards. Any time one of us visited the United States, we brought back cards for Koby. When Koby joined little league in Efrat, he insisted on wearing No. 8 because that was Cal’s number. He put a poster of Cal up on his wall. Like Cal, He played shortstop and then third base. The list goes on.

Life wasn’t easy for Koby in Israel. It was hard to adjust to a new culture, a new language, and a new home. And because it was hard for him to be accepted as the new kid in class, sports helped him. He could hardly speak Hebrew, but he could kick a soccer ball. For the first year at least, he didn’t understand a word the teacher said in class, but he kept showing up.

After Koby was murdered by terrorists at the age of 13, my husband, Seth, spoke in Baltimore and mentioned that Koby was a big Cal Ripken fan. Later that week, the Baltimore Jewish Times printed an article with a headline saying “Cal was Koby’s hero.”

Cal found out about this through a business colleague and reportedly said, “I was Koby’s hero? We have to do something for this boy.”

And so, on Nov. 8, four years to the day after Koby’s murder, Cal, now retired, made good on his word and accepted the award that honoured them both. If anything could have brought Koby back to this earthly plane, it would have been meeting Cal Ripken – having him autograph balls, sitting with him, talking with him, learning from him.

At the reception before the dinner, Cal said baseball was about putting in the work, the energy and time. (He was renowned for arriving at the field before his teammates so that he could warm up and practise.)

“But after that, when you stand at the plate,” he continued, “it’s about trusting, about letting go and not forcing anything, relying on the work you’ve done.”

Later I asked him how he stopped himself from getting nervous when thousands of people were clapping and shouting at him.

“It’s between you and the ball,” he said.

At the start of the dinner, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, a member of the Koby Mandell Foundation’s board of directors and chair of the event, mentioned there had been what she called a “Koby moment” months before the dinner. A Koby moment is a confluence of events that is wonderful and synergistic, something that seems almost too good to be true.

Marla explained that when the graphic artist brought the invitations for the event to the printer in New York, he looked at the invitation, shook his head and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but we printed the Cal Ripken ‘iron man’ Sports Illustrated Commemorative issue and we have photos of Cal Ripken in the back.”

He returned with 12 full-size posters of Cal Ripken. “I’m happy to give them to you for such a great cause. Just get me one back autographed.”

During the dinner, there was an auction of baseballs, bats and other baseball paraphernalia. Cal put on a No. 8 jersey to auction off. For about 10 minutes, he strutted around the room modelling the jersey. In all, he was on stage for close to an hour doing all he could to help us raise money, even at the risk of looking silly.

And then at the end of the evening, when Cal gave his speech, he said, “You know I’ve been wearing this No. 8 jersey all night. I was going to take it off right away, because it’s a formal dinner and I feel a little goofy wearing it, but then I remembered – No. 8 was Koby’s number, and so I kept it on.”

He continued: “When my father died six years ago, it was really tough for me. And since then, sometimes I’ve felt him sitting on my shoulder and whispering things to me. And now when I have those moments, from now on, I’m going to call those Koby moments.”

That was my Koby moment – this great man would now be transformed by this evening, and would now define these moments of Godly presence in his life as Koby moments. That was a gift to me. So were the more than 500 people who attended and the thousands of dollars we raised for the foundation.

Breaking baseball’s iron man record wasn’t just about showing up. It was about being ready, present, able to give everything he could to win a game or make an evening’s fund raising event a success. Cal was the first one at the hotel and one of the last to leave that night. He lay on the floor to sign the commemorative photos. Truly being present may look easy, but it’s not. Being present is a form of humility, trusting the moment. When we work with survivors of terror, being present is the first step in healing.

Thanks, Koby, for picking Cal as your hero.

Sherri Mandell is Koby Mandell’s mother.