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By Sherri Mandell

November 25, 2005

When my son Koby was in grade school in Silver Spring, Md., the Baltimore Orioles were his favorite baseball team and Cal Ripken was his favorite player. When Cal broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played (2,130), Koby was 8 years old and though it was close to midnight, refused to go to sleep until he had watched the entire 22-minute standing ovation on television.

As we watched Cal 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. 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 on Nov. 8 at the first Koby Mandell Humanitarian Award Dinner.

More than 500 people joined together to honor Cal and Koby, and to support the work of The Koby Mandell Foundation in helping those struck by terror in Israel.

Koby continued following Cal Ripken’s career when we moved to Israel in 1996; he tried to follow the Orioles’ games on the Internet. He also continued collecting baseball cards. Any time one of us visited the States we brought back cards for Koby. When Koby joined the little league in Efrat, he insisted on wearing No. 8 because that was Cal’s number. He also put up a poster of Cal on his wall. 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 in Israel 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 saying that 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, four-and-a-half years to the day after Koby’s murder, Cal made good on his word and accepted the award that honored them both. If anything could have brought Koby back to this earthly plane, it would have been meeting Cal Ripken — having him autograph baseballs, 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.

“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.

During the dinner there was an auction of baseballs, bats and other baseball paraphernalia. Cal donned his No. 8 jersey to be auctioned. For about 10 minutes he strutted around the room modeling that jersey, and he was on stage for nearly 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,’ ” he said, making reference to what one of the speakers earlier had defined as a confluence of events that seemed almost too good to be true.

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, as were the large number of people who attended and the thousands of dollars we raised that evening for the foundation.

Breaking the Iron Man record wasn’t just about showing up. It was about Cal being ready, present, able to give everything he could to win a game or make an evening’s fundraising 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. n

Sherri Mandell is the author of “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” and director of the Koby Mandell Foundation’s Women’s Healing Retreat for Bereaved Mothers and Widows.

Special To The Jewish Week