Joel Schatz

Joel Schatz offers a slightly off-center look at the news.


A wrestling rabbi, a boxing champ, and hyperlinking tombstones

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If retrospectives on Orthodox rabbis aren't the reading you normally crave, at least give writer Eddy Portnoy's first paragraph in Tablet magazine a look before you move on:

"Rabbi Rafael Halperin, one of the world's most intriguing rabbinical figuresand surely the only one to have worn a Speedo and grappled with the world's toughest wrestlersdied (in August) at the age of 87. He led a terribly unusual life. The Vienna-born strongman was a student of the famed rabbi known as Chazon Ish, an entrepreneur extraordinaire, and an undying defender of the Sabbath. He also caused a number of riots."

In the 1930s and '40s, Halperin was a child in the Orthodox neighborhood of Bnai Brak in Palestine. Like many children there, he studied Torah and Jewish texts at a yeshiva. Unlike most, he also worked out, lifted weights, and became obsessed with bodybuilding.

Over the next several decades, he:

  • Toured Europe and the United States as a professional wrestler.
  • Created Israel's first chain of health clubs, with separate versions for men and women.
  • Organized the first Mr. Israel competition, which he just happened to win.
  • Ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor of Tel Aviv, and later organized a political party called Otzma - Strength.
  • Became an ordained rabbi.
  • Opened restaurants, hotels, a summer camp, Israel's first automat, its first automated car wash, and the country's most successful optical chain. He also funded development of a credit card that wouldn't work on Shabbat.
  • Had several run-ins with the law over alleged business improprieties.

At one time, Halperin organized a wrestling extravaganza in Ramat Gan, Israel, and arranged for one of the losing wrestlerssupposedly an Arab, but actually an Armenian from Haifato attack him as he spoke in the ring. But Halperin failed to let police in on the plan, and they jumped in to break up the fight. Then the crowd, thinking an Arab was attacking a Jew, broke down the barricades and tried to lynch the wrestler. Several police and others were injured.

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Speaking of sports …

In many ways, Carolina Raquel Duer is a typical middle-class Jewish kid from Buenos Aires. She attended a Jewish day school, spent time working and traveling in Israel and celebrated her bat mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue.

But when she stepped into the ring Nov. 12 at Club Atletico Lanus, she showcased a set of talents not commonly associated with the Jewish women of Buenos Aires.

Duer, 33, is the World Boxing Organization's super flyweight champion. Making the third defense of her title, Duer defeated Maria Jose Nunez by a technical knockout in the third round. Duer knocked down her Uruguyan opponent with a left cross, Nunez scrambled to her feet before her cornermanalso her husbandthrew in the towel to stop the fight.

A crowd of 2,400 was on hand to watch the bout, including the vice governor of the Buenos Aires province and world middleweight champion Sergio "Maravilla " Martinez. National Public Television aired the fight live.


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When his mother died at age 83, Dr. Yoav Medan and his family found it impossible to sum up his mother's life in one sentence for her tombstone.  Not one to be stumped by such an deadlock, the former IBM research executive came up with a high-tech solutionengraving a square QR code (one of those squiggly boxes you see on ads everywhere) on the gravestone that can be read by any cell phone camera, leading not only mourners but even casual passersby to a website with her life story in words, photos and even a Passover video clip. 

Medan said the idea came to him after he published a paid obit in the daily papers with a URL and an e-mail that led readers to a memorial website to his mom, which prompted a wave of condolence letters from perfect strangers.

Courtesy of 

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Israeli universities and colleges open their doors at the beginning of November.  Some time ago, Tel-Aviv University decided to establish a nursery where students can check their infants on the way to class, just like they check their backpacks when entering the library. Now, the Sapir Academic College on the outskirts of Sderot will be offering the student body an even more unique service: pet-sitting.

Student leaders said the step to construct an on-campus dog sitting service would ease the logistics faced by pet owners and enable more students to adopt dogs. Two-hundred and forty students have already signed a petition supporting the daycare center for pooches that is slated to include a supervised fenced-off area with shade, water and room to run. (Kan Darom weekly)

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