Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Bronx Tales – From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

In the space of a few hours, I became aware of two very different stories – both emanating from the Bronx, but remarkable in their diversity. Juxtaposed, the two tales strike me as very poignant.

Bronx Tale #1 – The Curse of Big Papi’s Jersey

Red Sox Nation is atwitter – chortling over the recent shenanigans on the construction site of the new Yankee Stadium. A Bronx resident, Gino Castignoli, a die-hard Red Sox fan, thought he might be able to conjure up a curse against the hated Yankees. His plan was to bury a David Ortiz #34 Red Sox jersey in the concrete being poured for a restaurant that will be part of the new Yankee Stadium complex, being constructed just north of the site of the present “House That Ruth Built.” Apparently, Castignoli - who is reputed to have ties to New York area families that can best be described as “well organized” – thought it would be a good idea to add to the bill of fare of the new restaurant a little Voodoo to go with the Veal Piccata! So, he used his nefarious connections to sign on for a day as part of the construction crew, and mixed in the Ortiz jersey with the concrete that was being poured that day. He “cemented” his place in baseball lore by documenting his act with some digital photos.

When informed of this heinous crime, Yankee officials at first dismissed it as a hoax. But after being presented with “concrete” evidence that something was afoot in the footings of the new Stadium, Hank Steinbrenner sprang into action. He ordered a work crew to take jack hammers to the voodoo shrine, and the offending jersey was disinterred. It has been donated to the Dana Farber Children’s Hospital, to be auctioned off as a fund raising item.

What have we come to when an inert and inanimate jersey strikes more fear into the heart of the Bronx Bombers than the equally inert bat of Big Papi, who remains as firmly mired in the throes of a baffling batting slump as his shirt had been entombed in the soil of the new Stadium!

Eric Wilbur, writing in the Boston Sports Blog, gives a more complete version of this “disorganized crime”!

Wilbur Sports Blog

Bronx Tale #2 – A Matter of Principal at Junior High School #22

Not far from the scene of the aborted Jinx Gate – only a few Manny Ramirez moon shots away in the South Bronx – a more inspiring Bronx story is playing itself out. I just learned of this amazing story when my friend, Marv Goldschmitt, forwarded a link to the recent MSNBC story.

Here is the gist of the story. One of the most violent schools in New York City has been transformed – against all odds – under the visionary leadership of rookie principal, Shimon Waronker. Waronker is a Hassidic Jew, a Lubavitcher whose heritage and demeanor seem on the surface to be completely out of synch with the largely Black and Hispanic population of the school and surrounding neighborhood. Faculty, students and parents were skeptical when the new principal arrived on the Scene.


Elissa Gootman, writing for the New York Times, sheds even more light on this shocking transformation.

Gootman New York Times Story

“The principal enlisted teachers in an effort to ‘take back the hallways’ from students who seemed to have no fear of authority. He enlisted the students, too, by creating a democratically elected student congress.

‘It’s just textbook counterinsurgency,’ he said. ‘The first thing you have to do is you have to invite the insurgents into the government.’ He added, ‘I wanted to have influence over the popular kids.’

Gesturing in his school at a class full of students, he said, ‘I feel the hand of the Lord here all the time.’

What a thrilling transformation! As I read and watch and listen, what strikes me as most inspiring is the willingness of this “principled principal” to stand at the intersection of faith, visionary leadership, counterinsurgency tactics and cross-cultural communication to forge a coalition of teachers, students and parents willing to create an expectation of excellence. It is clearly his dream to lay a new foundation, if you will, for an edifice of life-long learning and success for his students. He wants to construct a new “House That Ruth Built” Not Babe Ruth, for whom they built the original Yankee Stadium, but the Old Testament figure, Ruth! That Ruth, a young widow, in addressing the unlikely prospect of making a life with her mother-in-law, Naomi - ethnically different and of a different faith - spoke these timeless words that seem to have inspired Waronker:

Whither thou goest, I will go . . . Thy people shall be my people. . .” (Ruth 1:16-17)

I find great personal inspiration and motivation from meeting and learning about courageous individuals, like Shimon Waronker, who step out the silos that entomb so many of us. How often are we trapped in the concrete tombs of our small worlds, defined and delimited by our race, religion, geographic location, schooling, language, profession or socio-economic condition? Waronker is demonstrating to his students and faculty – and the broader student body of those of us who are learning his story – that it is possible to break those bonds and dream larger dreams. That is a Bronx tale worth admiring and emulating.


1 comment:

Mark said...

Dr. White Rhino,

"after being presented with 'concrete' evidence"

Wow, you are the Manny Ramirez of puns!

I am amazed. :)