Q&A: Temple Israel Rabbi Hopes to Help Tigers' Young, Jewish Community Heal
Rabbi Joshua Bennett, of Bloomfield Hills, says Delmon Young is committed to show he's no bigot.
The Detroit Tigers' outfield slugger Delmon Young had some explaining to do. Following his arrest last month for scuffling with a panhandler and allegedly using anti-Semitic remarks outside the team’s hotel in New York City, the public’s perception about Young began to change, even among some of the most ardent Tigers fans.
That was the case initially presented to Joshua Bennett, a longtime season-ticket holder who when he isn’t cheering on the Tigers, mentors youth, officiates religious ceremonies and tends to a large congregation as a rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. But when the Tigers called looking for help, Bennett, a father of three from Bloomfield Hills, accepted the opportunity to counsel Young as he returns to the lineup and faces the public.
Bennett pledged to keep the content of his conversations with Young confidential, but is talking about the bigger themes associated with the incident, and Young’s reaction to it. He sat down with Patch Thursday to discuss the experience so far, and what it can offer the community.
Q: What was your reaction to Delmon Young’s arrest and why did you decide to get involved in the first place?
A: The Jewish people throughout history have always been a persecuted people, and so often times the initial response is for us to retrench, circle the wagons, and protect ourselves. So, the initial reaction for the Jewish Community was to be outraged with what was immediately reported by the media in New York. With a little bit of perspective, it was easy enough for me to say:
- A, I don’t know the real story;
- B, I recognize the media’s portrayal of events is not always exact to fact;
- C, Jewish tradition has a long history of repentance as a part of who we are.
Q: Did you have to give the opportunity much thought, and were there risks?
A: When the Tigers reached out to me to talk with Delmon, my immediate reaction was yes, because as a rabbi, I want to create moments of healing rather than moments of divisiveness.
There were some risks. There was, and is the risk that we as a community were going to be used. That the Tigers and Delmon Young needed to reach out because that was the "right thing to do." And I’m sure there are people out there today who say this is a show, that it’s not real. From my perspective, having ongoing conversations with Delmon, he’s intent on proving that while you can say anything about him as a player on the field, and you can say anything about his poor decision to drink too much and be out late the night prior to a game, it’s not fair to brand him as a bigot. I’m comfortable, through the several conversations we’ve had, to support that.
Q: What are your expectations?
A: I want to work with Delmon to heal in the Jewish community so that we can help him and help us develop a positive out of what started as a negative. There’s nothing good that comes out of negativity. If we can transform this challenging moment into a very positive, forward thinking place where he, not just in the Jewish community, teaches about leadership and becomes more of a role model to young people and adults, I think that’s good.
Hopefully we can put Delmon into a position where he is a teacher, and not just a ballplayer.
Q: Do you have a sense of what he knew about the size of the Metro Detroit Jewish community, and do you believe his desire to make public statements and apologize was influenced by that?
A: I don’t. And I’m not sure that it matters. The question is, out of this incident, what does he know and learn about the Jewish community? I can’t put words into his mouth, but the biggest issue for him is that he doesn’t want people to believe he’s a racist or a bigot. That’s what is weighing on him, that’s what is bigger than anything else.
Q: Where do you as a rabbi start to have that conversation with someone accused of making anti-Semitic remarks or having that belief?
A: The first question you have to ask is, "Tell me what happened?" And the second question that you have to ask is "Tell me who you are?" He didn’t talk about what happened, and has clearly said publicly that he doesn’t remember what happened. But the second question is more important.
Q: How did you explain this incident and your involvement now to your children?
A: It was tough. Even before I had this opportunity, I had to say that Delmon Young, one of your heroes, is accused of . . . X, Y, and Z. And he was drinking. Those are tough conversations to have, and we had them. But now the conversation has evolved into, "let me tell you what I got to do today, and what it means, and why it’s important." And those conversations, I think, have been even more valuable.
What I want my son (9) to learn from this is that I can have a second chance, I can work to better myself and that a mistake does not brand me a loser.
Q: What can people take away from this?
A: This is very much about who Delmon wants to be. Unfortunately, this and a prior incident in the minor leagues kind of puts him out in the world as a hot head. As someone that doesn’t make good decisions in the heat of the moment.
But does that make someone a racist, an anti-Semite, or a bigot? Or does it simply make him a hot head who maybe needs to rethink how they approach those moments in life. There’s not a person among us who hasn’t said something, done something, or intimated something that we later wish we hadn’t said or done. And for that reason, myself included, we all deserve the chance to make good on our decision to present a different image.
Q: Anything I’m not asking?
A: I have a prediction. Once (the 16-15 Tigers) get off this road and get back here, and things start to warm up, they’ll be fine. It think part of it is the weather. Historically, so many of these guys have been warm weather performers and I’m hoping that will come to reality. That’s my non-professional opinion.