The Mensch on a Bench (AKA the Mensch or Menschi) burst onto the Israel Baseball scene in September last year at the WBC qualifiers in Brooklyn, New York. His stuffed, tallised* and behatted presence was a major factor in Team Israel’s decisive win in the qualifiers that earned the team a place in the WBC tournament in March. In spite of his very full schedule in Seoul, South Korea, where he is planning to continue to work his magic on Team Israel in the first round of the tournament, the Mensch agreed to take a few minutes to talk to us in this exclusive interview.
How did your relationship with Team Israel begin?
I was recruited by Team Israel player Cody Decker. He was insightful enough to understand that in spite of my inability to swing a bat or to throw a ball, I had other talents that would bring significant value to the team. My expertise lies in bench warming, hence my name. He knew that my presence on the Team Israel bench, on my "Mensch bench", would be a mitzvah and a brocha all in one. So, he contacted my agent, Amazon.com, and one rather uncomfortable journey to Brooklyn in a carboard box later, the rest is history.
So, you’re the Team Israel mascot?
I would not put it that way. I don’t approve of all that dancing around on the field. That’s for the youngsters. I’m more of a spiritual advisor and all around friend. I offer a shoulder to lean on and at a push, a pillow if you’re need one. I’m also a very good listener.
What did you do in Brooklyn to ensure the win?
I can’t reveal all my magic, otherwise every other so-called Mensch will try (unsuccessfully) to replicate what I do, without doubt. What I will reveal is that it had a lot to do with the bottle of Manischewitz kiddish wine that was constantly by my side. The power is in the grape. The fact that I was also given my own locker in the club house, also increased my powers.
What were your challenges in Brooklyn?
Occasionally one of the players would sit on me by mistake when I was in the dugout - a mensch on a mensch on a bench on a bench. That hurt. They are big, muscular Yidden. They didn’t make us mensches like that back in my day. Now they’re gezunt!
Back then, I was a shadow of my current self – as you can see I have now increased significantly in size thanks to Cody’s powers and an adherence to the Team Israel workout plan. So, I am back and ready to dominate at the WBC.
For the first time in your life, you have left the US. What’s it like being in Korea?
It’s really difficult to find a good bowl of matza ball soup here. I’ve tried, but they keep offering me this kimchi chazerai. I don’t know about you, but by me, a pickle needs to be a cucumber with salt and dill, and accompanied by a good corned beef sandwich. I’m not sure about this spicy cabbage pickle, but who knows, I may give it a go if I start chalishing for a good nosh.
I did get to drink some delicious flavored soda from our good friends and team sponsors SodaStream. It was nice to make a le'chayim with them. Lovely people!
How have the locals accepted you?
They are very excited about me. Everyone stops by to say hello – more than my children do – they don’t call, they don’t visit… The locals call me Menschi! Maybe because it rhymes with Kimchi. I don’t know.
Who are the players that you have your eye on in Team Israel?
I’m a mensch, so by definition, as good person, I can’t play favorites. Obviously, I have my eye on Cody because without him, what would I be? Certainly not a Mensch on Bench on the Team Israel bench in Korea. What I will say is that we have 28 mensches who all know a thing or two about baseball. They hit good, they pitch good, they catch good, and please God, they’ll win good, tfu, tfu, tfu.
What do you plan on taking back home with you?
Hopefully some very good memories of a very successful tournament and maybe a few tchochkies from the local markets.
Tallis - Prayer shawl
Mitzvah – good deed
Brocha - blessing
Kiddish – blessing over wine
Yidden - Jews
Gezunt - healthy, substantial
Chazerai - junk
Chalishing – dying
Tchochkies – knick knacks
Le'chayim - a toast, to life
Tfu, tfu, tfu - spitting three times to ward off the evil eye
And Mensch, of course, is good person