Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Bob Fryer
Jewish Press of Pinellas County 

'Jewish Hammer' on Bucs' offense

 

Gabe Carimi wears No. 72 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A former first- round draft pick, he was traded from Chicago in the off-season.

Tampa Bay Bucs offensive lineman Gabe Carimi usually fasts on Yom Kippur, but this year, the day before the team’s Sept. 15 home opener against the New Orleans Saints, he decided not to. In past seasons he has observed 25 hours of fasting for the holiday of Yom Kippur; even if it came during the day before a game, as it did this year — sundown tonight to sundown Saturday. But this year he decided to postpone it because he has been battling a cold.

“I’ve fasted on the day before a game, but it was different circumstances. It was a night game in Wisconsin rather than a 4 o’clock game in Tampa.” Carimi told the Tampa Bay Times. He said he would observe the holiday sometime after the game.

At 6-foot 7-inches and weighing 316 pounds, one might think going without food or water for 24 hours would be difficult, “but it is tougher for those with less body mass,” Carimi said in an interview with the Jewish Press prior to the start of the regular season.

“I’ve always fasted, even when I was young,” he explained last year in a JTA news service story. “It’s a moment of clarity to kind of take the focus off the whole world and everything you have to do—just focus on trying to make yourself a better person.”

In his senior year as left tackle for the Wisconsin Badgers, Yom Kippur fell on the same day as a game. After debating whether to play at all and consulting a rabbi, he worked out a compromise, beginning his fast early and fasting until an hour before the afternoon game against Arizona State. In his freshmen year on Yom Kippur there was a night game against Iowa and he fasted until an hour before that game as well.

“Religion is a part of me and I don’t want to just say I’m Jewish,” Carimi told JTA. “I actually do make sacrifices that I know are hard choices.”

When asked in college if Yom Kippur might conflict with football if he turned pro, Carimi said he had already searched out the dates for Yom Kippur and it would not fall on a Sunday for at least the next 15 years.

Carimi, a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 2011 was an All American at Wisconsin, winning the Outland Trophy for the nation’s best interior lineman in 2010. In the second game of his NFL career, he was injured in a game against the New Orleans Saints and missed the rest of the season. In 2012, he played in all 16 regular season games for Chicago, starting in 14 of them.

This summer, he was traded to the Bucs and said the team and community were very welcoming. “Everyone seems nice. It’s all been pretty smooth,” he said. The one big difference from playing in Chicago and Wisconsin? Tampa’s summertime heat and humidity.

“It is challenging, that’s for sure. Hopefully my body will acclimate more and more to it,” he said.

He is listed as second on the Bucs’ depth chart at right tackle, but was put in as starter to replace left guard Carl Nicks for the first two games against the Jets and the New Orleans Saints. He also started in the final two preseason games for the Bucs and said he will play “wherever they need me.”

He said he visited a local synagogue on Rosh HaShanah, but has not yet joined a congregation in Tampa. Growing up, his family attended Temple Beth El in Madison, Wis., where he was an active member of the Reform congregation. His father is a doctor of internal medicine at Mercy Hospital in Janesville, Wis., and his mother works for a company that sells health and nutrition products, a 2007 story in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle said, adding that his parents are native Floridians.

“I grew up in a good family and with good family traditions and a lot of that was focused on Judiasm, and I believe in it,” he said.

For his bar mitzvah at Beth El, the education director who filled in for an absent rabbi said Carimi was so tall, even while kneeling, that he placed his hand on Carimi’s shoulder instead of his head for his blessing.

And when Carimi worked on a Habitat for Humanity home for his mitzvah project, he blended in until someone discovered he was only 12—too young according to Habitat rules to work on the home.

After becoming a bar mitzvah, Carimi continued his religious studies, celebrating his confirmation and working as an assistant to a fifth-grade Sunday school teacher, JTA reported. For Chanukah one year, he asked his parents for a shofar and joined the men who share the honor of blowing the ram’s horn on the High Holidays.

At Wisconsin, he was known as the Jewish Hammer for the way he knocked down opponents.

“Actually,” Carimi said, “I got that name in high school. Someone said it and it stuck with me.”

Carimi said he took pride in the name and also enjoyed being called Bear Jew—the name of a character in the film “Inglourious Basterds”—when playing for Chicago Bears.

No matter the nickname, Carimi is definitely in an elite group. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, there are not even enough current NFL Jewish players to make a minyan. Besides Carimi, the website lists seven Jewish players including another Buccaneer, fullback Erik Lorig. The number of players equals the number of current team owners who are Jewish, which includes the Bucs’ Glazer family, according to the website.

Carimi said he has heard the stereotype that Jews do not play sports, but it never stopped him or was something he used as motivation to prove people wrong. He also said he has never encountered anti-Semitism as a player or off the field.

While he spent Rosh HaShanah in synagogue and honored the Yom Kippur fast after the fact, Carimi once told a Hillel publication “Passover is definitely my favorite holiday.”

As for food, “Potato latkes are my favorite Jewish food, next to a nice reuben sandwich.”

Since he was in New York to play the Jets for the season opener, perhaps he stopped off for a hearty reuben after the game.

 

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