For over twenty years R' Gedalia Goodman has been training horses professionally, following the Rebbe MH"M shlita's advice to him years ago. R' Gedalia, a member of the Beis Moshiach in Baltimore tells endless stories of Yidden that where brought closer to Yideshkeit through... horse racing. This week, the horse R' Gedalia trains raced in a tournament with a rider wearing a Moshiach jersey made specially for the race... and of course his horse won first place, the win made headlines in all sports of media oulets, showing images of the winning horse with her Moshiach jersey clad jockey...
Gedalia Goodman was born in South Bend, Indiana, and grew up in an observant Jewish home. However, when his family moved to Miami, Florida, Gedalia started drifting away from Judaism.
Gedalia started training horses in the early 60's and received his trainer's license in 1964. But horse training had not been his original career choice. Gedalia relates, "I had been in the army for over a year and was a good cryptographer. They wanted me to stay and promised to promote me, but it wasn't for me. I didn't want to be cooped up. I received job offers from the Pentagon, General Electric, Westinghouse, and RCA. But none of these prospects excited me. After leaving the military, I studied accounting and psychology. Still, I didn't feel satisfied".
While in college, Gedalia would visit the racetrack. "I liked the horses and being outdoors. One day, a friend introduced me to a horse trainer. Soon I was spending my days at the track learning the business and taking my courses at night". For the next ten years, Gedalia was a highly successful horsetrainer. Even back then he was referred to as "Rabbi" at the track because he never came on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. However, it was not until Gedalia had children, and wanted them to have a proper Jewish education, that his journey back to Torah began.
Gedalia became friendly with a rabbi who taught in his children's school and he answered many of Gedalia's questions. The rabbi introduced Gedalia to some Lubavitcher yeshiva students and Gedalia began studying Chasidic philosophy with them.
At the track, people began to notice the change in Gedalia. Although not yet fully observant, Gedalia stopped working on Shabbat. Eventually, Gedalia and his family moved to Israel, where Gedalia continued with his Torah studies.
The Goodmans returned to the United States in 1984. One of the Rebbe's emissaries suggested to Gedalia that he get back into horse training; he would be like an emissary to those Jews who owned racehorses and traveled in those circles.
When Gedalia's wife, Miriam, first heard the suggestion, she was reluctant. Relates Gedalia, "It would be a radical change from a life of spirituality in Israel back to jeans and horses in America". Gedalia wrote to the Rebbe about the suggestion and the Rebbe's reply was, "If she [Miriam] agrees, then definitely do it". Miriam agreed.
Soon after that, the Goodmans had a private audience with the Rebbe. Gedalia remembers the Rebbe saying, "You should draw all those who are near to you, closer to you, to Torah and mitzvot and Yididishkeit. Help them to be strong in their foundation in Yiddishkeit like you are strong, and to be happy like you are happy." Gedalia thought to himself, "Like me?! I'm new to Lubavitch".
Gedalia realized that this was going to be the hardest thing he ever did. His old contacts wanted nothing to do with him now. After a year, he still had not found work. "On the phone I had offers. But when we met face-to-face and they saw I was religious it was a different story".
Gedalia recalls one occasion in particular. "I had found a horse that I liked very much and was looking for an investor. I called a person I had trained for years ago. 'Where have you been?' he asked me. 'If you like the horse you can pick up a check tomorrow in my office'. When I went into his office, he took one look at me and wouldn't give me the check. Later, I found someone else to buy the horse. That year, the horse made $275,000".
Gedalia was so disheartened that he wrote to the Rebbe that he was going back to Israel. But the Rebbe gave him a blessing to stay and continue with his horse training. Finally, Gedalia got a break. He was invited to a horse farm through the help of a Chabad rabbi. After being at the farm a week, the owner told Gedalia, "Honestly, I did this just to appease the rabbi. But I learned more from you in one week than I have from being in the business for 25 years!"
This person had thought it was a joke - a Chasid training horses. He ended up giving Gedalia a horse to train so he could renew his license. This was the start of his successful new career. He became the talk of the business. He traveled around the world purchasing and training horses, and everywhere he went the media picked up the story of the "The Chasidic Horse Trainer".
The Rebbe continued to encourage Gedalia, reminding him that one of the most important things was for him to be successful and to be seen in public as a religious Jew. When Gedalia wrote reports to the Rebbe detailing his experiences, he received replies thanking him for the nachas (joy) he was giving the Rebbe.
When Gedalia traveled to Argentina, the media publicity preceded the race. On the day of the race several Jews approached him, telling him that they had come just to see him. One older man said that he had specially flown in from another part of the country. Tearfully, the man related that since the Holocaust he had lived in a small town and had not even known that religious Jews still exist.
Chasidim have always attempted to learn lessons from events around them. Gedalia has learned many lessons from his trade. Among them:
"A race horse must have a sense of confidence, a winning attitude. A horse may be strong, healthy and fast, but if he doesn't have self-confidence, a winning attitude, he is not a race horse. Today, many Jews lack this trait. When a Jew faces the outside world, to accomplish the maximum, he or she must have a winning attitude.
"Training horses, says Gedalia, also reminds us of the importance of spending time and effort with our children and their Jewish education." Gedalia rattles off a long list of what goes into the daily care and training of every horse and then comments, "So much effort must be put into each horse in order to produce a winner. How much more should be invested in our children!"