Josh Bennett has been a Tigers season ticket holder for 18 years, ever since he moved to Michigan from Chicago and shed his past as a White Sox fan. His son dreams of becoming the next Tigers second baseman. As he put it, "My family suffers with me." He never really imagined getting involved in the game after his playing days in high school until he got the call from the Tigers last week. However, this has a lot more to do with his faith than his fandom. He's a fan, all right, but Rabbi Josh Bennett is also a spiritual leader of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield and the incoming president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis. And since last week, he has assumed the unlikely role of talking with Delmon Young in a role that might best be described as a spiritual counselor on the Jewish faith and an outreach to the Jewish community.
Bennett heard his share of reactions when Young was arrested in New York last month on a charge of aggravated harassment with an investigation for a possible hate crime based on alleged anti-Semitic language. Now Bennett is in the middle of the recovery, bridging the gap between a Jewish community that was understandably angry with Young when news reports came out, and an athlete who wants to show that he's not the hateful person some have accused him of being. Bennett doesn't know what happened that night, and he doesn't know if Young knows. For now, he's trying to understand the person. "Regardless of the repercussions of this, off the field he doesn't want people to perceive him as a bigoted human being," Bennett said. "I really trust from the conversation that he's looking to be very honest and serious about moving forward and making that the theme of the next couple months." While Young and his agents have approached the Jewish community in more formal tones, the talk with Bennett came about through a call from the Tigers. He met with Young and his agent, Joel Wolfe, on Thursday, while Young was finishing his seven-day suspension. "It was a chance for us to get to know each other and begin this process," Bennett said. "He and I had no relationship prior to this, and in that conversation, I found him to be very, very humbled by the circumstances." More than anything, Bennett said, he was struck by Young's willingness to develop a dialogue, and by Young's insistence that the image that has gone out is not him. That image, Bennett admitted, drew a very negative reaction within the local Jewish community when the reports came out. Bennett went in with an open mind. "Judaism as a religion takes very seriously the idea of repentance, saying we are sorry about our actions," Bennett said. "I will admit that many of my friends and congregants in our initial reactions, because we have a history of persecution as a people, were angered by it. But I think those people didn't have a full idea about the story, because they've only seen the coverage in the media. They don't have the advantage of listening to him, hearing how earnest he is. "I'm allowed to be a little bit different from the community. I'm allowed to, and this sounds a little silly, be Delmon's rabbi." Young said last Friday that his meeting with Bennett was a "great conversation," and that he was looking forward to doing more once the Tigers returned from their West Coast trip. "He has already, since that first conversation, reached out on several occasions to me to talk and be connected," Bennett said. "This is not just a P.R. move. He has shown himself to be honest and serious about connecting and developing a relationship." In turn, Bennett said, he has sensed the perception of Young in the community soften. That relationship will determine how Young's outreach to the community at large progresses. Young will likely meet Bennett and his family at some point when they return home. In the end, Bennett hopes this can turn into a positive for Young. "It's interesting," he said. "He identified to me his hesitance to be a more public persona, and I think that beyond the incident itself, I hope it will teach a little bit more about who he is as a role model. I think he already understands that. I think this has been a very strong shot in the arm for him."