All the Right Moves
"He's a nice Jewish boy," Michal Finkelstein says of her son Shimon. "He likes to sing in shul, he's an A student.... He never uses his strength or skills to bully others."
Except on the wrestling mat.
The 10-year-old Shimon is the California state champion in the boys' 65-pound division, ages 9 to 10. This month, he will compete in the Western regionals, then it's on to Iowa for the nationals.
Born in Jerusalem, Shimon grew up in a West Bank settlement just north of his birthplace, Beit El. The Orthodox Finkelstein family moved to Los Angeles four years ago. It was on a return summer visit to Israel in 1995 when Shimon was introduced to wrestling by a Shabbat guest from Oklahoma.
"Shimon's always been very physically built," says his mother. "He learned to ride a two-wheeler at 3 years old."
Third in a family of six, Shimon is dedicated to wrestling, specializing in freestyle and Greco-Roman style (no contact below the waist). In fact, the pint-sized powerhouse commutes from his family's Pico-Robertson-area residence to the Valley several times a week to train.
Shimon's father, Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein, shrugs off any potential for mayhem on the mat. "It's less dangerous than baseball or football," says Finkelstein, a teacher at Shalhevet High School.
Although the Finkelsteins will move back to Israel this summer, Shimon's wrestlemania will continue on in the Middle East. As his proud mother puts it, "I hope to see him in the Olympics in Israel."
WHY WRESTLING?: "My dad wanted to do this...I liked it. It was fun, and we kept on going."
SECRET KILLER MOVES: "I have some moves that I'm really good at, like the 'Flip.' It's the arm throw. You take the arm and you throw him. I also use a 'Russian Roll' -- you get the guy's head in a headlock, and then you turn him over and start rolling around the mat with him."
KEEPING YOUR KIPPAH ON: "I don't [wrestle with it]. They always fall off."
FIRST-CLASS COACH: "My coach, he's from Russia and he's Jewish. His name is Sam Pinsky. I really love him. We practice moves a lot. I do it two times a week."
BREAKFAST OF A CHAMPION (SORRY, WHEATIES...): "I eat Cheerios."
FUTURE PROGNOSIS: "I want to be a doctor and wrestle."
WRESTLING: REAL OR FIXED?: "It's real. It's not a show."
-- Michael Aushenker, Community Editor
'Genius Grant' Goes to Greif
Israeli economist Avner Greif of Stanford University has received a $265,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
The award, given to "the most creative minds" in the United States, is popularly dubbed the "genius grant." It is one of the most coveted in America because it comes without any strings, and recipients can use the money in any way they wish, without having to file any justifications or reports. Individuals, from any field, are selected by an anonymous panel of "talent scouts."
Greif, 42 and a graduate of Tel Aviv University, impressed the $4 billion foundation with his research, which has led to "greater understanding of the institutional evolution and the conditions that lead to social conflict or cooperation," according to the citation.
Using game theory and other modeling techniques, he has shown "how beliefs, institutions and other social ties, which appear to be randomly connected, are in fact linked to cultural norms of trust and reciprocity."
In a phone interview, Greif said that he plans to use the bulk of his grant to "buy some spare time" and to learn more about sociological and historical research, as it applies to economic systems.
He also intends to dig into archives in Italy and Israel. He has long been interested in the Maghribi traders, late medieval Jewish merchants who operated in the Moslem Mediterranean and kept detailed records of their business dealings.
Greif has also studied the records of traders from Genoa, where they dominated traffic on the Mediterranean in later centuries.
A native of Tel Aviv, Greif received bachelor's degrees in both economics and the history of the Jewish people from Tel Aviv University, and subsequently a master's degree in the latter field under Professor Moshe Gil.
He received his doctorate in economics from Northwestern University and joined the Stanford faculty in 1989. He is now an associate professor.
Greif said that the award came "without warning and caught me by surprise."
Thanks to the grant, he will be able to take his wife, Estee, and their children, Adi, Yaron and Ariel, along on his study travels. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
As Up Front goes to press, it's too soon to tell how Lt. Gov. Gray Davis' elephantine gaffe -- saying Gov. Pete Wilson "likes to fan the flames of...anti-Semitism" -- will affect the outcome of the governor's race.
Davis quickly apologized for the statement, which he called "a total mistake." Wilson may have alienated minorities with his support of Proposition 187 and other measures, but the man is no anti-Semite. He's probably spent more time at the Simon Wiesenthal Center than Simon Wiesenthal.
But Davis' attack of hoof-in-mouth did have one sanguine effect on Decision '98 -- it finally got the gubernatorial race some coverage on local TV news.