July 22, 2011 | 9:33 am
Posted by Ilana Angel
If there were ever a movie that needed to be made, it’s the life story of Tahl Leibovitz. My son suggested I write about Tahl when he came across him playing in a table tennis match on television. I wrote a blog earlier in the week about Tahl Leibovitz which was based on a lot of old information, as I could not find any current interviews.
I quickly got an email from Tahl saying that someone had sent him a link to my blog. He thanked me for taking the time to write about him. I wrote back, we exchanged a few emails, and by yesterday afternoon we were talking on the phone. He is soft-spoken, very articulate and has beautiful manners. He was lovely and kind.
I will not do his story justice, but let me share a few things that make this one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with. Tahl was born in Haifa, Israel and moved to New York City when he was three years old. He is now 36 years old, married with no children, and living in Queens.
He is one of 4 children, having an older and younger sister, along with a twin sister. His father is an alcoholic, and his mother, who suffered from mental health issues, passed away from cancer about six years ago. When Tahl was 13 years old he was kicked out of the house. His parents had many issues and could not handle him.
He was living on and off the street from the age of 13 and on a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Queens, he entered a program for at-risk youth, and discovered table tennis. Not only did he discover the sport, he mastered it. He is one of the greatest players in the world, which is unbelievable when you learn he also has Osteochondroma.
His body is riddled with tumors, including one in his playing wrist. It limits his movement and causes pain, but has not broken his spirit, or stopped him from creating an amazing life from a beginning that is heartbreaking. As he was sharing his history with me I sat listening in disbelief, wanting to simply hug him and tell him he was wonderful.
Having not gone to school full time after the 6th grade, he could not read well or complete basic math functions. He was homeless on and off from 14 to 21, sleeping in the NYC subway system. He worked on his education while homeless, and began college with limited knowledge, and the skills of a child.
His mother wanted him to go to school and he wanted to make her happy. This man with a missing childhood, managed to get a BA in Philosophy, another one in Sociology, and a Masters Degree in Urban Affairs. His first semester in college his GPA was .6 and he was being kicked out. He finished his Masters Degree with a 3.9 GPA.
It’s during the years he was homeless that Tahl became one of the greatest table tennis players in the world. He used that success to propel him through school. His mother was the child of Holocaust survivors and had a difficult childhood, his father chose booze over his children, yet this man has nothing bad to say about anyone.
He does not drink or do drugs which was interesting to me. Having led a life where it would be easy to make the choice to use drugs to numb the pain, he has respected himself and his history enough to not go down that road. He is a man of strong character and conviction, and I liked him very much.
He is grateful and gracious. He speaks with his father who lives close to him. His sisters are living and working in New York, and his twin sister suffers from mental illness like their mother, and has been in and out of hospitals. His love for her is touching and his voice changes slightly when speaking of her in particular.
I think it is a blessing when we are able to meet people like Tahl. He teaches me by example, and forces me to stop, take in a deep breath, not take everything so seriously, and be grateful for the blessings of my life. He has travelled a difficult path, but does not allow it to define who he is, which is a remarkable gift.
This guy is a poster child for the power of a child’s spirit to not lose their dreams. I found myself wanting to hear more and could have spoken to him for hours. As a mother, a Jew, a writer, and a human being, I think this story should be told. Tahl Leibovitz is an inspiration to me, a hero to my son, and a reminder to always keep the faith.
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