“I wanted our Jewish kids to feel proud and powerful after my run. I wanted to get a win for the Jewish people and make a ‘Kiddish Hashem’ [the sanctification of God’s name],” winner Michael Neuman said.
By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner
An Orthodox Jew from Florida who took home $25,000 after competing in the new CBS show “Million Dollar Mile” dedicated his win to his coreligionists on Sunday.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Michael Neuman, 26, said, “I wanted our Jewish kids to feel proud and powerful after my run … I wanted to get a win for the Jewish people and make a Kiddish Hashem [the sanctification of God’s name], that was the goal.”
In the show, produced by NBA All-Star LeBron James and hosted by Mets player Tim Tebow, contestants have the chance to win up to $1 million by running a five-part obstacle course against a professional athlete. In the episode that aired on Saturday, Neuman wore a kippah throughout the mile-long course set up in downtown Los Angeles. He decided to walk home with the $25,000 he won after the second leg of the competition.
“I knew I had to win at all costs,” he said of his decision not to go all the way for the $1 million grand prize. “It was not enough for a guy wearing a yarmulke to just show up and lose … I was the top winner of the episode because winning at all is very demanding. Most go home empty-handed.” He described the race as “a true test of mental grit and strength.”
The Miami Beach native, who works as a psychotherapist, said he always loved sports but was never able to join leagues as a kid because they typically played on Saturdays when he was observing Shabbat. As an adult he developed a passion for obstacle course racing.
He recently became the first Orthodox Jew to podium in a Spartan race, which are comprised of a series of obstacle courses. He always competes wearing a kippah.
“A Holocaust survivor once told me to speak up and make a Kiddish Hashem when I asked her what we can do to fight the new wave of anti-Semitism,” he said. “Since then I’ve always competed with my yarmulke. It’s my way of saying to the world the Jewish people are strong and proud. We live in a time where we have platforms to show the world we’re not that different and we can all get along. “
Neuman said the show’s producers were supportive of his decision to wear the traditional headgear and appreciated his commitment to his faith. The athlete also made sure his kippah was securely fastened before competing on the show. He said, “I’ve actually lost a spartan race because of my yarmulke falling off and me going back to get it. So I had 6-8 Bobby pins in there with two kippah clips inside … didn’t want to face the decision to go back for it.”
Judaism “taught me a lot of discipline” he said. “Everyone can pursue their dreams while never deviating from keeping Hashem [God] and Torah values as the center of your life.”
Neuman has never faced anti-Semitism for wearing a kippah in competitions, although he said he has surprised some people and attracted stares at starting lines. But, he continued, “The best part is making friends with strangers at competitions and having them tell me they’ve never really met an Orthodox Jew before.”