Born in Rego Park, Queens in New York City, Danny Gewirtz moved to the Westchester town of Scarsdale at age 13, after graduating from the Yeshiva of Central Queens. He and his brother were going to live with their mother and her new husband. It was a huge shift from city to suburb, day school to public school.
“The only kids who accepted me in my new high school were the nerds and the druggies – certainly not the jocks,” says Gewirtz, who enjoyed sports every summer at Jewish sleepaway camps where his father was head counselor.
Those jocks would be surprised to know that the kid they ignored became one of the founders of the American Football in Israel organization.
Gewirtz fell in love with football as a member of an intramural team at Pace University in New York City.
In the summer following college graduation in 1983, he embarked on a three-month Eurail trip. When he arrived in Greece, he decided spontaneously to hop over and visit his many relatives in Israel. After three days, he decided to stay longer. But he wasn’t interested in touring, so his cousin took him to the Jewish Agency to explore other options.
He ended up in Safed on a two-month immersive Israel experience at Livnot U’Lehibanot, which inspired him to become more observant. He wasn’t sure how the religious transformation would be accepted at home, but as it turns out he never did go home.
“First I was going to go to Beersheba with two guys from the program,” he says. They set out from Safed and stopped for the night at the Jerusalem apartment of his father’s sister and her family. And there, sitting at the kitchen table, was his first cousin’s friend, Maya Kordovani, a beautiful Israeli soldier.
Never mind that she was of Persian ancestry and he was a direct descendant of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, a founding rebbe of the Hassidic movement in Poland. Never mind that he didn’t speak Hebrew or that she’d never heard of Scarsdale. Gewirtz was smitten.
The next day, he ditched his friends in Beersheba and went back to Jerusalem to woo the woman he would marry three and a half months later. They lived in Ramot for five years before moving to Ma’aleh Adumim, where they raised three children and continue to be active and beloved members of the Mitzpe Nevo community.
What's the secret of a good marriage?
“The secret to our marriage is perseverance, especially my wife’s,” Gewirtz declares. “We could not be more different from each other culturally, but we have deep respect for each other. We went through a lot of tough times, but the longer we stuck it out the better our marriage became.”
ONE OF those tough times involved a culinary venture in Jerusalem, the first Chinese food takeout place in Israel. “We started it a year after we got married and it was wildly successful, but six months later we got a call one night that an arsonist had burned it down. I still remember the smell of the neft [kerosene] in the ruined building.”
Gewirtz went on to a series of “all kinds of crazy jobs,” including a five-year stint as a traveling hat salesman for Imaga. In 1988, he met fellow Queens expat and football fan Steve Leibowitz when they worked for the short-lived English-language newspaper The Nation.
“I was advertising sales manager, and Steve was a writer. In the office they had satellite dishes that got the signal from American Armed Forces Television, and on Sunday evenings Steve and I would watch real NFL games. We started charging guys NIS 20 for admission to our little club, and they were glad to pay it.”
Soon they fielded eight two-hand touch football teams comprising American students at gap year yeshivas. “We had some financial help during the first few years from the NFL, and they demanded that we go to flag football,” says Gewirtz, who served as referee and manager and still sits on the board of AFI.
“Our real break was about 10 years in, when someone made a shidduch [match] with Robert Kraft, who was staying at the King David Hotel.”
Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, eventually built Kraft Family Stadium and, later on, Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem. He remains a major supporter of the league, and his late wife, Myra, helped build the national women’s team.
Today, the AFI encompasses about 2,000 players. There are children’s clubs, a peewee league, a high school tackle football league, a women’s league, a yeshiva league, a men’s tackle football league and women’s and men’s national flag football teams.
“We’ve been involved in many world flag tournaments and hosted the World Championship in 2021 with over 40 teams from around the world,” says Gewirtz. “Now we’re hoping to field men’s and women’s teams for the 2028 Olympics.”
Professionally, Gewirtz finally found his niche in the early days of the Internet, selling ads for Virtual Jerusalem. Around 2008, other Jewish websites began coming online, and Gewirtz recognized uncharted territory for advertising.
“Dov Kunstler and I started D&D Marketing, and we couldn’t take the orders fast enough,” he recalls. “When Jess Dolgin came on as a partner we changed our name to J Media Group and became the largest online Jewish ad agency in the world.”
Where is Gewirtz now?
After 20 years at J Media, Gewirtz left seven years ago and now does fundraising for Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, a nonprofit organization that provides thousands of food baskets weekly and daily hot meals for indigent Israelis, particularly children.
“I find it very satisfying to use my sales ability for a really good cause, raising money for the poor and needy in Israel,” he says. Maya, meanwhile, has found her calling as a nutritional counselor.
The Gewirtz children have presented their parents with numerous grandchildren. Yair, 37, coaches Ma’aleh Adumim’s League Leumit basketball team. Ateret, 34, recently returned from a postdoc in the US and is gaining a worldwide reputation in the field of sexology. Efrat, 28, is a social worker.
“I love knowing that if my children and grandchildren stay here in Israel, I will have Jews in my genealogy to the end of days,” says Gewirtz. “That’s very comforting.”
“I love knowing that if my children and grandchildren stay here in Israel, I will have Jews in my genealogy to the end of days.”Danny Gewirtz
Danny Gewirtz, 62From Scarsdale, NYto Jerusalem, 1983;to Ma’aleh Adumim, 1989