In Memoriam: Mordechai Goodman

Israel’s ageless quarterback, pizza man, father and friend.

Memorial candles. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Memorial candles.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The State of Israel lost one of its finest Zionist sons this week with the passing of Efrat resident the legendary Mordechai “Marvin” Goodman. Affectionately known as Mordi, Goodman who grew up as a proud Texan in Houston before moving to New York.
He had an unmatched boisterous personality, sense of humor and zest for life. I only learned at the funeral this week that Mordi was a successful Manhattan business executive who, inspired by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, dropped everything to make aliya to Efrat in ​1986 ​with his wife, Ann.
I first met Mordi on a pilot trip before making aliya in the summer of 2001.  When I walked into the Goodman family’s pizzeria, I saw the huge Pizzeria Efrat American Football in Israel championship trophy on display from the team’s 1993 undefeated season, along with a wall of pictures featuring teams that Mordi played quarterback for over the years.
I introduced myself and told him I was interested in playing football after I made aliya a few months later. Despite being in the midst of slicing up a fresh pie of pizza just out of the oven for another customer, Mordi said, “Do you have shoes with you boy? Let’s go right now and throw around the ball.” I convinced Mordi he didn’t have to drop everything in the middle of the workday to throw. But I told him that when I was settled in Israel, I would give him a call to play ball.
Sure enough, by the start of the 2002-03 season the following fall, there I was proudly wearing the purple Pizzeria Efrat football jersey at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem. Mordi, who never revealed his true age, was clearly much older than the 18-year-old yeshiva players in the league and also older by far than the 20-something local Israelis who were playing. But his accuracy and poise at the quarterback position and true passion for the game led to many winning seasons. Perhaps his success can be attributed to that he had decades more experience on the field than anyone else out there.
Whether we won or lost on any given Friday morning, it was obvious that Mordi was having the time of life playing with his two oldest teenage sons. Tragically, his second son, Yosef Z”L, died as an IDF hero in 2006. During a parachuting drill with the Maglan elite unit, Yosef’s chute became entangled with his commander’s. Yosef saved his commander’s life by cutting the tangled cords, releasing his commander. But he didn’t have time to open his reserve chute before hitting the ground.
Experiencing a tragedy that no parent should ever have to​ endure​, when I saw Mordi at Yosef’s funeral, it was the first time ever I had seen him without a smile on his face or not ready to tell a funny joke or story.
But Mordi used that tragedy to reach out to Yosef’s unit, opening his house to the IDF soldiers as if they were family. He always, despite his broken Hebrew, took the time to give inspirational talks to groups of soldiers (and others) to spread his love of the land of Israel and Zionism, instilling within them additional purpose and meaning throughout their service.
But as anyone who has ever played for Mordi, or who has walked into his pizza store knows, it was Mordi’s humor, oftentimes crass, that won you over. For me, buying a pie of pizza usually turned into a 30-minute ordeal featuring a conversation about sports and family. But most of the time it ​was ​Mordi who was doing the talking, while I was doing the laughing at Mordi’s unfiltered wit and antics.
The last few years we made it a point to get together once a year during the NFL football season to watch his Houston Texans battle my Indianapolis Colts, whether at his house or mine. His uncensored play-by-play commentary turned watching a game into a full comedy experience. I’ll never forget those Sunday nights together.
There are no doubt hundreds of stories those of us who knew Mordi over the years could share. But ultimately Mordechai Goodman was a loving husband, father, grandfather, a great friend, an ageless quarterback, the legendary Efrat pizza man and a true Zionist who loved the land of Israel. He simply ​enjoyed​ putting smiles on the faces of everyone he met. He will truly be missed by all.
Mordechai Goodman is survived by his wife, Ann, nine children (including Yosef Z”L) and five grandchildren. The family will be sitting shiva until Tuesday morning at Mishol Hakramim 37 in Efrat.
​Josh Hasten is a resident of Gush Etzion and a longtime AFI player who is proud to have been a member of the Pizzeria Efrat ​football team.