By Yochanan Gordon
Most of us have by now come to know who Ted Williams is. Just in case there are those reading this who have not chanced upon his internet video which has garnered over five million views and his subsequent life story, here it is in a nutshell:
Ted Williams, born and raised in Brooklyn, was a former radio personality who ran into hard times with drugs, alcohol and the law which sadly spiraled out of control leaving him homeless and, perhaps even worse, hopeless. Despite his negligence and the consequences that he suffered as a result, he held onto that rather dormant sense of hope that one day he would be given another chance to succeed.
Spending his days on the side of Intersection 71 in Columbus, OH, and the nights concealed behind some brush trees further down the median, he held out a sign which read, “I have a God-given gift of voice. I am en ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless you.”
Doral Chenoweth, photographer for the Columbus Dispatch, had from time to time passed by Ted Williams and was familiar with the sign that he had held, having eased by him in slow-moving traffic in days past. One day, a few weeks ago, riding that same route with his camera in tow, as he pulled alongside Mr. Williams, he quipped, “You’re going to have to work for your dollar. Show me that golden radio voice.” And work he did. With his innate velvety announcer’s voice, he resonated. “When you’re listening to nothing but the great of oldies, you’re listening to Magic 98.9.” Mr. Chenoweth handed the homeless man a dollar. Ted thanked him for his care and generosity and he moved on.
Never did Williams or Chenoweth ever think that their chance encounter would amount to anything substantial, certainly not the turning point in Mr. Williams’ life. In Williams own words, he would mimic various radio stations with cars buzzing by him from both sides to try to entertain his passersby and panhandle a buck or two just trying to make it through each day. In fact, Mr. Chenoweth had no intentions of releasing this video encounter if not for the fact that a few weeks later, he saw nothing especially noteworthy to report, when he recalled the video of Mr. Williams and his phenomenally talented voice, so he decided to give it a try. It has been just a few days since the video has first been aired and it has gone viral a few times over! What’s more, just a mere three days after the debut of this video, Ted Williams has been offered full and part time positions with the Cleveland Cavaliers, NFL Films, MTV and even a job in Hollywood!
Listening to Williams speak during some of the interviews that he has been featured in, you can sense the excitement in his voice, and at times he is at a loss to express just how things have changed so drastically for him in such a short period of time. Interestingly, despite all he’s been through, Ted Williams conveys a certain softness and grace in his interactions with people. In fact, in an interview with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira on the Today Show, Matt remarks, “Despite the hard times that you have fallen on, there is this stability about you, this kindness, this grace when you answer thank you, God bless you, where does that come from? Without skipping a beat, Ted Williams answers by giving credit to his mother, Julia Williams. In his own words, “My Mom has drilled into us from early on to treat people in a way that you would want others to treat you.”
It has been ten years since Ted has seen his mom, who you can tell he loves so dearly. He describes how after his battle with alcohol and the struggles of being an addict, he was met with a newfound sense of religiosity. He said, “I would regularly submit a prayer to God that my Mom who is ninety years old should live to see me rebuild and succeed.” Julia, Ted’s Mom, in her own words on an CBS newsbyte reveals, “I’ve been hurt. My heart is hurt. I have prayed and prayed and prayed until I thought maybe God don’t want to listen to me.” Well, now in New York due to his busy interview schedule, Ted Williams is headed to the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn to reunite with his mother and celebrate the long eventual fulfillment of their life long prayers.
In light of the fact that millions have watched this video over and over, in addition to the various interviews that have been conducted, it seems that this tale of one forlorn, disheveled looking man in Ohio has resonated within our collective being.
In truth, when I first came across this video on one of the Jewish websites, I began thinking about what relevance this has to me or to anyone else scrolling these pages. Before I clicked on the item and watched the rather brief clip of Ted Williams’ life and the rollercoaster that he is currently experiencing, I was perturbed that such an odd story has merit or noteworthiness on an otherwise carefully censored yeshiva oriented website. But after hearing his tale and joining Mr. Williams on his ride, I was hit by the divine stroke within this episode, when Seth Doane of CBS News asked his colleague Dave Kaelin, “Why does this story translate? Why does it resonate? And in one word, Kaelin summed it all up. He said, “Redemption. I think everybody would love a second chance.”
Having last week read the Parsha of Va’eira which contains seven out of ten plagues which G-d would unleash against Pharoah, and this week the final three plagues leading into Parshas Beshalach, which narrates the wondrous exodus of the Jews from Egypt, it is no secret that we are in the redemptive period of the year. With the advent of our Holidays throughout the year as well as some of the other momentous occasions, we have been taught over and over that the experiences that our forefathers and ancestors endured are not only commemorated but more accurately relived in those periods in time on every single year. The source for this, of course, is in the Megillath Esther where it is written, “V’hayomim haeileh nizkarim v’naasim b’chol shanah v’shana ub’chol dor v’dor.”
The Arizal has explained these words to mean that the divine energy that brought about the redemptions and salvations of our past are brought to the fore once again when we observe each and every holiday. In addition, following the dictum of, “uneshalma parim sefaseimo” our reading about G-ds vengeance on the Egyptians and His ensuing redemption of His most cherished nation after plummeting to the 49th level of impurity itself is enough to stir those redemptive juices in the cosmos in order that it should impact our lives in the same way.
But there is an additional tidbit to this story that resembles our experience from thousands of years ago and perhaps the days that we find ourselves in today. That is how Ted Williams’s salvation was born out of utter hopelessness. In fact our Rabbis tell us that our redemption will only come at a point in time when we least expect it. If it were not for the fact that he had hit rock bottom his story would not sound as astonishing. In fact, when we recount G-ds mercy on us in his extricating us from Egypt we too recall how had we remained there one more instant we would have been lost for eternity. The story of Mr. Williams contains a hauntingly similar twist of fate.
In other words, Ted Williams’ story is not a new one. But it sure is a reminder or perhaps a wakeup call to those of us who have become lost in our addiction with exile that the spirit of redemption is in the air. If you don’t believe it, just ask Mr. Williams and he’ll tell you.
Yochanan Gordon is a Senior Accounts Executive at The Five Towns Jewish Times}