Dana Roc Interview

10 May , 2015  

Rabbi, Musician, David Gurwitz


David Gurwitz was an avid athlete growing up in the south Bronx in the 1950s and 1960s. He worked at a hotel in the Catskills where Wilt Chamberlain had once been a bellhop, and spent summers learning from Red Auerbach about talent recognition and development.

David played basketball in Madrid after graduating Brandeis University. He is also a mathematician who taught math and writing at the Stanley Kaplan Educational Center, the largest standardized test prep firm in the world.

After the birth of his first child in 1987, he became a mentor and tutor to Oliver Taylor, who went on to become the MVP in the Big East Tournament in 1991 for Seton Hall. Oliver played professionally in Europe for a decade following his graduation, after being cut by the Chicago Bulls. He is now a Deputy Sheriff in a city outside of Atlanta.

David has a law degree and MBA – and also is a Certified Public Accountant. He appears in the media quite often discussing global macro markets – stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies – as the Managing Director of The Charles Nenner Research, an international trading market research firm.

David’s love for music began as a child, but surfaced in college where he was a disc jockey. David used his basketball skills to develop his musical talent at the piano after learning about the connection of music and math in a class! He discovered his compositional musical talents later – when his cousin revealed that his mother had once played in Carnegie Hall. It was a secret that she never told her children.

David’s original music has been used to soothe children’s pain in hospitals. He has performed for various non-profit organizations around the world, including the Special Olympics, bringing music to thousands of athletes and their families.

To hear additional compositions by David Gurwitz, check his web

My initial conversation with David Gurwitz, for me, was like meeting an old friend. He is just one of those special and lovely people that we don’t get to read about very often. David shared with me that the word Jew means “acknowledge God”. I can’t think of a better way to acknowledge God than to be kind and to see the good in people. That is David’s life and his special relationship with Oliver Taylor is a testament to that fact and a powerful acknowledgment of God.


DR: I am here today with David Gurwitz. I have the amazing opportunity to sit with David and talk about a relationship that he has, which happens to be significant right now particularly as a result of events that are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, for example. Unrest and tension. David has quite a remarkable story about a young man named Oliver Taylor that he had the opportunity to mentor. I think their story really speaks to the better side of humanity and I think it’s a story that needs to be told. With that I just want to thank you David for being here with me today.

DG: My pleasure to be here with you today and with your wonderful husband.

DR: David, tell me about you and Oliver and how you met and what your relationship is about.

DG: Sure. I’m going to be sixty years old in April. I don’t mind saying my age. I’m a male, right? I’ll be sixty April 1st.

When our oldest, who is in his late twenties now, was born, I was so grateful that God gave him hands and feet and nothing wrong that I said, “I gotta do something”. There was an article in the New York Post about a basketball player named Oliver Taylor who was the leading scorer in New York City. He was from Far Rockaway High School. Being that I had been an avid basketball player and fan and had been trained by Red Auerbach – we’ll talk more about this – I read the sports section and I saw that he wanted to go to play at St. John’s, whose coach was Lou Carneseca. He didn’t have the 700 grades on his SAT to be able to get into that school. I said to my wife, “I’ve got to tutor this kid and help him because he seems like such a sweet guy”. So I called the coach and the coach put him in touch.

He used to take the train from Far Rockaway down to our apartment on The Lower East Side, not far from where we are sitting right now – 14th Street and 4th Avenue, and I tutored him. We talked basketball a fair amount, obviously, but I had him do math and English and I drilled this kid. He’s a tremendous person and he became like my brother, which we now consider each other. It kind of hit the press around that time. He didn’t get into St. John’s. He went to Junior College in Florida. He averaged 25 points a game. Then I brought him to a school called Seton Hall which had a coach named T.J. Carlesimo. Two years later Oliver won the quarter-finals against Alonso Morning and the semi-finals over the last second shot against Villanova and then they won the finals and he was the Big East MVP. They wrote an article about the two of us in The Post. I remember them saying that there was a businessman crying in an airport bar in Phoenix saying, “My kid brother…”, cause that’s where I was when I was watching that game.

So, we stay in touch. We lost touch for a while. If you Google me, I’m speaking about markets quite a bit because my partner was at Goldman Sachs for fifteen years and we talk about predicting markets, stocks, bonds commodities and currencies. In addition to that, I found a talent I had as a musician. I became a concert pianist and composer. I have a website Oliver’s brother, who is also named Oliver Taylor, is a music impresario was googling and found me. Oliver sent me an email four or five years ago. I have to admit that Oliver, being a policeman, he would have pulled me over as I looked at my email while I was on the highway and I almost had an accident. “David, it’s Oliver!” And I got back in touch with him right away and we’ve been in touch ever since.

DR: So, Oliver is a police officer now. What happened? Tell me about it.

DG: What happened was, he played pro for ten years in Europe. He was last cut as a walk on, on this team called The Chicago Bulls? I think they had this guy named Michael Jordan? He still has Michael Jordan sneakers.

Oliver played in Israel for a year. The big men in Europe are really the ones that we know in America, right? A lot of these big guys. But, even in Europe, Oliver was averaging twenty-five a game. You put him on the court, he’s scoring twenty five points.

So, he came and I think September 11th happened and he went to visit a brother who was also a policeman down in Georgia. He became first a security guard and then took the test and he’s now Deputy Sheriff in a city outside of Atlanta. I went to visit him about six months ago and the press followed us and did a whole thing. They see this White Jewish kid and this Black kid who are like family. It’s not a bad story.

I didn’t do it for a story. I did it to help because my whole family has survived because we help people. That’s all I know. We help people.

He has a school with nine hundred kids. He keeps gangs out…

DR: Oliver does?

DG: Yeah! He’s the policeman in the school.

DR: Wow…

DG: He said because of what I did for him he wanted to do something like that. I’m very grateful for that.

DR: At the time that you met Oliver you had children. You were young…

DG: No, I just had the first one…

DR: You just had one child…

DG: Yeah and Oliver, now he has kids and now I have three others, Thank God. You know this was twenty seven years ago…

DR: So, I don’t think that anyone would argue that what you did for Oliver was quite a selfless thing to do, being a new dad and having responsibilities of your own. You had your own family to worry about and yet you took the time to help another child. Where does that come from? Can you talk to me about where that spirit in you comes from?

DG: I come from a long line of Rabbis. The word Jew means “acknowledge God”. That is literally what it means. We had no money. We grew up in The Bronx but we were always helping people. That’s what I remember. My parents had nothing but they were always helping people – getting food for people…

Later on in life I found out that my father fought for the Russian army during the war. His father was rich and bought a car in 1937 to feed poor people. Nobody had cars back then. My father was a kid and he took the car apart because he was mechanical. When the Nazis marched East my father went and joined the Russian army and the Russians asked if anybody knew how to drive. Who knew how to drive back then? My father knew about cars and said “I know how to drive”. He somehow managed to drive a truck, which saved his life because he was in the back of the lines driving the truck. And for the rest of his life he was a truck mechanic. So because of my grandfather, who was killed, I never knew him, his buying a car to feed poor people is the reason I’m alive. I don’t know if that answers your question.

DR: Yeah it does.

DG: That’s what I come from and so giving is why I am here. So why wouldn’t I continue that?

DR: Can I ask you about your opinion on what’s going on now in Ferguson Missouri from the perspective of someone who has bridged certain gaps?

DG: Well the first thing I’ll say, and I get interviewed a lot is that I don’t discuss politics because I’m not that smart. I have three degrees. I went to Bronx High School of Science. I’m smart and stuff and I don’t understand any of this. I mean I really don’t because I think everybody is wrong. I really do. You don’t want to get me involved. I prefer to focus on what I’d like to do now given that there are so many people who need help in so many ways. Like Oliver and I, we have gotten known in this endeavor we are doing together – and it is together. Don’t think that I just give to him. I get back more than I give to him and he feels the same. That’s a pretty good deal.

DR: That is…

DG: I’d like to go around with Oliver to have people see this White Jewish kid that basically adopted, more or less, a Black kid from the ghetto who ended up becoming a policeman. And we are still in touch. We are helping each other and we are helping people. We’d like to just go out and tell that story and get on the basketball court…

Oliver has two degrees as a result of all of this. I became a musician afterwards. I’m almost sixty but I don’t think that just because I’m almost sixty I’m not still a kid. Your husband and I were talking about the fact that we still feel like we are twelve every time we pass a basketball. I think I’d like for people to see that there is another piece of the world. Not everybody is Donald Sterling.

I don’t follow news much because all of the news is negative. I prefer to show people some positive stuff. I think that’s what I have to offer.

DR: I think that one of the things that your story demonstrates is that when you are willing to connect with someone at the level of their humanity then you find common ground and you find an opportunity to bond with someone and to contribute to someone, to allow for someone to contribute to you and to develop the kind of relationship that is meaningful, the kind of relationship that you and Oliver have.

DG: We are talking because of our mutual friend, Terrie Williams. Terrie and I went to school together forty years ago. Terrie grew up in Westchester with all of the Williams brothers and she is my sister for forty years. I’m White, she is Black but she is my sister for forty years. We help each other. We love each other. A lot of relationships could be had if people spent a little bit of time. I happen to have a unique background growing up. I played ball. When you are playing ball, nobody has a color. “Can they play?!” That’s all that matters, you know. That’s it! That’s the color. How’s the game!? Right? If you can’t play, your color is not good. If you can play, it doesn’t matter what your color is. That’s the way I grew up.

I was trained by Red Auerbach. My freshman coach, John Rinka, scored three thousand points. He’s now down in North Carolina. He’s still my coach after forty years. I’m seeking mentoring myself all of the time from my rabbis, from my wife, from my coaches. I’m going to be sixty and I think it keeps you young to have other people to talk to who you value and who are doing the same thing.

So, yes what you are talking about when you have these ghettos and when you have these different places, when do people interact? They don’t. I don’ t do as much as I would like to and that is why I reached out to Terrie who reached out to you because of what you do, which is bring other people’s talents to the fore so well. I think that is something that I would like to do more of with people and then maybe they will feel moved to do something and then one step at a time we can create a little more positive than the overwhelming negativity that the press feeds on. The press feeds on negativity.

DR: You are a guy who likes basketball. You are a guy who LOVES basketball! Basketball is a passion I can tell and I am sure that it is an amazing lens through which to see the world. Share one of your favorite basketball moments.

DG: I’m going to give you five!

DR: Ok…

DG: Alright?

  1. The one time I dunked. I have a friend that saw it. When I was sixteen. I think the rim was not ten feet.
  2. I saw Larry Bird, when he was a rookie, walk out on the floor in the old Boston Garden. He was playing against Houston. Rick Barry was playing for Houston at the time. Somebody threw a white bird and it flew all around the arena.
  3. I was a camper at Kutsher’s Sports Academy and two of the counselors were guys named Walt Frazier and Dr. J. We spent a lot of time with them. We spent a lot of time with Red Auerbach and Red used to visit his daughter Randi when she worked with me at a hotel in the Catskills known as Kutsher’s Country Club that used to have a Maurice Stokes basketball game. I watched Wilt take care of Maurice Stokes. He adopted him with Jack Twyman.

Maurice Stokes banged his head underneath the basket and was paralyzed for the rest of his life. They had a game every year and the pros used to come and play. Kareem’s first pro game was there. I was there. I spent a lot of time when I was younger with these amazing athletes who were doing stuff for people.

Red Auerbach taught me about how to see talent in other people. Like how did he know Dave Cowens? How did he pick Dave Cowens? Nobody really knew about Dave Cowens who we all kind of know now? He said Bill Russell told him about Dave Cowens. Russell told him that there was this White guy with red hair playing down in Florida. Red took the train down from Washington all the way down to Florida State. All Black team. One White guy playing the top of a 1-2-2 defense, 6’9″ then. Back then 6’9″ guys didn’t play top of the 1-2-2. Now everybody can do it. Cowens, toughest, fastest guy and Red drafted him and Cowens went on to 20 points and 11 rebounds his whole career. So he always had a vision to see how great a person would be and how people would get along. I remember talking to him about that. That he watched how people practiced to see how they would get along with each other.

That affects my whole business career actually. I’m always looking to see how somebody else can become a Dave Cowens in their life. I’ve been able to help a lot of people. I didn’t know when I helped Oliver that he would become what he became. I just knew I had to help him.

God runs the world. I don’t. As long as we reach out, I suspect that He is not upset with that and that is the reason He put us here – to help people.

I literally think about basketball all of the time. I don’t watch it so much because I’m so busy. I love San Antonio, not just because they won this year but because of how their organization has made so many people shine within their own skill set, which is something that we all should learn from about organizations. I think back to John Wooden how players always got better. Nowadays a player only stays in college for one year. You don’t see the four-year development. I watched that, how people developed over four years and I miss that. I really do. I just think development is something people need to plan, think about, pray for and seek others to help.

DR: Do you think David, because you met and decided to mentor Oliver when you were young, I would imagine that it impacted your life greatly…

DG: Beyond! Well number one, Oliver is part of the family so everybody has an older brother named Oliver. We all feel that way. My wife loves him. He loves my wife. To have someone like Oliver who is just a rock of how to live your life…

In Hebrew the word for Love is Ahavah and the word for giving is hav because love comes from giving and it’s not the other way around. The more you give to someone, you love them more. You take a baby and you just keep giving to them and you love them more. We developed this relationship with Oliver that we didn’t plan on and look what happened to him. Look how he spends his life. When he has to put someone in jail, which he does, he talks to them and he takes responsibility. He keeps people out of jail by talking to them in advance because they know who he is and what a star he was. So if I have affected some kid in a small town outside of Atlanta because of what Oliver is doing, think about how much we could all do if everybody listening to this just did one thing with one person.

DR: Absolutely. David, a hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

DG: My seventh music album. Just kidding. Well since I only have two that means I have to put out five more…

DR: How about “My seventh Grammy”?

DG:! Download the music!

There was a great writer named Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was the first book I ever read in Spanish. I am fluent in Spanish. I played semi-pro basketball in Madrid in 1976 . They didn’t know how to play basketball back then. Like if you threw them the ball and they dropped it they would kick it back at you because they were soccer players. I knew how to play basketball so I averaged, in the B league, like twenty-six a game. I never averaged twenty-six a game. I went baseline and I was faking it…Can you imagine? A dream because they didn’t know how to play.

So, I was reading A Hundred Years of Solitude in Madrid in 1976 in Spanish and it goes through six generations of a family in South America on a banana plantation and you watch how these generations develop. The generations kind of blend into one another and after a while you can’t tell the difference between the great grandfather and the great grandson.

Nowadays a hundred years ago was World War I. We do cycle research and two hundred years ago was a war. Three hundred years ago was a war. Four hundred years ago was a war. Every second decade of the last thousand years in a hundred year cycle there has been a war. So based on that, a hundred years from now human beings seem to now learn we are going to have a war again, unfortunately. Having said that, hopefully a hundred years from now they will be able to look back and “We figured out how to not repeat this pattern and not have a war again.” So that’s the first answer I will give you.

But secondly, nowadays we get recorded so there are recordings, there are writings like here in one generation with Oliver he is affecting nine hundred kids and who knows, how many generations down the road that someone would remember there was a guy named Oliver Taylor who helped me – kept me out of jail. And they aren’t going to know who I was and they aren’t going to know his mother worked three jobs, because she did to take care of all the kids because there was no father around. That is not atypical.

That is a pattern I hope that a hundred years from now that the family structure got its act together so that the kids would have been raised in a nuclear family. You are doing this very wonderful program that is asking people that. Most people don’t think about that. As a Jew I come from a long line of rabbis. I know how far back we go. I go back to King David. We all come from Adam the first man. None of us are any greater than anybody else. God created the first man. We all come from him. A hundred years from now that won’t change. Hopefully we will have learned a hundred years from now, despite what might become some very rough times, that if people do reach out and help others and that multiplying affect will overpower what seems to be a very difficult place in the world at the moment.

DR: David, Thank you very much. I really appreciate this conversation.

DG: My pleasure and I think what you are doing people should not only focus on but look forward to. You have provided an avenue for so many unique people. When I looked at your site, I realized that I never knew about some of these people. You opened up what they are doing and I got to meet your wonderful husband who probably could beat me in a one on one game of basketball…

DR: Well maybe we will get to see that!

Thanks David!