So on Sunday in Potomac, the 12-year-old Portnoy, his friends, siblings and others will gather for a three-hour catch-a-thon to raise money for care and research into the disease that has severely affected his grandfather.
Hershel Portnoy, a former rabbi and army chaplain, suffers from frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), a lesser known form of dementia that has struck an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Americans. There is no cure for the disease, which has curtailed his ability to speak, eat and move.
As a community service project for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, Portnoy and his dad Aryeh rounded up business sponsors, local youth baseball leagues and others for the event, which so far has raised more than $15,200 for the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.
“I love baseball and my grandfather. I decided I might want to combine those two things to raise money for my grandfather,” Max Portnoy said. “He’s a really nice person and he helped other people during his life. Now he needs help.”
Participants will play catch off and on for the duration of the three-hour event, with raffles of baseball gear and lessons from BCC Baseball, burritos donated from Chipotle and other gifts from local businesses.
Hershel Portnoy grew up in Rhode Island, which naturally makes him a Red Sox fan. But after moving to New York and spending nearly 40 years as a pulpit rabbi there, Hershel’s son Aryeh grew up a diehard Yankees fan. He regularly takes Max up to the Bronx for Yankees’ home openers. Hershel “tolerated” his son’s obsession.
And baseball became a regular topic of conversation between grandson and grandfather.
Last week, Max made his middle school baseball team at the Jewish Day School. Hershel has limited ability to speak, so the family communicates with him via Skype. Max Skyped his grandfather on the car ride home to deliver good news on two fronts: Max had made the team and the catch-a-thon had just passed the $15,000 fundraising level.
“This really blew our mind, the amount of support that we got,” Aryeh Portnoy said.
“Some of the people were touched by my grandfather. That was nice,” Max Portnoy said. “But also some of my friends are coming who don’t know my grandfather. It is special that they are helping me with that.”
Photos via Aryeh Portnoy, AFTD