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Even if snake-hunting seems like an unusual Jewish pasttime, Leibman could draw inspiration from the Scriptures.
In the Torah, after Moses’s staff is transformed into a snake, the Lord commands Moses to grab the creature’s tail. In one of the miracles showing that Moses is a true messenger of the divine, the snake turns back into a staff.
When Leibman grabs a Burmese python’s tail, he knows exactly what will happen: The animal will turn around and go into battle. So he continues to step backward as it strikes, waiting for the snake to tire out so that it can be captured safely. Suffice it to say, this isn’t a hobby for the faint of heart.
But while Leibman loves the adrenaline rush of dealing with pythons, he’s also motivated by a deep appreciation for Florida’s Everglades, where he goes camping and fishing. He grew up spending time there with his father, and he loves to take trips there with his 14- and 17-year-old daughters. As a baseball coach for children with disabilities, he also brings the kids out to see snakes and other animals.
“Even if we go out there and don’t catch anything, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said. “If we clean up the python problem, hopefully we’ll have a lot more things to see out there.”
While the first-and second-prize Python Challenge winners hunted in teams, Leibman operates solo — except when his daughters help out with the driving or a tail grab. Though he doesn’t feel they’re ready to grab a python’s head, he says his younger daughter will argue otherwise.
Leibman estimates that he’s caught about 50 pythons since he took up the hobby two years ago. He prefers the term “catching” to hunting, since he doesn’t carry a gun or a machete, and he doesn’t kill the snakes, instead handing them over to a biologist at the University of Florida for research. Some are euthanized, while others are studied alive. “They’re trying to learn as much as they can about them,” Leibman said.
Leibman admits the extent of his religious practice is basically limited to Jewish food, but his girls attend Temple Dor Dorim more frequently than him with their friends.
His next-door neighbor Marty Prenner, who worships at Temple B’nai Aviv, in Weston, also learned a bit about pythons after Leibman asked him to help measure a catch of live snakes.