SHABBAT ACROSS AMERICA MARCH 7, 2014

After a film and a traditional dinner, the Hebrew School students made a presentation on:

In the tempestuous ocean and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity. The island is the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit. —Abraham Joshua Heschel

Nothing in our daily life offers more of the comfort of continuity, the generational connection of belonging to a vast and complicated American family, the powerful sense of home, the freedom from time's constraints, and the great gift of accumulated memory than does our National Pastime, baseball. —Ken Burns

THE FIRST INNING

In the beginning....
Beginnings are often shrouded in mystery and myth and baseball is no different. Legend has it that on a summer afternoon in 1839, at Cooperstown, New York a young man by the name of Abner Doubleday created the game of baseball. It would be some thirty years before baseball's first Jewish player took the field. Known as the "Iron Batter," Lipman Pike was one of the earliest baseball stars.

Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1860s, Pike was a power hitter at a time when home runs were rare. And he was one of the first paid players $20 a week.

Other Jewish players followed but it was not until Hank Greenberg came along some 60 years later that the Jewish people had their first superstar.

THE SECOND INNING - BASEBALL AND JUDAISM, A MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN

It has been said that when the great Talmudic scholar, Louis Ginzberg, joined the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the school's leader, Solomon Schechter, advised him to master the game of baseball. You can't be a rabbi in America without understanding baseball, said Schechter.

Many people have noted the parallels between Judaism and baseball: both honor tradition, both emphasize community, both attach importance to special foods (think of ballpark franks, and don't forget the peanuts and Cracker Jacks). Both have their rituals - the ceremonial throwing out of the first pitch, the seventh-inning stretch. There are even baseball "holidays," such as the All-Star game and the World Series. Some people even find an almost halachic quality to baseball: Its rules are sharp and defined - as to what's fair and what's foul, as to where the players must stand, and as to what they must wear (baseball, too, requires that you keep your head covered!). There are even rabbi-like umpires to keep you on the straight and narrow, telling you when you have broken the rules and punishing the sinners.

THE THIRD INNING - TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY

Just as the baseball season is winding down, the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur appear. On a few occasions Jewish ballplayers were faced with the difficult choice of whether to play a game on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur in the midst of a pennant race.

The best example of this was in Detroit during the 1930's and 40's, where the Tigers were led by Hammerin' Hank Greenberg. Greenberg understood his importance to American Jews as a symbol of strength. He played during the rise to power of Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany. Greenberg endured much name-calling and used his anger to fuel his strength.

Even though his rabbi had given him permission to play baseball on Rosh Hashanah, in 1934 Greenberg won praise for his decision not to play baseball on Yom Kippur.

A generation later, Greenberg's precedent was matched by Dodger great Sandy Koufax. In 1965, he did not pitch in the opening game of the World Series because that day also fell on Yom Kippur.

More recently, another Jewish all-star Shawn Green chose to sit out an important game that fell on Yom Kippur. What made him do it? He explained that, as a role model for Jewish kids, he's trying to convey a message "that baseball, or anything, isn't bigger than your religion and your roots."

THE FOURTH INNING - THE AMAZIN' METS

There are very few teams that have survived the years with an identity all their own, remembered and defined by the years in which they won. Alongside the 27 Yankees and the 55 Dodgers lives the 69 Mets. What made the Mets championship so special was its unlikelihood. Long time Mets player Ed Kranepool used to say that people always kidded him that there would be men on the moon before the Mets ever got to first place...and they were right.

An important player on the Miracle Met team that won the World Series that year was the Jewish outfielder, Art Shamsky. Shamsky batted over 300 that season and hit over 500 in the National League playoffs.

Some 45 years later, Shamsky says that there isn't a day that goes by when someone doesn't want to talk to him about the 69 Mets.

Today, the Mets boast 2 Jewish players - Ike Davis and Josh Satin and a Jewish owner, Fred Wilpon.

THE FIFTH INNING - ARDEN HEIGHTS BOULEVARD JEWISH CENTER'S MOST FAMOUS HEBREW SCHOOL GRADUATE

Most people would not be overly surprised if Hebrew school graduates went on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants or school teachers but a major league baseball player...that would be surprising enough...and at our own Hebrew school?....that would be unbelievable.

Our very own synagogue is the home of perhaps Staten Island's most accomplished major league baseball player, Jason Marquis. Marquis a first round selection of the Atlanta Braves has had a wonderful career highlighted by an All-Star game appearance and more than 120 wins. Marquis is also known to be one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball, slugging 5 home runs in his career. Marquis is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors.

THE SIXTH INNING - BASEBALL'S GREATEST PITCHER

When asked who was the best pitcher he had ever seen, the great Yankees manager Casey Stengel said Sandy Koufax...and for good reason. Koufax played his entire career for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. He retired at the peak of his career, and in 1972 became the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among Koufax's many accomplishments are the following:

  • Koufax was the first 3-time Cy Young winner in baseball history
  • Koufax was the first major leaguer to pitch four no-hitters
  • In his 12-season career, Koufax had a 165-87 record with a 2.76 E.R.A.

In July, 1999 Sports Illustrated featured its 20 favorite athletes of the 20th century, heading the list was none other than Koufax. And the reason for ranking Koufax No. 1? "Unfailingly true to his ideals, he always put team before self, modesty before fame, and God before the World Series."

THE SEVENTH INNING - JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE GAME

The Jewish contribution to baseball goes beyond the playing field. Throughout its history Jews have made many other non-playing contributions to the game. A few are:

  • Barney Dreyfuss owner the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise from 1900 to his death is often credited with the creation of the baseball World Series.
  • Daniel Okrent an American writer and editor is best known for inventing Rotisserie or Fantasy League Baseball.
  • Marvin Miller was the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) from 1966 to 1982. Under Miller's direction, the players' union was transformed into one of the strongest unions in the United States. In 1992, Red Barber said, "Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the three most important men in baseball history."
  • Many announcers throughout baseball history are Jewish including the late voice of the Yankees Mel Allen and a current voice Susyn Waldman. Three of the Mets broadcasters - Gary Cohen, Josh Lewin and Howie Rose are Jewish as well.
  • Long time commissioner Bud Selig is Jewish.
THE EIGHTH INNING - TAKING PRIDE IN ONE'S JEWISH IDENTITY

Baseball has been referred to as "the Great Assimilator" and the Jewish experience in baseball is much like that of any other ethnic group. Jews have used sports to "become American". And while many, if not most, of today's players view their Jewish identity as secondary to their identity there are a few notable exceptions including 2 members of the recent Boston Red Sox championship team.

Gabe Kapler has a Star of David tattooed on one leg and the phrase "Never Again" with two dates - the start and end of the Holocaust on the other.

Kevin Youkilis runs a charity called Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids. Youkilis said: "In my religion, the Jewish religion, that's one of the biggest things that's taught, is doing a mitzvah and giving tzedakah"

THE NINTH INNING - THE ALL TIME JEWISH NINE

This season, between 10-15 Jews will put on major league uniforms. More than 50 other Jews will play professional baseball in the minor leagues.

There have been more than 160 Jews out of the roughly 17,000 players who have played Major League baseball since the National League began in 1876. Two of them Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax are in baseball's Hall of Fame. Only time will tell who the next "Koufax" or "Greenberg" will be.

We conclude our program with a listing of our all-time all-star Jewish baseball team. Collectively, the players on this team have speed, power, superior pitching, play good defense, and...as Adam Sandler would say they all____light the menorah!

Catcher: Harry Danning
First Base: Hank Greenberg
Second Base: Ian Kinsler
Shortstop: Charlie Myer
Third Base: Al Rosen
Outfielders: Ryan Braun, Sid Gordon, Shawn Green
Pitchers: Sandy Koufax and Ken Holtzman
NEXT YEAR IN COOPERSTOWN!

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