Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jews and Baseball

I preface this blog with the following disclaimer: I did not grow up in a baseball household, but I did live in Los Angeles in 1974, so l do remember that sunny late afternoon when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run against the Dodgers, tying the Babe’s record, and I recall that same season when Mr. Brownlee, our social studies teacher, let us listen in class to the Dodgers when they played the Oakland A’s in the World Series.

This is the foundation on which my baseball knowledge is built. Yet, I so adored the movie Jews and Baseball at the Museum Sunday, I can only imagine what a true devotee would think. Well actually, I have a clue. A scholar (or was he a sports writer?) informs us early in the film that baseball can be found in the Bible. In fact, it is the very first sentence of Genesis… "In the big inning…”

We hear from rabbis, historians, journalists, baseball icons, their children and grandchildren and even more personalities who talk about what it was like to be Jewish and love baseball. These scenes are artfully juxtaposed with interviews with Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax as they tell what it was like to be Jewish and PLAY baseball. Hearing in their own words how they made their decisions not to play ball on Yom Kippur was as enlightening as it was entertaining.

Rabbi Michael Paley comments on the similarities between Judaism and baseball. He likens the optimism of Judaism to spring training. The ethical affirmations of Judaism (having faith despite knowing there is evil in the world) is the spiritual equivalent of “We’ll get ‘em next year.” The values transmitted through Judaism from generation to generation are not unlike transmitting the love of the game from one generation to the next. The most prevalent theme, perhaps, was taking pride in what the Jewish people have achieved, especially if one of them became the youngest person inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Sandy Koufax, at age 36 years and 20 days).

On Sunday it didn’t rain, the film was great, the house was nearly sold-out, and there were baseball-inspired snacks – it was a grand slam. If you missed the film here, our friends at the JCC of Manhattan are showing it Oct. 5 and it opens in wide release Nov. 5. Consider taking a Met fan; she could probably use a good laugh right about now.

Photo of Sandy Koufax.

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