10 Things Baseball and Judaism Have in Common
Last Shabbat, I fell asleep to the voice of Julie Silver singing the words “L’Dor V’Dor: From Generation to Generation” in my ear. I woke up to those same sounds on Saturday morning. The odd thing about it was that I was 3,000 miles away from Julie and hadn’t actually heard her voice for months – nor had I been to Shabbat services that evening and experienced any of the other wonderful contemporary musicians or their musical arrangements that often fill my heart and soul and keep the music on repeat in my brain.
What had I done on Friday night to lead to hearing Julie’s voice, crisp and clear in my ear? True confession: I sat on the sofa and watched a group of bearded guys win a baseball game. That’s it.
Superficially, that’s it. Filling in the details, I watched the Boston Red Sox clinch the 2013 American League East Championship, after totally crumbling in 2011 and finishing in last place a year ago. On one hand, it was just a game; on another, for me and for many others, it was so much more. Within minutes of the win, with players and fans celebrating in the stands and on the field, my memory brought me back to 1967. As many Boston fans (particularly of a certain age) will tell you, 1967 was a magical year for the Red Sox: The Year of the Impossible Dream. In that year, despite all odds, on the last day of the season, the Red Sox won the American League Pennant. Just one year before, they had been in ninth place with a dismal record.
On that brilliant October day in 1967, I was seated in the stands with my brother, my father, and my grandfather. The game ended, and I, along with thousands of others, rushed onto the field. As radio announcer Ned Martin famously reported, “There was pandemonium on the field,” and I was part of that pandemonium. I even grabbed a chunk of Fenway grass. The moment was magical and imbedded deep in my soul. As a now-rational, grown woman with grown children, I have often been in awe of how a baseball game and team can impact me so powerfully.
During the course of my childhood, there were only two places that I regularly sat in a row with my dad, grandfather, and brother: Fenway Park and our synagogue. Although I had never made the connection consciously, Julie’s voice in my ear on Friday night seemed to make it for me. Possibly, in part, that explains my passion for both of them.
In a light-hearted way, but knowing that “many a truth is said in jest,” I decided to see if I could draw any other connections between Judaism and baseball, between synagogue and Fenway Park. Here’s what I’ve thought about.
- Hard work, learning, and fun can go together. Neither baseball nor Judaism was necessarily meant to be easy. However, there is no reason that working hard to learn something can’t be fun.
- Team and community are important. In baseball it is a team; in Judaism we call it a community. Either way, neither baseball nor Judaism is a solo sport.
- Everyone needs a day of rest in order to do his or her best.
- A good manager can help people discover the right roles for themselves. Imagine if all Jewish communities worked to help participants find their places, find the spots where their unique gifts would be most appreciated, find the opportunities to contribute in the best way for them, and, by each contributing their strengths, thriving communities were created.
- Wouldn’t it be great to have a cleanup batter and designated hitter? I know that many of us in synagogue leadership (both professional and volunteer) feel like we are both the cleanup batter and the designated hitter. Wouldn’t it be nice to share those responsibilities?
- Every day matters, although it sometimes seems as if some days are more important than others. At this time of year, the “big games” take place in both baseball and Judaism. However, although it doesn’t always seem true, what happens in the spring is as important as what happens in September. A win in April, a meaningful Shabbat service in May – both truly have the same impact as a win at the ballpark or a full sanctuary at the High Holidays.
- You can turn things around. If the Red Sox could do it, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement can do it. If the Sox went from 69 wins and 93 losses to 95+ wins, then the Reform Jewish community can dramatically change the face of Jewish youth engagement. The Impossible Dream can truly be possible.
- The young guys and the older guys are important. You can’t win by focusing on one at the expense of the other. The power is in the working together.
- Baseball and religion can both be divisive if passions are carried to extreme – and can be unifying when treated with the respect they deserve.
- It’s about building memories. Memories are the building blocks upon which we create relationships, develop values and find our places in this crazy world. Both baseball and Judaism have served that role for me, and I suspect they can do so for others.
As the Red Sox head into the post season, and as we once again begin a new cycle of Torah reading, I will welcome the generations past as they appear in my memories, and will continue to work toward instilling passion for the Red Sox and Judaism into future generations. L’dor v’dor!
Margie Bogdanow, LICSW, is a parent educator, coach and consultant in the Greater Boston area.She works with individuals and organizations making a difference in the lives of children and teens. Among other projects she currently serves as a Senior Consultant to the Union for Reform Judaism's Campaign for Youth Engagement, as well as to the Youth Educators Initiative at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.