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From rabbi Treu

07/22/2021 10:11:06 AM


Rabbi Abigail Treu

Jewish baseball is hot right now. Team Israel heads to the Olympics, in itself a minor miracle as Israel has yet to field a team making it past the European Championship B-pool, much less win the entire European competition or the next-level Africa-European games to clinch the Olympic spot. Closer to home, another miracle of sorts is taking place. Among the eight Jewish players called up so far this season from the minors to play for the Major Leagues (itself a terrific thing), two are shomer shabbat, keeping shabbat according to halakhically traditional ways.

That’s right. In an “only in America” moment, two players have thrown off the age-old compromise Jews in the Diaspora have for most of history felt torn to make. I’m thinking of my uncle’s father, a man who loved synagogue and shabbat deeply, but had no choice but to work his factory shift on Saturday mornings in order to support his family. I’m thinking of my friends in Paris, where required high school classes meet regularly on Saturday mornings. I’m thinking of the choices we make as parents navigating our childrens’ passions and weekend commitments.

The two players are not identical in their shabbat observance – what two Jews are identical in any of our anythings? Seventeen year old Jacob Steinmetz, picked 77th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks, plays ball on shabbat, but stays at hotels within walking distance of the ballpark so as not to use transportation. Elie Kligman, 18, drafted by the Washington Nationals, takes Saturdays off altogether. “That day of Shabbos is for God. I’m not going to change that,” the New York Times quoted him as saying. Both keep kosher.

For my generation, this is our Sandy Koufax moment. These ballplayers are living their American dream and not compromising their Jewish values to do so. More than that, holding on to their Jewish observance has not hindered their professional advancement. That is not always possible, to be sure. But this story should loom large in our imaginations. It is the counterpoint to the narrative which encourages us to trade away Jewish life for other things, the fear that if we prioritize Jewish community and commitments we will lose in business, sports, or other kinds of success.

It is also a counterpoint to another major storyline of our community. At a time when rising anti-Semitism is of grave concern, we would do well to take note of what is happening here: two young men modeling for us all to live our Jewish lives out loud and with pride. Modeling for the rest of us that we can take our Jewish identities seriously, and make choices with integrity to our whole selves and our people.

I will still be rooting for the Mets and Yankees (who could use a miracle of their own this season). But I will have my eye on the Nationals and Diamondbacks and to two young players who by pursuing their baseball dreams are a source of pride and inspiration to the Jewish community they now unabashedly represent.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784