By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
A while back I signed up for the Yeshiva World e-mail list. It is a popular list that sends a variety of news that affects the yeshiva community. Though they most often send important news of disaster and triumph, product recalls, strife in Israel, breaking political stories as well as emergency Tehillim alerts in the face of illness and accidents, they sometimes send news of the absurd; I guess those alerts are meant to amuse us during stressful times. On Tuesday, Yeshiva World sent me a breaking story: “Weiner to ESPN & MLB: Don’t Move Yankees Game to Yom Kippur.” I surely hope that that news item was sent out as news of the absurd, but perhaps, Mr. Weiner requested it to be sent as a news flash of either great political import or perhaps as a Tehilim emergency.
Who knows? It was indeed important enough for the Congressman to get involved, maybe there are even die-hards reciting Tehillim. What a terrible decree! The formerly Erev Yom Kippur Yankee game is being switched to the Holy Day itself! Imagine! The strains of the National Anthem will be playing concurrently with the haunting refrain of Kol Nidrei. Write letters to the White House! Open your Tehillim.
But have no fear. Congressman Anthony Weiner is hard at work stopping this disaster — a catastrophe that may ruin the Holy Day for Jews all over the globe. Indeed, he wrote a letter to the Commissioner and to the president of ESPN.
Weiner’s letter decries the move expressing with great consternation that the switch from an afternoon game on the eve of the holiday to a game played on the night of Kol Nidrei (and I quote) “now runs into direct conflict with the religious requirement for players, such as Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, team personnel and fans to be home by sundown.”
Poor Mr. Youkilis. He might have some difficult choices to make. Imagine the pain of his dear gentile actress wife having to light the candles and go to shul alone. Or perhaps imagine a Boston worst case scenario – Mr. Youkilis decides to don his tallis instead of a uniform and sway in a pew instead of swing in a batter’s box.
Ah! The memories. It was back in 1965 and a player named Koufax had the very same conflict. He did not have the forces of the US Congress on his side. Instead, he switched his uniform for a prayer shawl and in addition to his place in Cooperstown, he earned a special place in the heart of every Jewish kid (and Rabbi) of that era and beyond. (The Dodgers did lose that Yom Kippur day, 8-2, and afterward, Dodgers manager, Walter Alston, chided the hapless Koufax stand-in, Don Drysdale, “Why weren’t you born Jewish?”)
And the poor Yankee fans. What about them? They just may lose the thousand plus dollars that they laid out to cheer wildly just a few hours before they were to enter their sanctuaries on the holiest day of the year. Mr. Weiner, I was surprised that you did not mention in your letter about the great loss to the kosher vendors who were planning to make a “seudah hamafsekes special” right after the seventh inning stretch. Now, they will have nothing. I mean, even the Yankee faithful who decidedly will camp out before the game and walk home afterwards so as not to desecrate the holy day, would not buy a kosher frank on Yom Kippur Eve.
I will admit (of course, like many theologians, I can blame it on the kids) I have had occasion to listen to sports-talk radio. I will not name the station as I don’t mean to endorse the program or my occasional listening lapses, but a few years back the unlikely orbits of the baseball and Jewish solar systems collided once again and an important game was scheduled on Yom Kippur. A caller was incensed and spewed his venom at one of the radio hosts, Suzyn Waldman, who by her proud admission is Jewish. Ms. Waldman responded with equal intensity. I will paraphrase her response:
“Mister, let me explain you something. You are Jewish. And so am I. When a person is committed to his heritage or anything of true importance for that matter, he or she has to make choices. Yom Kippur is your holiest day of the year. Baseball is a game. You have to decide. What is more important to you, your Judaism or your games? I am making a choice. I am a broadcaster this is my livelihood. And I am not going to go the game. I am going to the synagogue. I think you ought to think hard about what is really important and make the right choice.”
Congressman Weiner, I like you. You have done some great stuff for our nation, our community and even for the children of our yeshiva. But Mr. Weiner, you are a Congressman. You represent the people of this State and this country in making decisions that will make a difference in their lives and perhaps the future of the world. Your time is valuable and expending your power on frivolous requests is demeaning.
So I would like to make a suggestion. Instead using the power and clout of a US Congressman in appealing to a Commissioner Selig & ESPN’s Mr. Bodenheimer to leave the Yankees alone and not force them to move a silly game, expend your energies on more important things. Worry about more consequential moves.
Write a letter to, or better yet, make a call and implore our president not to force hundreds of families to move. And I am not referring to moving a baseball game. I am referring to making them move from their homes and uprooting their lives in Israel.
It may not be as important to you as moving a baseball game, but it may get you enshrined in the Jewish Hall of Fame and cherished by every Jewish kid forever.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamnetzky is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore and a columnist for the Yated Ne’eman newspaper.