On Wednesday baseball star Kevin Youkilis signed with the New York Yankees for $12 million. The one-time Boston Red Sox player couldn’t turn down the hefty sum offered by his former team’s hated rival, and now that he is officially a member of a team that resides in a city with the second largest Jewish population in the world, his immigrant Jewish background will doubtless become one of the more prominent features of his public persona.
An article published Wednesday in the New York Times highlighted the connection between Youkilis’ religion and the demographics of the city of New York. The article, more interestingly, gave some incite into the Youkilis family history which “is as traditionally Jewish as you can get.”
The Youkilis family was not originally named Youkilis, rather it was Weiner, but Youkilis’s great- great-great-great-great-grandfather ( give or take, says the Times article) fled to Greece from (what is now) Romania fearing the anti-Semitic Cossacks and army conscription.
“Apparently, there was a family friend there with a name like Youkilis,” Mike Youkilis, Kevin’s father, told the Times. “A couple of years later, he got homesick, and when he decided to go home, he couldn’t come back with the name Weiner or he’d be thrown in jail. So he took the Greek name. He met a lady and they married in Romania and started to have kids. And we kept the name.”
Kevin Youkilis’ grandfather ultimately settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. There the young Youkilis was raised and in 1992 celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Adath Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue.
Irvin M. Wise, the senior rabbi at Adath Israel, told the Times: “As you can imagine, he is quite the ‘man’ in Cincinnati in general and especially in our Jewish community.”
The same will certainly hold true in New York, where it seems like the last great ballplayer the Jewish community could cheer was named Koufax and dressed in Brooklyn Dodger blue.