To Play or not to Play
As an Englishman, baseball is certainly not my thing; in fact of the four games that I have attended I fell asleep at three of them; once in the bleachers at Yankee stadium. Nevertheless, the name Sandy Kaufax is very familiar to me, not so much for his hall of fame status but rather because of his refusal to pitch on October 6th 1965 as that date coincided with Yom Kippur.
At the time, it was probably a straightforward decision that didn’t take that much consideration, for after all, he could pitch the next night. Yet it was this action that earned him a certain iconic status in the world of American Jewish life. Although Kaufax’s decision is possibly the most famous, others include Hank Greenberg and Kevin Youkilis.
This year, manager of British soccer club West Ham, Avram Grant thanked players and fans for their understanding after he missed a game to observe Yom Kippur.
“I have been very touched by the support I received this weekend in observing Yom Kippur. The backing from the owners, the positive messages from the fans and the commitment and effort of my staff and players was truly special. I am humbled by this response” he said.
There is a certain fascination when a secular icon takes a stand for faith or when the passionately faithful achieve contemporary cultural prominence. People such as Hasidic reggae superstar Matisyahu, boxing champion Yuri Foreman and Senator Joseph Lieberman are all good examples.
However with the current emergence of new young Jewish ‘talent’, it seems that identity for some has become so trivial that they may shrug off their ancient birthright without any qualms.
This Yom Kippur New York Mets rookie first baseman Ike Davis swung away against the Atlanta Braves whilst his co- religionists were chanting Kol Nidre, outfielder Shawn Green has also spent Yom Kippur on the field.
On a recent episode of a popular American reality show, one of the contestants Esther Petrack, introduced herself as growing up a modern Orthodox Jew, when asked by the host whether she honors the Sabbath, she responded by saying that she does, and proceeded to outline some of the observances, the host then informed her that to be in the show she would have to work every day with no days off, to which Esther responded “I would do it.”
Of course, it is easy to sit and pass judgment, but that is not our place, neither is it our responsibility, but perhaps a few words of encouragement are in order.
In today’s fast paced world and celebrity obsessed culture, many young people live by the motto ‘get famous or die trying,’ as they are desperate to get noticed and to matter in a world that everything seems so transient. Please keep in mind, that to be a celebrity is an opportunity to convey a message, often in a world where that message is rarely heard.
As young Jews in the spotlight, you are presented with a responsibility to represent your people in your field, display your Jewish pride, and make a statement about what you stand for. Along the way there will be many that will test your conviction but you will be respected for sticking to your guns.
Remember, that you are uniquely positioned, whether you like it or not, many of your searching brothers and sisters will be looking to you for direction and inspiration.
Everybody loves an achiever and a hero, but when that person stands for something, and carries his heritage with conviction, like Sandy Kaufax and others like him, you will earn the respect that is necessary for lasting impact.
As young secular Jewish icons of tomorrow you would do well to take encouragement and inspiration from those that have come before you and remember that you were not the first to walk this path and you will not be the last, withstand the test of faith, and your actions will echo in eternity.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org