Baseball, Zionism, and a Flat World
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My first cousin, Peter, and I grew up in the same building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, 40 years ago.
Today, we live over 5000 miles apart, he in Tel Aviv, Israel and me five blocks from our native home. His life, as an Israeli citizen, is markedly different from mine, but we are still bound by our family roots — and our love for the New York Mets.
Except he is more involved in baseball’s global expansion, from Israel, and I haven’t picked up a hardball since I coached my son’s little league team about seven years ago.
Peter is very involved in the World Baseball Classic and his son, Amit, is a player and coach for Israel’s burgeoning national team. Who would have thought when Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers over a half century ago and made Jews worldwide proud, that he would have heirs in the Holy Land?
Mine and Peter’s separate journeys to adulthood are a microcosm of the modern Jewish experience and speak volumes about 21st century Zionist and Jewish values.
We are sons of two Holocaust-surviving sisters, our mothers, who came to New York in the mid-1950s to raise their families in a place where Jews could be safe — and, hopefully, prosperous.
Peter and I followed different educational paths — I went to Yeshiva for five years and he went to public school and Hebrew school on weekends. We both ended up in specialized public high schools — Bronx Science and Stuyvesant — and we were both bitten by the same baseball and journalism bugs.
But Peter fell in love with Israel as a teenager — and an Israeli, Sabrah (native born) — and moved to Israel after college to pursue his love and his destiny as an Israeli. He settled down in Israel in the early 1980s, married, began his career, and raised three magnificent children who served in the Israeli army and have managed to be bi-national while staying loyal to their Israeli roots.
I, on the other hand, stayed in New York and attended college and graduate school, and pursued my career love, journalism, while dating a series of American-born women of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. I worshiped at the altar of the New York Times (and worked there briefly) and found New York’s political world and Jewish life the right place for me. I even flirted briefly with Zionism in college, but found it not enough of a lure to dislodge me from New York’s bright lights.
I stayed in New York, pursued journalism and publishing, married another journalist and have raised three teenagers in New York, who have little understanding of Israel’s place in history, despite being the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
Which is why my trip this week to Israel with my two teenage daughters is so important to me.
My cousin Peter, and his lovely family, hosted us for a lively and engaging Seder (Passover meal) and took my daughters and me on a quick tour of some meaningful places: my grandfather’s gravesite in the north, to Jerusalem and the Western Wall and to the Dead Sea and Masada, all important personal and historical places in Israel’s history for me and for my family.
My daughters now know a bit more why their recently deceased grandmother had wanted to take them to Israel for the past decade, and why their father insisted that we visit the “motherland” this year.
And I now understand why my cousin Peter, who was like an older brother to me growing up, has found “the best of both worlds” in Israel.
Sunday night, when we returned from my grandfather’s gravesite and a tour of the Lebanese border, Peter was able to go to his Tel Aviv home and through the wonders of digital technology, enjoyed watching the New York Mets (on MLB.com, Major League Baseball’s website) and New York Knicks live. He sent me frequent text updates in my hotel room.
Near midnight, more than 5000 miles away from New York, Peter texted me that it’s “a great day for New York sports” after the Knicks won in overtime over the Chicago Bulls and the New York Mets swept the Atlanta Braves.
More than four decades after we bonded over the 1969 Miracle Mets World Series win as children, and more than six decades after our parents rejoiced over the miraculous creation of the State of Israel, we are here together, albeit briefly, in a Jewish homeland. We can watch our children celebrate a Seder together and shop together in Tel Aviv, while we celebrate our favorite New York teams victories in our hometown.
Just 70 years after our parents and our families suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Nazis, Peter and I have lives as parents, Zionists and Mets fans which is much better than anyone could have predicted in the 1950s.
And for all this, I say: amen.
Tom Allon is a Liberal and Democratic Party candidate for Mayor of New York City in 2013 and a long-suffering New York Mets and New York Knicks fan.