Baseball is called the American Pastime, congregating masses of fans through games, and stadia as open and important public places of culture. It is from the American cultural aspect of the game that Jews have cultivated such an extraordinary love for the sport and all that goes along with it. Jews have long taken great pleasure in participating in the sport in many ways—on the field, in the dugout, the owners’ boxes, the press box and the bleachers. For Jewish immigrants in the twentieth century, baseball has been a uniting force, a positive way of assimilation into American society, a reinforcement of Jewish values and ideals and a way to nurture community.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington celebrates the unique effect baseball has had on building Jewish community, and the great contributions Jews have made to the game. In the twentieth century, when baseball in America was the ultimate societal standard, Jews integrated into American culture and the larger sense of community through the game. The values of America’s favorite game encompass the ideals of the nation, which align with key Jewish principles. Jews identify with core American ethics, including the spirit of democracy, family, giving back, building community and doing the right thing—ideals that align with the mission of The Jewish Federation.
Through the second annual Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish community day at Nationals Park, Federation commemorates the legendary Jewish playmakers, journalists and most notably, fans. There are some renowned names that every Jew and baseball fan alike is familiar with.
Most well-known are the legendary players who excelled on field, utilizing their stardom as a conduit to connect their communities and America. In 1934, Hank Greenberg garnered national attention when he refused to play on Yom Kippur despite the Tigers being involved in a pennant race. He ranks as a great 20th Century American Jew because his baseball feats and powerful persona rallied all American Jews in an era of rabid anti-Semitism in America and abroad. Sandy Koufax is idolized in Jewish baseball history for his refusal to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series on Yom Kippur. He rejoined the team after the High Holiday for Games Two, Five, and Seven, throwing complete-game shutouts in Games Five and Seven to win the series for the Dodgers. Greenberg, Koufax and many other notable players piqued a sense of wonder and incomparable inspiration in future generations of baseball lovers.
While outstanding, Jewish players would not have the widespread influence and notoriety if not for the authors, commentators, broadcasters and journalists who brought the sport and culture to the masses. One of the most celebrated sports journalists was Shirley Povich, a Jewish writer and columnist for the Washington Post for 75 years. His insight into the modern game, knowledge of baseball history and powerful writing set the standard in the field of sports journalism. Another significant Jewish author, Roger Kahn, penned Boys of Summer, the best-selling baseball book of all time. Many Jewish baseball journalists chose their careers for the genuine love of the game, evident in their writing and reporting.
Major league baseball would not be what it is today if not for Jewish owners, managers and executive staff who implemented team strategy, leadership and overall order of the game. Bud Selig, former Commissioner of Baseball for more than twenty-five years, is rated by some as the best commissioner of all time, credited for moving the game into its current economic good fortune and relative state of peace, along with the Jewish value of tzedek (justice) that he brought to the owner-player relationship after years of acrimony. Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss envisioned the first World Series between the newly merged American and National Leagues in 1903. And Marvin Miller, who served as Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) from 1966 to 1982, brought free agency to baseball, and by osmosis to all other major professional sports. It was in 1992 when Red Barber noted, “Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.” And of course, I would be remiss if I left out the Lerner family from our influential lineup. Owners of the Washington Nationals, the Lerners have brought baseball back to DC and encouraged kosher food options at the stadium. Without their contributions, The Jewish Federation’s Grand Slam Sunday would surely not be the same.
As we gather on August 28, 2016 at Nationals Park, The Jewish Federation and the Lerner family will celebrate the largest, most significant segment of those in baseball: the fans. From generation to generation, fans pass down their love of the game. From Rabbis whose sermons regularly analogize baseball, to devout fans who bring matzah to the ballgame on Passover, to Jewish parents who teach their children team spirit as they do their religion, on Grand Slam Sunday, Federation invites our entire Greater Washington Jewish community to the ballpark. Join us for a celebration of our community and of the game that continues to unite Jews around the world. We hope to see you there!
Hilary Adleberg is the marketing Account executive at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. For ticket sales and more information on Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park, visit shalomdc.org/grandslam.