I love living in American Jerusalem! Ever since I relocated to San Francisco to serve as rabbi of a burgeoning, boutique synagogue here in the mid-Richmond district, called Congregation Beth Sholom, I continue to relish the daily halakhic queries posed to me. At minyan, the morning after the Giants win the World Series, everyone is singing the praises of MLB! Here is the first question of the day:
“Rabbi, what is the berakah [blessing] we should recite this morning to acknowledge the Giants winning the World Series?”
In a serious rabbinic tone, I respond:
“Shehekhayanu may not be valid as the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series for the third time in the last five years, too great a frequency for a one-time event; Shehekhayanu would be more appropriate to recite when the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, given the last time was 1967!”
I thought another moment, then continued:
“Rav Kook was known to see the divine hand hidden in history, based on the Hebrew word for history as histori-yah. Perhaps the divine hand had something to do with this victory, nothing short of a minor miracle, especially in light of the performance the Giants gave during our recent outing at the game for Jewish Heritage Month! Given that the Giants parade will coincide with that Dress Rehearsal for Purim (aka Challa-ween), we should compose a new ‘Al ha-Nissim, styled after Purim!”
It hasn’t always been this easy shepherding an all-American flock raised on a steady diet of baseball. Actually, it’s been a bit of trial by fire into the American rabbinate for this Canadian ex-pat who was raised playing hockey. I recall that story told about a promising young scholar at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary in the 1910’s. Louis Finkelstein was close to the Chancellor, the eminent and elderly Rabbi Solomon Schechter. They were walking together in Manhattan one day when Schechter stopped at a newsstand to check the latest World Series scores.
“Can you play baseball?” he asked the shy rabbinical student.
“No,” Finkelstein admitted.
“Unless you can play baseball,” the old man told him, “you’ll never get to be a rabbi in America.”
Miraculously, I managed to make it through Jewish Theological Seminary with flying colors, being ordained in 2000, without every really finding myself in a MLB fashla. That Finkelstein-Schechter encounter continued echoing in my mind as I heard the hecklers mocking my pronunciation of NY Yankee pitcher, Derek Jeter, in a throw away comment one high holidays officiating as rabbi in a Westchester congregation.
It’s JEETER, rabbi, not JETER!” reverberated from the pews, much like “Potvin sucks” as a refrain from the bleachers whenever the Islanders would play the Rangers at MSG.
I knew I had finally arrived as an authentic American Rabbi by two signs: (1) being gifted a Giant’s baseball by my congregant, oncologist and BallDude, Dick Cohen, who presented it to me at a recent Sukkot dinner; (2) I am living in a city, in the same time-space continuum where the home team, the Giants, win the World Series! (If you’re wondering, What is a BallDude, anyways? Well, at each Giants home game, two individuals are selected to sit on stools in foul territory, one in left field and one in right field, out by the bullpens where the relief pitchers warm up, retrieving foul balls hit on the ground or off the railings and present them to youngsters sitting in the stands).
What emerged this morning from minyan were the following insights taken to heart by all engaged in our communal daily prayer and study: (1) MLB is not just Major League Baseball, but now it is also a call for More Learning Before us; (2) in that vein, it is high time for us all to re-read John Sexton’s Baseball As a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (2013). On some field of dreams, somewhere, there is a Shoeless Shmoe Jackstein already encountering the divine. May we all play on that field of dreams…