‘Jerseys and Cleats’

In 1869, P.T. Barnum wrote, “‘Every cloud,’ says the proverb, ‘has a silver lining,’ and  so I did not despair.'”

A hundred years later, I remembered my bubbe saying an old Yiddish proverb which roughly translates, “From all tragedies a bissel fun gut can be found.”

To my astonishment, some rabbis even postulated: If it weren’t for the Holocaust the State of Israel might not exist.

So where can be found the silver lining or the “gut”  from the massacre of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh or the murder of one Jew at a Chabad temple in Poway, California?

Well, for sports fans in America, a Pittsburgh hockey team and two NFL quarterbacks, one from North Carolina and the other from Pittsburgh provided the answer.

They sent a message of love to America’s Jewish community when it was most needed.

I first saw the message on Facebook in a photo of a rack of  Pittsburgh Penguins’ jerseys hanging on white plastic coat hangers.

I smiled.

There it was,”For the first time in American history, the Jewish star was incorporated into a major professional sports team’s uniform.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins created this patch of pride.

I saw Iceburgh, the Penguin’s black and white tuxedoed mascot, framed in a Magen David.

This aquatic, flightless bird painted on a black and yellow six-pointed star.

Iceburgh skated and tightly held on to his hockey stick.

Iceburgh name sounded Jewish—Goldberg, Dannenberg, Fallsburgh,

Iceburgh’s beak scowled, as if he just read about the massacre in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Iceburgh’s posture demonstrated his desire to pound some anti-Semitic heads with that hockey stick.

What a bird!

What an appropriate patch!

What a show of support!

What a gesture of love!

And on the bottom of the patch the words read: STRONGER THAN HATE.

Instantly, I became a Penguin fan.

The Penguins found a way to honor the eleven murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

The Penguins acts of compassion became a holiday gift to a nation of grieving Jews.

The Penguins had handed us a stronger-than-hate shield.

A protective shield made of steel and love.

A protective shield made in a town as tough as steel.

A protective shield honed in the cry of a steel mill,

A shield now housed in the Commack, New York’s National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

A shield emblazoned with a gold Star of David and written in bronze Hebraic-styled fonts:

We Are With You!

Don’t Despair!

You are not alone!

We got your back!

We are stronger than hate!

And then in a brilliant act of tzedakah the players autographed their Jerseys so they would fetch a higher price at auction.

The team raised $348,705 for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to support the victims of the shootings.

Yes, a little bit of good followed the Squirrel Hill tragedy.

The Penguins owners and fans with their hearts usually found on the ice, scanned the dark clouds floating above the Pittsburgh PPG Paints Arena and found a silver lining.

So I wondered,”Why hadn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers emulated the Penguins?

“Were there no dark clouds in the skies above Heinz Field?”

USA Today provided the answer.

For the first time in American history two major Christian football players customized their cleats with Stars of David and wore them in an NFL game.

Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, wore and played in customized Nikes emblazoned with the words: STRONGER THAN HATE, and a yellow Star of David.

Cam Newton, quarterback of the North Carolina Panthers, wore similar Jewish star, stronger-than-hate cleats with the additional words: HATRED CAN’T WEAKEN A CITY OF STEEL.

I wondered if the Steelers or the Panthers were going to auction off Ben’s and Cam’s cleats.

I wondered why the leagues owner didn’t give every  player on the team customized shoes.

Then I reread P. T. Barnum’s quote.

He never mentioned the size of silver linings.

But the size of the sports world’s acts of kindness, given in a period of darkness, gave us a reason not to despair.

Bubbe, you were right. a bissel fun gut comes out of every tragedy.


About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience.
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