More Than Just a Game

Forgive the timing of this post, but I’d like to talk about baseball.

This October was unique.

After all, when your team’s never really a contender and is usually out of the conversation by August, you probably won’t end up watching much October baseball, let alone carling about it. 2015 was different, though.

The playoffs were captivating this year. They had some great games and noteworthy stories that kept our attention. The governor of Texas tweeting about the Astros winning before they did, and eventually losing. Chase Utley’s dirty slide into Ruben Tejada that broke Tejada’s leg. The ball that hit off of Shin-Soo-Choo’s bat. Jose Bautista’s bat flip. The Cubs beating the Cardinals in the playoffs. Daniel Murphy. And that World Series.

So many teams who never really were thought of as being good, were somehow good. My memories of 90s playoff baseball usually saw the Yankees and Braves being at the top, and now more recently, the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Giants filling those spots.

But this October saw the Toronto Blue Jays, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, and (sigh) my Chicago Cubs as some of the last ones standing. The unfortunate fate of being a Cubs fan makes it that any year the Cubs are in it, is honestly a surprise. They even needed a hashtag this year that simply said ‪#WeAreGood‬.

I mean, the Cubs weren’t supposed to be contenders this year. Sure, they added a solid pitcher in Jon Lester and Joe Maddon as a dynamic manager in the offseason, but a lot of their other talent was just too many undeveloped younger guys. 2016 surely seemed like a much more realistic option, despite what “Back to the Future 2” may have predicted.

I was saying during these playoffs that the Cubs will probably be one out away from winning the World Series, when a loud shofar is going to sound, indicating that Moshiach has arrived.

And a bunch of Cubs fans are gonna have to awkwardly want to tell him to wait like 5 more minutes, so they can celebrate the end of this insurmountable waiting on its own.

A few years back, while attending a shiur by Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, he mentioned he was a Cubs fan. When he was done, I brought up how the Gemara (Shabbos 31a) mentions how a person is asked 6 questions when they go up to Heaven for judgment. One of them is, “Were you anticipating the arrival of Moshiach?” To which, I intend on saying, “Of course. I’m a Cubs fan.”

A great joke surely, but it’s more than that.

Being a Cubs fan is all about being hopeful, even if you have no reason to be. I mean, it’s been so many years since they’ve even made the World Series (1945), and even more since they last won it (1908). I know the Cubs’ drought is pretty famous, but internalize for a second that the Wright brothers had their first flight just 5 years before the Cubs’ last championship. That’s a long freakin’ time. And again this year, they disappointed me, as per usual. Though, I’ll still be rooting for them next year.

Hope and belief is something synonymous with Cubs fandom. To me, there’s a parallel to the Jewish idea of hope. Even when things don’t look great now, we believe that things will get better. The motto for Cubs fans has become “Wait Till Next Year; Jews conclude Yom Kippur with “L’Shana Haba B’rushalayim” (Next Year in Jerusalem). I mean the title of the Israeli national anthem literally translates to “The Hope.”

Embarrassingly, a part of me thought that the Cubs’ resurgence was another sign that Moshiach was coming. Chalk it up to some of the predictions like the rare supermoon, or one of the leading rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, telling people to come to Israel en masse because Moshiach is coming, and he’s far from being a Zionist. And Reb Chaim Kanievsky probably didn’t even know about the Cubs or “Back to the Future 2”! It’s easy to scoff at these predictions because clearly previous predictions didn’t pan out. A part of me had hope though. A part of me wanted to believe it. I had to.

Because this October was unique for a different reason, and not for a good one.

It started with the murder of an Israeli couple, Eitan and Na’ama Henkin. And we thought that was bad enough. Dayenu.

But horribly, that was just the beginning. Since then, Israel has been faced with an enormous wave of daily terrorism. Jews are scared to walk the street because of how many stabbing and ramming attacks there have been. And those of us in America are distraught and outraged about it, but ultimately paralyzed with the feeling that there’s nothing we can do about it other than share what’s happening. We check Facebook for an actual purpose these days. Even if we’re 6,000 miles away, many have hardly felt closer to the people in Israel. We check in with Israel like we are checking in with a loved one.

And at the end of a day of looking at Muqata for updates and absorbing the news, we would bid our family and friends in Israel a good night’s sleep, hoping that indeed that’s what they would get. In those nighttime hours, we stayed up watching a trivial game of baseball to some, but to others, a game that means everything. Aside for it connecting people to their families, their hometowns and their neighborhoods, it did more than that.

This trivial game served as a distraction from the fear, sadness, hopelessness, and anguish that been riddling us with the past 6 weeks over the terrorism against our brethren in Israel, if only for a few hours. We watched each night, sometimes into the late hours, before we would wake the next morning and check Facebook to see if the madness had stopped, and inevitably learn that it hadn’t. We needed that brief distraction from the horror of it all.

Just this morning, I checked if any attacks had happened, and was initially relieved. But then a few hours ago, I read about the horrific shooting in Otniel, where a father and son were murdered just before Shabbat.

With things looking so bleak, it’s hard to see any signs that the situation in Israel will improve anytime soon.

But the Cubs fan in me still tries to have hope.

About the Author
Originally from Chicago, Eli Lebowicz is a graduate of Yeshiva University. He performs stand-up comedy for primarily Jewish audiences. He is also a Cubs fan, unfortunately.
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