Remarks delivered to my son on his Bar Mitzvah on Saturday, September 2, 2017
52 years ago, next week, on September 9, 1965, a 28 year-old left-handed pitcher from Brooklyn, New York took the mound at Dodgers Stadium for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
What followed, over the 8.5 innings of baseball played that evening was, what many consider, the greatest game ever pitched.
On that night, the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0 and the great Sandy Koufax, pitched a perfect game.
Many years later, Jane Leavy, a sportswriter for the Washington Post, wrote the only authorized biography of the great Koufax. She titled it “A Lefty’s Legacy.”
In her book, Jane Leavy weaves through Sandy’s personal story within each inning of that perfect game but, while the story of the game is riveting, and captivating, it is another chapter of the book that I want to focus on with you today.
Chapter 17, nestled between the seventh and the eighth Innings of the game, adeptly titled “King of Jews,” tells the tale of what many, including me, consider Sandy’s greatest legacy.
Less than a month after throwing his fourth no-hitter, Sandy and the Dodgers were about to play game 1 of the 1965 World Series, scheduled for October 6.
Sandy, being the team ace was slotted to pitch game 1. But there was a problem. October 6, 1965 was also the tenth day of the month of Tishrei of the Jewish year 5726. Yes, the first game of the World Series was scheduled on Yom Kippur.
Sandy, not an observant Jew but keenly aware of his stature within World Jewry, made a decision that, to this day, is considered one of the greatest displays of Jewish leadership in recent history.
The great Sandy Koufax, the ace of the staff, the owner of every accolade and award baseball can bestow upon one of its players, simply told his employer that, no matter how high were the stakes, he was not working on Yom Kippur.
Sandy Koufax, the greatest pitcher of his time, of all time, did not pitch Game 1 of the World Series, because his Jewish identity was more important that any single baseball game.
By choosing to observe one the Holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Sandy chose his People over his trade. He chose his legacy as a Jewish man over his legacy as a professional pitcher. On that day, Sandy was truly, the King of the Jews.
Josh, you, like Sandy, are a Jewish lefthander and, today, you take your rightful place as a leader within the Jewish community. With your Bar Mitzvah, you not only become a man in the eyes of HaShem but you also become the architect of your own life’s legacy.
Today, you begin to craft your own “Lefty’s Legacy.” A legacy that I am sure will be filled, as your life is, with Jewish values, Jewish learning and, of course, baseball.
I know this will be your legacy because, every day, you choose to live Jewishly when your sweet neshama reminds us that you are not only keenly aware of your needs but, more importantly, you are always worried about the needs of those around you.
You live a Jewish life by being eminently Jewish and having the Jewish values of tzedaka, chesed and learning, be your guiding principles.
In your life, you’ve had the opportunity to meet respected Rabbis, Jewish scholars, United States Senators and Congressmen, Major League Baseball managers, Hall of Fame baseball players, and many political and community leaders and, every time, as you do with your teachers at school, you leave them with as impressed with you, as you are of them.
On the baseball field, you are always ready to compliment the opponent when they make a great play and to encourage your teammates to rise above the obstacles and failures that the game, routinely, brings.
It is no coincidence that every coach you’ve played for and every coach you’ve played against, compliments your ability, not only to play the game, but to play it the right way.
Josh, whether it is at home, at school, at shul or on the baseball diamond, you are the embodiment of how one lives Jewishly.
As we neared today, your unique connection with the Jewish people was in full display. For your mitzvah project, you wanted to 1. Help Israel, 2. Help Cure Cancer, and 3. Play Baseball.
As a baseball lover, a cancer survivor and a proud Zionist, your goal of raising money for Israel Cancer Association, by holding a home run derby was, for me, a simcha within a simcha.
The baseball, school and Jewish community around you rallied and, it is remarkable that, of the over $1,800 you raised for cancer research in Israel, $613, a number equaling the number of mitzvot commanded in the Torah, were raised at the event.
This morning, as we stand before HaShem, I ask what will my “Lefty’s Legacy” be?
And while I hope that your legacy includes more than 3 Cy Young awards, 4 no hitters, 1 perfect game, multiple World Series titles, and, ultimately, enshrinement in Cooperstown, all while you play for your hometown team, like Sandy did, I do know that your legacy will be filled with blessings, mitzvot, Jewish moments and a permanent and eternal connection to Israel, our Homeland, and Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
So, under the rules of Jewish life, today, you have completed your pre-game studies, you have done your stretching, finished your warm-ups and, now, you are ready to take the ball.
Mom and I cannot wait to sit together in our first-row seats as we watch you take the mound at the center of the diamond that is your Jewish life.