True Wisdom’s Best Reply

While I understand the imperative of following family minhag (tradition), I broke with an important one. My father, having grown up in Brooklyn after coming to America from Russia when he was eight, was a Dodger fan. By the time I came along, he and my mother were living in the Bronx, on the Grand Concourse, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. That’s where I spent the first five years of my life. So the Yankees always were my team.

Luckily my father was tolerant, and he never held the Yankees against me. We therefore spent several lovely Sunday afternoons not only at the Stadium but also at Ebbets Field, that bandbox on Bedford Avenue (a block away from where my daughter Gabrielle and her family now live), watching Duke, Jackie, Pee Wee, Newk, Gil, Campy, and the other Boys of Summer (Sandy had not yet hit his stride) battle Willie, Stan, Warren, Hank, Ernie, and other National League greats who never played in the Stadium in that pre-interleague game era.

There was, however, one Dodger I never saw play, though I heard him on the transistor radio I sometimes listened to at games while watching the action on the field. And in later years, when in my father’s honor I would root for his team in post-season play (as long as they weren’t playing the Yankees), I accepted the announcer’s offer to “pull up a chair” as the game started.

That master of the broadcast booth was Vin Scully, who recently died at 94.

As an avid student of obituaries (“An Illogical Impulse”), I read several of Vin’s. I also watched some of his notable calls on YouTube. All taught me that knowingly or not, he clearly was a disciple of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes, deeply believing in both halves of Solomon’s famous dictum, et lachashot ve-et ledaber — there’s a time to keep silent and a time to speak. (Eccles. 3:7)

Let me highlight three famous calls: Hank Aaron’s 715th home run breaking the Babe’s record; Bill Buckner’s error on Mookie Wilson’s squibber, which enabled the Mets to win the 1986 World Series; and Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series walk-off home run. Scully called all three iconic baseball moments laconically, without the screaming so prevalent today. “To the fence. It is gone.” (Aaron). “Little roller up along first…behind the bag. It gets through Buckner. Here comes Knight. And the Mets win it.” (Buckner/Wilson). And “High fly ball into right field. It is gone.” (Gibson).

And then, silence from the broadcast booth.

Ranging from 35 seconds after Aaron, to 68 seconds following Gibson, to almost two minutes post Wilson/Buckner – a lifetime in broadcast terms – Scully let silence and video speak. Euphoric fans, jubilant and despondent dugouts, slo-mo replays, a stoic Aaron, a fist pumping Gibson hobbling around the bases – those images, without words, were enough to etch the thrill of victory and agony of defeat into viewers’ minds. No childish, insipid home runs calls (I’m thinking of you, John Sterling) to ruin the inherent beauty of the moment.

Just silence. Scully’s simple, soulful, sweet silence.

After those moments had a chance to sink in, Vin then added a few words of wisdom: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened” (Gibson); “If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words” (Buckner/Wilson); “What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the State of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.” (Aaron).

A time to keep silent and a time to speak.

There are other types of silence. One is the silence that allows people to have a chance to speak and complete what they’re saying without others – usually men (too often including me) – jumping in, talking over, or interrupting. But the silence that I’d like to focus on is letting others talk while we listen without speaking; a silence appropriate in the context of certain geopolitical and gender issue discussions relevant to our community.

One example are discussions about American and Israeli political and social issues. When Israeli topics arise, Americans should mostly be quiet and listen, while leaving it to the Israelis to discuss and debate. For Americans, who are not on the front lines and often lack knowledge and nuance, it’s mainly an et lachashot rather than an et ledaber. Similarly, Israelis, even Americans who have made aliyah but still vote and pay taxes, should follow this dictum when discussions concern American matters. Citizenship and paying taxes are not the determining factors. Rather, it’s a matter of outsiders, far away from the action, realizing when it’s time to allow knowledgeable insiders with a dog in the hunt do the speaking.

I’m pretty good at this. Though I have many opinions about Israel (no surprise there), I rarely express them in this space or on social media; in conversations, I try to let participating Israelis carry the day. I’m not perfect by any means (sometimes my opinions simply insist on coming out), but I try.

A second area relates to gender. Just look at the numerous recent discussions about abortion – strongly gender related, since only women have or are refused them. And yet, in my experience and especially in my community where halacha is a part of the discussion, it’s mainly men doing the talking and writing. We’re the ones pontificating about what women should, or should not, be allowed to do with their bodies. Wouldn’t it be better, smarter, and fairer for men to hold back and do more listening to what women have to say? To let the women fill the silence?

If you’ve been reading some of my recent columns (“Wading Into Dangerous Waters” and “Building and Forfeiting Legacies”), you’re probably observing that I haven’t been following my own advice, especially about the recent reversal of Roe. True. And so I’ll plead guilty although, as we often add in traffic court, “with an explanation.”

Mine is that I earnestly wish that there were more women doing what I’ve done; wish that they would take the laboring oar, explain the terrible effects of Dobbs, clarify why, as a matter of law but even more as a matter of public policy and equity, that decision was a stain on the Supreme Court’s legacy. But since too few are, I try to fill a void.

Please understand that I’m not criticizing those who remain silent; I appreciate why they do so. It’s often a result of the first type of silence I mentioned; a silence born of too many years of men jumping in, talking over, or interrupting women; of men ignoring and belittling their opinions, taking credit for their ideas, and making them prove themselves time and time again; of men saying, usually by implication but also at times explicitly, what do you really know about halacha? Don’t you know what Rabbi Eliezer says in the Mishna about not teaching Torah to women (Sotah 3:4)? Don’t you understand the demands of tzni’ut (modesty) and your place in the public arena?

So, guilty with an explanation. And every once in a while my guilt is assuaged a bit by an email from a woman who, having read what I wrote, thanks me for saying what she wanted to but couldn’t.

For many of us, it’s important to concentrate on being silent more often. For others, it’s important to make their voices heard; to seize the opportunity and find the right time to speak; to place et ledaber ahead of et lachashot. Vin Scully understood the right balance. And you don’t have to be a Dodger fan to appreciate and emulate that.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is the author of “A Passionate Writing Life: From ‘In my Opinion’ to ‘I’ve Been Thinking’” (available at Teaneck's Judaica House and its website). A retired lawyer and long-time resident of Teaneck with his wife Sharon, they’ve been blessed with four wonderful daughters and five delicious grandchildren.
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