We just finished observing Yom Kippur. We all have our Yom-Kippur reflections and I would like to share one of mine. Growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn was a very unique experience. As it is the home of “770,” the synagogue of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, and the center of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement, we were used to seeing thousands of visitors, guests and tourists coming through our neighborhood. In addition to the spiritual element of this unique neighborhood, my childhood home was just a few blocks away from Ebbets Field — now an apartment complex — the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Brooklyn Dodgers were a Major League Baseball team founded in 1883 as the Brooklyn Grays. The next year, they became a member of the American Association as the Brooklyn Atlantics before joining the National League in 1890. The team’s name derived from the reputed skill of Brooklyn residents at evading the city’s trolley streetcars. The name is a shortened form of their old name, the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. They played in Ebbets Field (which was also the home of three NFL teams) from 1913 until 1957, when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, California.
Some Cincinnati baseball trivia: Ebbets Field’s first night game was played on June 15, 1938, drawing a crowd of 38,748. Johnny Vander Meer of the visiting Cincinnati Reds pitched his second consecutive no-hitter in that game, a feat that has never been duplicated in Major League Baseball.
While the Dodgers had many great players, including Jackie Robinson, the first African-American that played professional baseball, the Jewish kids from Brooklyn were always told about the famous Dodgers (Jewish) pitcher: Mr. Sandy Koufax. While the multiple Cy-Young award winner and youngest inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame had many accomplishments on the pitching mound, he was revered by the young Jewish baseball fans for the time that he did not take the mound.
In 1965, the first game of the World Series fell on Yom Kippur. While the world expected the pitching ace to start that game, he simply refused. This act ignited much Jewish pride all over the world. He later commented: “Man is entitled to his belief and I believe I should not work on Yom Kippur. It’s as simple as all that and I have never had any trouble on that account since I’ve been in baseball.”
When I moved to Cincinnati, I had thought that I was leaving Brooklyn — and the Sandy Koufax legacy — behind. It was only recently that I found out that Kaufax’s pitching career actually started in Cincinnati! Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati, where he studied architecture. He was a walk-on for the freshman basketball team, a complete unknown to coach Ed Jucker; he later earned a partial basketball scholarship.
In his freshman year, Koufax averaged 9.7 points per game. In the spring of 1954, after the basketball season ended, he tried out for the college baseball team, which was also coached by Jucker. In his only season of intercollegiate baseball, Koufax went 3–1 with a 2.81 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and 30 walks in 32 innings pitched.
So what does all this have to do with my Yom Kippur reflection? I asked myself the following question: If I had the same test to my faith and principles, like Sandy Koufax, would I also pick my faith? As someone that does not play, or even follow, much professional sports, it is easy for me to say that “I would not pitch on Yom Kippur.” Yet, in our own personal lives, we are sometimes faced with decisions with real-life consequences that challenge our faith. I truly wonder if I would give up the equivalent of being the most glorified person, and possibly turn into the most ridiculed person, to follow my faith and convictions. I pray that the answer is “Yes.”
I share this with all of you, as this is something that we should all be thinking about. Our children will learn from, and eternally remember, our actions more than our words. We can speak and preach about the importance of being Jewish, and acting accordingly; yet, there is nothing more impactful than our personal sacrifices for our faith and principles. We must all challenge ourselves to be the best role models for our children, and that includes being examples of people who are principled and ready to stand up — and sacrifice — for the faith that we cherish so much and want to impart to the future generations.
An idea: This weekend is Simchas Torah, the day we celebrate the conclusion of another Torah reading cycle. Consider taking the time to bring your children to Shul, so that they can experience the joy of being Jewish which is expressed in the deep love and joy we show to our holy Torah.