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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 6/24/20

Greetings,

Baseball, fathers and Pete Rose have garnered the most responses over the last few weeks. Here is a selection of these, before getting on to the more serious stuff below!:

Ira Waldman, seeking to preempt the field, led impressively, with a Pete Rose signed photo addressed to Ira’s father (Ira reports that his father made slacks for Pete and other ballplayers, including Jackie Robinson).


Steven Windmueller offers a reminiscence of baseball in his boyhood in Richmond, Virginia. It takes on greater significance today:

Baseball, indeed a passion of mine as well! As I grew up in the “Capital of the Confederacy” (Richmond, Va.), I got a taste of race and baseball early on. I was rudely introduced to segregation as part of our “nation’s past time.” Richmond was part of the International League, beginning in the 1950’s. Some of the “Northern” teams, included the Buffalo Bisons, which had a number of Black players, among them two legendary personalities, Satchel Paige and Luke Easter. Not only were these players required to stay in “black only” hotels, the stadium seating was segregated, making it that much more difficult for African American fans to enjoy the appearance of these legends. When Elston Howard came to town with the Yankees during a spring training exhibition game, he too was denied permission to stay with his white team mates at our local “white-only” hotels.

David Rievman offers some commentary on Pete Rose and who should and shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame:

I too am appalled that Pete Rose is not in the HOF. And if you’ve seen any recent interviews with him, he’s still the most knowledgeable baseball player/manager ever to walk the earth. No one loves the game the way he does. He remembers seemingly every detail of his every AB, and something about every NL pitcher from the 60’s and 70’s. And the fact that he worked hard every day, every AB, no matter the game situation or the standings, should stand as an inspiration. To me, this easily negates the gambling taint, which should be irrelevant anyway. It’s about honest baseball achievement*, not about being a great guy. And, to one of your points, it would be good for baseball to reinstate Rose and for the game to embrace one of its (past) superstars.

And I say this as someone who as a 9-year old tore up every Pete Rose baseball card in my collection after his fight with Bud Harrelson in the ‘73 playoffs. I’ve forgiven him, even though I can’t forgive Chase Utley for the dirty slide in the 2015 playoffs that effectively ended Ruben Tejada’s career. (Max and I were at Dodgers Stadium for that one).

* Regarding “honest baseball achievement”: The steroid guys are a completely different issue. They should NOT be admitted to the HOF and their records should be struck.

The final word on Pete Rose and the evils of professional football has to be left to David Lash, whose rantings make him a worthy competitor of mine for the “Crotchety Old Sports Fan” championship:

Being the sports junkie, I loved this. A couple thoughts -- I swore off the NFL a few years ago over a combination of the head injuries and the kneeling controversy. The NFL ignored the head injuries, refused to do anything about it, continues to cheat former players out of damage awards, and should be wholly ashamed. And the Colin Kaepernick situation was just appalling. Sure, now they apologize, now that they had to watch a brutal murder at the hands of the police forces that he was politely protesting. But his was the most American of protests, a very real issue of very great concern before the murder of Mr. Floyd, but was just as real, just as known, then as now. The hypocrisy is astonishing. Of course, so is my own. My very principled stand went up in smoke when the team of my childhood looked like they would go to the Super Bowl (and eventually did) and my nostalgia and child-like rooting interests go the better of me. Guilty as charged.

And I agree with you about Pete Rose. I don’t disagree he should have been punished, but this is way too harsh, he belongs in the HOF, he was a great, great player. And considering the caliber of players and people already in the Hall, the case becomes even strong. However, as we all know, the cover-up is worse than the crime. He lied about it for years. That is a deep hole from which to climb out of.

And if you can get MLB to legislate ways to shave 40 minutes off the game, the world will be a better place! Maybe just eliminate crotch-clutching?

And here is one more reminiscence of baseball with our fathers, from Albert Praw remembering Roy Campanella Night in 1959, with 93K plus at the Coliseum:

First baseball game I attended and the first for my Dad as well. We sat just under the clock at the turnstile end of the Coliseum – what did he know about buying tickets? While we could barely see the players, I had to explain the rules of baseball to him. Very first pitch to the first batter was called “ball one”…..my Dad asked, “What happened?” I said “ball one.” My Dad says “bullvan? Why would he be called a ‘loud mouth brute’?” That’s the general translation from Yiddish. But, I was so happy to be there.

 

A JEWISH VIEW OF BLACK LIVES MATTER

I was asked to give a commentary on the Torah portion from last week. Some people have asked to read it. As background for my non-Jewish friends, it is a tradition to speak before a meeting of Jewish communal organizations about the weekly Torah (bible) reading, often tying it to topical issues.

Have a great week,

Glenn

 

THE STORY OF THE SCOUTS

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Sh’lach-L’cha, is the story of the 12 scouts—one from each tribe—sent by Moses into the land of Canaan to gather information and report back to the people on what to expect.

The scouts returned after 40 days with stories of people in fortified cities, giants, and a land that devoured its people. Of course, the land was none of these things.

As a result of this dismal report, people lamented that they might as well have died in Egypt or during the course of their wanderings. Ten of the scouts suggest turning around and going back. Only two urged going forward—they saw what the land was and could become. As punishment for the people’s myopia and failure of faith, the Lord forbade any of those who journeyed through the wilderness from entering the land of Israel.

There is a common adage that “the unknown is always more feared than the known.” We fear most what we do not understand. And even when we see it with our own eyes, we often cannot accept it, because we are so bound by our preconceptions. The story of Sh’lach L’cha is the story of seeing only what we fear—only what we expect to see. The scouts were scared of what they might see and came back convinced that is what they in fact saw.

 

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY

Today we are in the midst of a great worldwide uprising against systemic racism. History is playing out around us—in communities few of us live in, in protests many of us haven’t attended, among people many of us hardly know. We are scouts peering into a world of racism and police abuse that must change.

Sometimes it’s scary—sometimes there’s vandalism and looting—even gunshots. I have a friend who maintains the protesters fall into three groups—


• 5% are opportunistic looters who seize on moments like these to engage in crime—hey, the store’s open and there’s stuff.

• There are 5% hard-core anarchists, antifa and others, who want to use these gatherings as platforms for violence and tearing things down.

• And then there are the 90% of peaceful protesters, rallying for fairness—for voice—for action


Just as the scouts reported back to Moses on the incredible (and overblown) dangers that could befall them in Canaan, that wasn’t the “big story.” If we focus on the events on the periphery, we miss the point.

The big story is an entire swathe of our society that has been repeatedly and systematically discriminated against. Sometimes the biggest issues are best viewed through the smallest examples…


• It may seem a tiny thing, but people want to change the names of military bases. That these military installations were named shortly after the Civil War, as a means of pacifying the South or to remember the memory of loved ones is false. Forts Benning and Bragg and Hill were named in 1917 and 1918, fully 52 years after the end of the Civil War. These were not messages of remembrance. They were messages of bigotry and messages of warning to Southern Blacks. They are memorials to traitors.

• To make it even easier to comprehend, we can view this in terms of our anti-semitic sensitivities. How would we react if Germany today were to create the Herman Goehring Air Base or the Heinrich Himmler Army Training facility?

The big story starts with police tactics. There’s no doubt the militarization of civil policing must end. There’s no doubt that we need more social workers and professionals in dispute resolution in the community—not eliminating the police, but changing the face and functional priorities of those who serve.

Just as, just beyond the risks in Canaan, was the land of milk and honey, so there is a promised land of humanity in the black lives matter moment.

 

SO WHAT IS THE JEWISH PLACE AT THE TABLE?

The experience of the holocaust has sensitized Jews to the horrors of the world in ways few other people can appreciate. We can see how small concessions to authoritarianism, and the passive acceptance of police brutality can bring a society to do things one could not imagine. We must allow the experience of anti-semitism and the holocaust to inform us and impel us to action.

The fight against anti-semitism should be a motivator and NOT an impediment. Let’s not conflate some of the anti-semitism around the edges of the Black Lives Matter movement with the issues of systemic racism. Certainly, the movement—as a political organization—has held views of Israel antithetical to my own.

But that doesn’t matter today. Black Lives Matter has ceased being solely a political organization. It is now a rallying cry—we are either on board or not. Black lives matter for the same reason Jewish lives matter. TODAY, in this moment, we will be measured by our children—history—and ourselves—by how we react to this new land of racial justice that we have entered.

 

HOW DO WE INTERPRET THESE EVENTS?

If we see things only through the experience of anti-semitism or our personal interests, we miss the point.

It’s like the story of the firefighters working a four alarm fire to put out a raging inferno. Another neighbor comes by and says, “but what about my house?” “Don’t you care about my house?” Yes, says the fireman—I care about your house too—but today this one is burning and yours is not.

Today is not our time. If we see things NOT THROUGH LENS OF THE SELF-INTEREST OF THE JEWS, but through the lens of JEWISHNESS, we will have passed the test.

In the end, each of us is a scout in a new land. We will choose what is that we want to see. The scouts in Sh’lach l’chah saw the land of milk and honey but were blinded to its promise by their fears.

In this test, let’s see the entire landscape and not miss the “big story.” The words of Hillel resonate loudly today, “if I am only for myself, who am I?” And if not now, when?

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