This Sunday morning is the first day I will venture into taking my youngest son who is seven to little league. This requires commitment of time. This requires lots of carpooling on Sundays. This requires two hundred and twenty five dollars. What’s really unique about this league is that it is an all -Jewish league. Kids from all over Los Angeles and the valley who are Shabbos observant and don’t play on Saturdays can join this renegade Sunday league. ‘Course, my sister in law tells me that if this is a gathering of Jewish kids, it also means there will be a gathering of Jewish mothers. Jewish mothers competitively fashioning their latest purchases. Great now I gotta buy new clothes for this event as well.
But I am willing to go the distance in order to give my kid fresh air, exercise, and a good healthy sense of competition. Plus he batted a hundred in the batting cages at his friend’s birthday party, which means he could possibly be the next Babe Ruth. (A Jewish mother can only wish).
It is this day that I am reminded of an incident that took place when I was ten and I had joined a local softball team, and my little brother had joined little league way before any Jewish league was available.
It was a hot March day when us two Jewish kids ventured to the local public school to join our respected teams. I was on field three. My little brother was across from me on field two.
Let me digress by saying, although my brother and I were not Shabbos observant fully at that time, we were well on our way. The big debate at home was should my brother wear his Tzitzis and Kippah to the game or not. He wore them to our Jewish private day school every day. He did wear them on Shabbat. Technically speaking we were playing on Shabbat, so maybe he would have to wear the Jew gear to practice as well. After much debate, he decided to keep it consistent. But he also decided he’d tuck in the strings of his Tzitzis garment into his pants and he’d being wearing a baseball cap so his Kippah shouldn’t really be an issue incase the coach had a problem with these garments not being part of the uniform. Who am I kidding, we were the only Jewish kids on the team and we just didn’t want to be found out as different.
That day my game ended early and I decided to sit in the bleachers and wait for him to finish giving me a birds- eye view of his game. The batter was up. Bases were loaded. My brother was next to the plate. The pitcher gave it his all and little Jake took a full swing hitting the ball right down the middle. His little legs ran as fast they could towards first base but he wasn’t fast enough and the pitcher tagged him with so much force his body flew into the dirt lifting his shirt and revealing his Tzitzis as his hat traveled through the air showing off his Kippah in all it’s glory. (I hope you’re picturing this scene in slow motion as I am.)
And then it came. The snickering, the belittling and the taunting- “Jew boy, Jew boy, why don’t you take your strings and beenie cause you are OUT!”
Back in the dug out he was taunted and asked whether he had horns underneath his Jew cap. It was a hard day. My brother cried the whole way home. He was upset he lost for the team, but more upset that he was teased for who he was. I think it was the first time we had really felt violated as kids for being Jewish.
Later that night we had a family meeting to discuss “the incident”. The question came up, should we go back to playing baseball? After much deliberation, it was decided we would go back and try to find the main teasers and beat the bloody hell out of them. Ok that I made up. But we did practice a list of “come-backs”. Come-backs like,
“You don’t like it, bite me, Ya I got a beenie it hides the horns that can ram you if you don’t hit the ball home, I’m Jewish- deal with it, Don’t hate me cause I’m Jewish, I got a dad who’s a doctor, I know I’m Jewish- you don’t have to remind me about it- it’s engrained in my psyche like a an itch that refuses to be scratched, trust me it’s harder on me than it is you, and of course the best one- if you keep this up I’ll have to call my mother, trust me, you don’t want to meet my mother.”
The next Saturday my parents escorted us to the game. My mother sat in the bleechers like a raging pit-bull. My dad sat there saying things like “Honey, calm down, we’re not in the ghetto, we live in suburbia with track housing where people drive Volvos and station wagons. No one wants to hurt our son.” And my brother with all his bravery circumvented any more hostility by going up to the two kids teasing him the Saturday before by saying-
“This is my Kippah, I wear it because it reminds me God is with me. These strings I wear remind me that I have a code of Laws written in my bible that I try to follow every day.
The kids looked in horror with out much to say as he continued his Rabbi’s sermon.
“Plus, if I wear it, it ensures our team to have winning power.”
Without much more then a beat, the kids squarely looked into my brother’s eyes and said- “If that is true, you better make sure you wear your Jew gear to every single game.”
And so he did.