I just attended the Dodgers’ opening day celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium and the wonderful baseball game that followed, a 2-1 thriller marked by excellent pitching, daring base running and a game-winning home run in the bottom of the eighth by Andre Ethier, who knew how to celebrate his 30th birthday.
I was raised in New York with three religions: traditional Judaism, the Democratic Party and the Brooklyn Dodgers. And I knew which of my three religions took priority. We never leafleted on Shabbat, but my father let me leave services during the World Series to report on the score. We could not play our radio or turn on the TV, but we were permitted — encouraged — to ask the score. It was said that the VCR was invented so that traditional Jews could watch a ballgame after Shabbat.
[To sign a petition to bring kosher hot dogs to Dodger Stadium, click here.]
Rarely had a team so deeply reflected the culture of a borough. It was the Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, the first of his race to play in the modern Major Leagues, much as many of the inhabitants of the borough in which he played were the first of their tribe [Jewish, Irish, Italian] or gender to be doing what they were doing, even something as basic as speaking English or graduating high school. Barrierst were being broken all over the place in post-World War II New York, and we all learned that we had to be like Jackie — twice as good, twice as smart, hold our ground and bide our time in order to get ahead. We were taught, “Don’t get mad, get even.” Brooklyn was a borough of people who aspired to something and often fell just a drop short; otherwise they would have lived in Manhattan or moved out to Long Island. Between 1949 and 1953, the Dodgers would have — could have, should have — won five pennants in a row, just like the hated Yankees, if only they had won the last game of the 1950 and 1951 seasons. They were close enough to taste victory.
As Jews, we conclude the Passover Seder and Yom Kippur services with the cry, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” As Dodgers, we ended fall with the chant: “Wait till Next Year!” and welcomed spring with the prayer, “This could be the year.”
Los Angeles’ gain was Brooklyn’s loss. I was 12 when the Dodgers left town; our broken-hearted family was in mourning. I never visited Dodger Stadium as long as the O’Malleys owned the team, and even though my children and grandchildren have become Dodgers fans, I often feel the way Orthodox Jews feel when they enter a Reform synagogue; the words are familiar but the traditions are strange, the pronunciation is different. They are deep and even lovely traditions, but not quite the original.
Fifty-four years have passed since my beloved bums ran out on me. In the interim, I have become a man, a father, even a grandfather. I have loved and fallen out of love, divorced, loved and married again, so I know that as time goes on, one must come to terms with change. I enjoy going to Dodgers games; I can recite the names and basic statistics of the ball players and managers whose numbers line the bleachers’ wall — so can my children and also my grandchildren — as easily as I can recite the relevant information on Kemp and Ethier.
Still, I have one request to make of the team’s new owners, a request that we dared not make a generation ago when many Jews were reluctant to appear “too Jewish.” It is time to start selling kosher hot dogs at Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles is home to the second-largest Jewish community in the country, some 600,000 of us. Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field serve kosher food in New York. Baltimore’s Camden Yards has a kosher food stand, and kosher food is available at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Boston’s Fenway Park has kosher food, and both the Chicago White Sox and the Cubs accommodate their Jewish patrons. And even smaller markets like Kansas City and Seattle sell kosher food. The Grove shopping mall has a kosher food stand, but not Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers offer Chinese food and Italian food and even “healthy food,” but only once a year when a special appeal is made to the Jewish community are kosher hot dogs available.
We want to feel welcome at the ball park, so here is my appeal to the new owners, who include Stan Kasten and also bear the fabled Guggenheim name: It is time to open up a kosher food stand, something even the fabled Ebbets Field never had.
Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University.