On October 27, 2018, a white supremacist entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and committed the deadliest anti-semitic attack in U.S. history.
Eleven were murdered, six seriously injured. Among the dead were Holocaust survivors. They survived the worst of humanity, only to be slaughtered by people who espoused the same beliefs, over half a century later.
Exactly three years to the day, three Jewish men will play in Game 2 of the World Series and make history doing so. It is a great middle finger to those who wish our people would cease to exist.
Three jewish MLB players will make history in the World Series
The Atlanta Braves have starting pitcher Max Fried and slugger Joc Pederson; the Houston Astros have Alex Bregman. The Astros also have a Jewish backup catcher, Garrett Stubbs, but he is not on the World Series roster.
Bregman and Pederson also faced off in the 2017 World Series, when the latter was on the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was in that series that Pederson set a new record for World Series home runs by a Jewish player.
A fair amount of Jewish players have played in MLB postseasons, including Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, whose pitching heroics in the 1965 Fall Classic are legendary. But according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, tonight’s game will make history in its own way.
There have been many prominent Jewish players in MLB history, most notably Greenberg and Koufax, whom Fried idolized growing up. He even wore Koufax’s jersey number in high school.
Growing up, the existence of Jewish athletes were a source of pride. We learned about Greenberg and Koufax in school. Kevin Youkilis and Gabe Kapler were quite a distraction when they attended High Holiday services at my synagogue, standing tall above the rest of the congregants. My mother raved about Craig Breslow, the the Nice Jewish Boy from Yale who had chosen baseball over biochemistry.
But their representation had deeper importance than their home run count or ERA. The Jewish presence and success in baseball on the national, even global stage, symbolized the resilience and courage of our small population, and continues to do so.
Greenberg famously abstained from playing on Yom Kippur in 1934. It was a brave act at the time, barely a year after Adolf Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany and subsequently given himself emergency powers. It was also a classic Jewish parent guilt trip; Greenberg’s father didn’t want him to play on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, so he told reporters, “Henry would never play on Yom Kippur!”
Koufax followed suit a few decades later.
Antisemitism is on the rise the United States
Jews make up an estimated 2.4% of the US population, or approximately 7.5 million people. According to a 2021 Pew report, those numbers are mostly consistent over the last decade, but 53% of Jewish people feel that there is more anti-Semitism in the U.S. than five years ago.
The ADL‘s data would back up that sentiment. In 2017, they reported a 57% increased in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016. In their most recent audit, they reported 2,100 “acts of assault, vandalism and harassment,” a 12% increase from the previous year. There have been six attacks around the country reported in the last week, fourteen this month.
But hiding has never been the answer. It has never worked. Cowering and hoping anti-Semites magically stop hating us will never be a solution. Shining a spotlight on their hate, raising public awareness, and refusing to stop living as proud Jewish people are the ways we keep them from winning.
Three years ago today, a terrorist screamed “All Jews must die” and he murdered innocents as they observed Shabbat together.
Tonight, three Jewish men will play in the World Series on national tv.
They are a reminder that we are here, we have always been here, and we will always be here.
*Photo via Getty Images
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