I don’t really consider myself a very religious person, but I do celebrate the Jewish holidays and participate as much as I can because, while I may not be religious, I frequently find myself digging spiritual concepts and spiritual philosophy, and I use Judaism, sports, film and music as avenues to tap into that vague spirituality. It could be The Muppets or Maimonides. Everything from “There is no spoon” to “Luminous beings are we” to “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Or, even baseball.
That’s why I love Judaism. I find that—perhaps more than other religions—Judaism is celebrated and practiced in so many different ways, that there’s something for everyone. Especially given the religion’s history and what its people have been through, Judaism has transformed into a variety of vehicles traveling down the same road. In my case, I’m constantly trying to find new ways to experience holidays and traditions, to keep things contemporary and relevant while still sticking to the root of what has kept an ancient people going strong into the 21st century.
This week is Yom Kippur. Traditionally the holiest of holy days in the Jewish holiday calendar, it is the holiday following the Jewish New Year, where Jews are called on to atone to God and their fellow Earth-dwellers for all of the crappy things they did in the past calendar year. It’s also the holiday that usually falls right smack dab in the middle of the baseball season’s most coveted days (I find it poetic that the high holy days of Judaism and the high holy days of baseball fall so closely to each other). In 1934, during the height of a pennant race, Hank Greenberg—a very secular Jew by all accounts—chose to sit out on Yom Kippur, a decision that would garner flack from everyone to the Detroit Free Press to his own Rabbis. What a choice to make! And what a time to make it, when the Jewish American community needed someone in the spotlight to be unafraid to step up and say, “Hey, I’m Jewish! And that’s okay!” It was a decision that would influence Hall-of-Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax to step away from a World Series game three decades later for Yom Kippur, and a decision that would help me to decide in the fall of 2010 to miss the Michigan State-Notre Dame game and sit home and break fast with my family instead. No doubt, that game was one of the greatest ever to be played on the grounds of Spartan Stadium, but sitting there watching it with my family at Break Fast that Saturday night, I couldn’t have been prouder to know that, on a much smaller scale, I was paying tribute to Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax by missing out on that game.
I’ve always seen Yom Kippur as Judaism’s All-Star Break. I mean, think about it. We still celebrate the January 1st New Year, so Yom Kippur falls just a little bit short of the halfway mark of the Gregorian Calendar much like the All-Star Break falls a few weeks later than the actual half point of the MLB season. It’s a time for rest; to take time off of work and other things to sit and think. It’s a time to see family, when you may not normally have the time to. Much like the All-Star Break, Yom Kippur allows for us as humans to review how we played in the first half and see how we can improve upon our play or keep up the good work for the second half.
So, this Yom Kippur, try and evaluate your approach at the plate and see what you can change to make things better for you and your teammates. Maybe, with a closer look at the metaphorical scout video that is personal reflection, you can knock a few more out of the park and make 5774 and the rest of 2013 a career year.