Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Matthew Katz on Nitzavim Vayelech

A few week’s ago, I had the chance to see a game at the new Yankee Stadium. It was amazing and reminded me of how it felt the first time I saw the old stadium, back when I was about 6. Everything was perfect. The manicured grass was a perfect shade of green. The infield dirt was raked perfectly, not a pebble in sight, smooth and nice. I was amazed seeing the huge monitors in the outfield. I loved the smell of the peanuts – the entire atmosphere was indescribable.

How green it is, how perfect the field looks, how peaceful. It was like a scene out of “Field of Dreams.” A baseball field can be the next closest thing to heaven.

Amazing though it may seem, that exact same vision is described by the prophet Isaiah in my Haftorah. He could have been talking about how I felt when I went through the turnstiles at Yankee Stadium when he said, “Pass through, pass through the gates! Clear the road for all the people; build up the highway, remove the rocks…”

Of course, Isaiah never saw Yankee Stadium. He was actually a Red Sox fan. (The rabbi told me to say that). Look at the bible, where in Isaiah, Chapter 1, verse 18, he states, “If they are as red as crimson, they shall be wool.” He was either talking about the sins of Israel, or about his pick for the AL Pennant.

But in our verse, Isaiah describes how the land of Israel will not longer be desolate and forsaken – how beautiful it will look. And from all the pictures I’ve seen, it certainly does.

One way to highlight the beauty of a place is to build baseball fields. In “Field of Dreams,” Kevin
Costner says ‘If you build it they will come,” The founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, said almost the exact same thing about a century ago, long before the State of Israel was born: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

My dream is to combine both of those dreams and to make the land of Israel even more beautiful by helping to build baseball fields there.

It’s called “project Baseball,” and it’s being organized the Jewish National Fund, which has helped build the land in so many ways. I’ve raised over $2,000 so far to build new diamonds cities and towns all over Israel.

So you might be asking, why and I doing this?

In my portion, Nitzavim, Moses begins his speech, saying, “Atem Nitzavim hayom,” “You who are standing here today.” But the word used for “standing” also means to “take a stand.” Moses is telling us how important it is to stand up for what’s important to you. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Baseball and Israel are both important to me.

So, now you may be asking. what can baseball bring to Israel, and what about baseball do I love so much that I want to help build fields over there?

Here are four explanations.

o First, baseball teaches the importance of INTER-DEPENDENCE, something I’ve learned all about at camp, in school and on the field. You can be the greatest pitcher ever, (I’m not, but I’m pretty good), but if the shortstop can’t field, it won’t matter. Israelis also know how important it is to work together as a team. I learned that especially from my soldier Eran, who stayed with us about five years ago. Just about every Israeli goes into the army, and that’s where they really learn about the importance of teamwork.

o Secondly, baseball teaches sportsmanship. Many of us will remember that story about the girls softball team, when Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky suffered a knee injury when she hit a home run and the players on the opposing team carried her around the bases.

o Third, baseball teaches how important it is to have a level playing field, both in and outside the stadium. In Israel, the new baseball league is a place where all people can come together and get along:, rich and poor, Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, all playing a game that they all have to learn at the same time. If people can learn a sport together, it will help them to live together in peace.

o Finally, a baseball game is a great place to relax and appreciate nature. Much less intense than other sports, like soccer, basketball -- or politics (unless the Yankees and Red Sox happen to be playing).

So now you can see why I’ve chosen to honor baseball as I become a Bar Mitzvah today.

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