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Menorah Goes to Bat for Jews and Baseball

The unofficial anthem of America’s favorite pastime, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is believed to trail only “Happy Birthday” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” as America’s most performed songs. The music was written by a Jew, top Tin Pan Alley tune writer Albert Von Tilzer, who put Jack Norworth’s lyrics to music in 1908. He did not actually attend a baseball game until 1940, by which time the song was routinely being played in the seventh inning stretch.

That Jewish trivia tidbit is but one telling detail in the long and passionate love affair between Jews and baseball. Menorah celebrates that passion with a “Double Header” on Sunday, April 10, beginning at 5:00 pm. The evening includes the screening of two new, 90-minute documentaries, ball park food – including kosher hot dogs and beer – trivia and memorabilia.

History Professor Thomas Zeiler, who teaches the hugely popular “America Through Baseball” class at CU, will serve as the evening’s umpire. (Come play “stump the ump!”) Reservations are appreciated. Admission is $20 in advance; $25 at the door, and includes both films, food and beverages.

Jewish-American Baseball

The rich history of Jewish participation in our nation’s most iconic institution – as players, fans and team owners – is documented in “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.”

Dustin Hoffman narrates this story of great drama, unforgettable games, and the broad sweep of American history. More than a film about sports, it is a story of immigration, assimilation, bigotry, heroism, the passing on of traditions, and the shattering of stereotypes.

“You should be an attorney or a doctor, but not a ballplayer,” one former major leaguer remembers, describing the prejudices that he and other Jewish athletes faced. But despite the stereotypes, and in the face of hostility from fans and even violence from opposing players, there have been standout Jewish players in every decade from the 1860s to the present.

Interviews include fans, writers, executives, and especially players – including Al Rosen, Kevin Youkilis, Shawn Green, Norm Sherry, Ron Blomberg, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, and a rare interview with the legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. Fans Ron Howard and Larry King speak of the meaning of Jewish ballplayers in their own lives, while historians and even two baseball-loving rabbis relate the stories of Jewish players to the turbulent history of the last century. These powerful personal and historical stories are interwoven with an extraordinary collection of rare archival footage and photos, and a musical score ranging from Benny Goodman to Yo-Yo Ma to Rush.

Jewish Baseball — In Israel?

Holy Land Hardball,” which will be screened after the dinner break at 7:30 pm, tells another tale of baseball fanaticism. When Boston bagel maker Larry Baras wanted to create a professional baseball league in Israel, his idea was met with incredulity, dismissal and even hostility. He attempted it anyway.

Among the ballplayers swept up in his unlikely quest: a 41-year-old father of three with a Peter Pan complex; a 27-year-old Brooklyn artist/d.j. still finding himself after the disappointment of not being drafted out of college; a 34-year-old father-to-be whose own father, now deceased, fought for Israel’s independence in 1948; and a 22-year-old African-American who was told by a preacher at a young age he would one day “play in front of God’s people.” Also along for the ride are former Jewish major leaguers Art Shamsky, Ken Holtzman, and Ron Blomberg – as team managers in the Israel Baseball League.

Holy Land Hardball” is an engaging account of their dream to bring America’s pastime to the Middle East.

To register for Menorah’s Double Header, click here or call Kathryn at 303-998-1021, or email her at Kathryn@boulderjcc.org.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Kathryn Bernheimer
Director of Menorah: Arts, Culture and Education at the Boulder JCC. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time."

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