Thursday, March 19, 2015

Baseball on the Seder Tray?

I’m in a quandary.

I love Passover. It combines so many elements — family gathering, feasting, drinking, the telling of the timeless story of our people, rejoicing in the miracle of freedom, contemplating the plight of oppressed people in all times and in all places, educating our children, passing on our heritage, singing, laughing. It provides echoes of my youth, of the seders at my grandmother's Brooklyn apartment, thoughts of family members, many of whom live on only in our memories. It's hard to believe, even though I've been leading seders for decades that the obligation of telling this story continues to fall on my shoulders. I've tried to walk a narrow line between fulfilling that solemn obligation and creating an environment of joy that I believe is essential to a learning environment.

Over the years I've used any number of "hooks" to draw the participants more deeply into the conversation. They haven't always been the most intellectually based themes — In-N-Out Burger (Q. What was the first fast food? A. Matzah.), Eco-seder  (with carbon offset credits, and potted, living karpas for everyone to take home and plant), March Madness (Nissan Insanity, with bracketology based on the Passover story), and last year's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles that provided ample opportunities for song parodies (Yesterday…Exodus may seem so far away, but we believe that we were there that day, oh, we believe in yesterday).

This year I got Spring Fever and decided to take two great spring phenomena and put them together — Passover and baseball! It turns out it wasn't a unique revelation. Putting those two words into Google provided me with a number of results — a few articles mostly using puns to compare the two. And I discovered that this very year marked the publication of The Baseball Haggadah. I bought it. It didn't really do much for me. I actually don't think that baseball and Pesach have enough in common to warrant basing an entire Haggadah and seder on the two.

Nonetheless, I sent out an Evite for our Baseball Passover Seder. The message read:
Spring is in the air — at least in some parts of the country. That means two things — baseball and Passover! As absurd as it might sound, why not combine them? Come dressed in your favorite team's regalia (think kippah with a visor). Prizes will be awarded for best answers to the question "Why is there a baseball on the seder tray?"
I have a few tricks up my sleeve as to how to integrate baseball into the seder  just to keep things interesting —  without losing the meaning of the evening.

Now, as for my quandary.

After receiving the invitation, my thoughtful son-in-law brought to my attention that I may have unwittingly caused a conflict. He and I have had many conversations over the years, and consequently he is very aware of how distasteful I find stereotypical ethnic names and images used as sports mascots. (The litmus test I have used is how would I have felt if someone had named a team the New York Jews or the Brooklyn Hebrews, with a Chassidic rebbe with a hooknose as a mascot?) The problem here is that my machatonim come from Ohio and they are fans of the Cleveland Indians, a team with a name and logo, in particular, that I find offensive in this regard. Granted, the name Indians is less objectionable than Redskins, but still, Stanford University replaced their team name, the Indians, with the Cardinal decades ago.

So what do I do? I would hope to honor my deeply held convictions, especially when we gather to commemorate our experience going forth from persecution and oppression based on our own tribal roots. At the same time, I not only want to be respectful of and hospitable to my mishbucha, I also want to be careful not to come down so heavily as to undermine the intention of creating a fun learning environment where our creative imaginations allow us to engage in ways we might not otherwise.

Maybe I could just divert their attention to some of the other baseball teams in their area. I notice that the Wooster, Ohio Little League teams go by the names of their sponsors. I suppose a cap with the letter "B" for the Boyer Firearms team would be an improvement. I know the Dairy Queen team “DQ” would bring a smile to most faces. Digging into the archives a bit, there were the minor league Wooster Trailers of 1905.  Also, just a short ride down the road brings you to the modern day Akron RubberDucks. Not even PETA would object to that, since no actual ducks have been harmed. And then there are always the Buckeyes. You can't go wrong naming a team after a nut!

Well, I posed my quandary to my mechutin by allowing him to preview this blog posting. He generously responded:

Yesh, I do not have a problem with the blog. I will not wear a Cleveland Indians hat with the Yahoo logo but do continue to wear a Cleveland Indians hat, as the local Native Americans have not seem to take offense to the name just the logo.

Quandary resolved. Play ball!

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