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Significantly, both my father and Schiller are proud Brooklynites whose explications were made venerating the hapless Bums. While baseball’s overall Jewishness is not team-specific, their theories were developed on Brooklyn playgrounds in part because the Dodgers themselves were plainly Chosen. Rooting for the Dodgers meant embracing their underdog status; years of Bomber conquests made philosophizing de rigueur. Like Ladino and Yiddish, Dodger patois provided its speakers with pride, longing and certainty in an unforgiving world. While the Bronx whooped, Brooklyn wept, “Wait till next year,” like “Next year in Jerusalem” and “We shall overcome,” became a slogan of character and courage. As exile recurred, redemption was reassured. The pinstriped conquerors were quintessential goyim whose victories made stronger believers. When a young Roger Kahn, author of “The Boys of Summer,” beseeched his father, “If the Dodgers had all these good players, why is it that Brooklyn never wins the World Series like the Giants and the Yankees?” he was voicing the Brooklyn version of “ad mosei? until when?” a question more sustaining than its answer.
In Brooklyn, where huddled masses and folks on the stoop organized into functionally integrated communities, family, loyalty and disappointment went hand in hand. The immigrant life was neither lonely nor grand. Brooklynites of every color wanted more than they had and baseball helped to ease tension by providing a common center of identification. Under the El and on beaches of Brighton and Coney, over fizzy U-bets and lemon ice, unsung laborers — Italian, Russian, Irish, Polish, German, Jewish, African and Hispanic — sweated through muggy Augusts thirsting for an October pennant. Now, when the Nets trumpet “neighborhood” and “loyalty,” they signal a Brooklyn ethic born of working-class obligations, aspirations and desperations. The Nets join generations of Brooklynites defined more by yearnings than attainments, more accustomed to numbness than the warmth of dreams fulfilled.
The Dodgers enjoyed a disproportionately Jewish fan base not only because their borough’s males were disproportionately circumcised. Jewish youth flocked to Ebbets Field because Dodger pathos was familiar to them from shul. Jewish people were not used to winning and identified strongly with the underdog spirit. According to the psychologist Arthur Janov, mirror neurons in our premotor cortex fire during the performance of an act and when witnessing that same act performed by others. We identify with our team’s performance, says Janov, because we neurologically feel precisely what the players feel. Janov’s Primal Therapy method asserts that re-experiencing repressed pain allows us to reduce suffering by freeing us from its tyranny. Rooting for the Dodgers, to Janov, was a therapeutic endeavor, allowing Jews — and Blacks — an opportunity to access and to integrate their unprocessed legacy of humiliation and sorrow.
Basketball is not baseball, but by taking a bite of the Apple and invoking Dodger ethos, the long humiliated Nets appear to be embracing their Jewish neshama. Rather than suffer as luckless goyim, the franchise will subsist as ordinary Jews, eschewing front-runner fantasy for edgy, underdog destiny. With a brash Jewish developer, rap mogul owner and gutsy, prophetic vision the Nets have arrived home. By trading their pompous red, white and blue for more unassuming hues the Nets appear humbly optimistic. As for what happens when “this is next year,” when “our mouths are filled with laughter,” when we finally “overcome?” Fuhgeddaboudit!
Mendel Horowitz is a rabbi and family therapist in Jerusalem, where he maintains a private practice working with adults and children.