The Little-Known Stars of Jewish Baseball

Book Tells Forgotten Tales of 'Yiddish Curver' and Moe Berg

By James Sullivan

Published April 06, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Though the IBL disbanded after a single season, it helped to establish a strong baseball program in Israel. Ruttman was in Jupiter, Fla., last fall when the Israeli national team, a favorite entering this year’s World Baseball Classic, was eliminated in the qualifying round. Since the games were played in September, eligible Jewish big leaguers, including Youkilis, Kinsler, Ryan Braun and others, were unable to play.

The idea for the book, Ruttman said, was to go beyond the baseball statistics and get to know a little more about the players’ lives and how their Judaism fit in. Waving a hand toward the window, he notes proudly that Youkilis, while a member of the Red Sox, attended the same nearby synagogue where Ruttman had his bar mitzvah.

“I knew I wanted to write about how these people came to be the people they were,” Ruttman said.

So he spoke with childhood Dodgers fan Alan Dershowitz, who claims he became more religious after tricking his Orthodox, baseball-averse rabbi into blessing Jackie Robinson: Robinson got a hit the next day. And the author tracked down the adult children of Greenberg, who was raised Orthodox but did not observe with his own family. The ballplayer, who was sometimes called the “Hebrew Hammer,” once kept his sons home from school on Yom Kippur, as the sons themselves say, telling them they were going someplace special. It turned out to be the planetarium.

To another one of Ruttman’s subjects, Howard Goldstein, a Philadelphia lawyer who collects Jewish baseball memorabilia, Greenberg’s individualized relationship with his religion makes perfect sense. “Yes, you should want to assimilate,” Goldstein told Ruttman, “but there are great things in everybody’s heritage, no matter who you are, and you should try to maintain that balance.”

There are plenty of reasons that Jews have been drawn to the game, the author writes. It’s analytical; it requires strategy and perseverance.

Perhaps most of all, he agrees with Goldstein, who points out that rooting for the home team is a tribal instinct.

“We spent 40 years marching through the desert,” Ruttman said. “We want to be part of a team.”

James Sullivan is the author of several books, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and a regular contributor to the Boston Globe.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.