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!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • 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.