Chicago — (JTA) - Longtime fans of the Chicago Cubs know there are a few mainstays they can expect when they visit Wrigley Field: ivy on the outfield walls, a strict no-wave policy rigorously enforced by fans and, most days, disappointing play by the hometown team.
But there’s one little-known quirk at Wrigley that appears to be fading away as the ballpark, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, enters its second century: the numerous Orthodox Jewish vendors who sell food and drinks in the stands.
A few subtle signs could give them away: a stray tzitzit strand flapping out of a jersey, a name tag reading Simcha, the mincha prayer minyan that used to take place in the outfield stands before or after games.
No one seems to know quite how it began, but for decades Wrigley Field vending was a redoubt of Orthodox Jews, most of them teenagers or early 20-somethings, and almost all of them men.
“I went to high school at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, and it was just like a rite of passage there,” said Jon Blumberg, 41, an investment fund manager who vended for five or six summers beginning in 1989. “Once you were at the age where you no longer were going to camp or didn’t want to be a counselor, it was just what guys did.”
The tradition long predates Blumberg. The late Rabbi Moshe Kushner, the Chicago Rabbinical Council leader and Camp Moshava-Wisconsin director who died last October at age 68, vended in his youth.
Twenty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to have upward of 25 Orthodox Jewish vendors working the stands at Wrigley, selling everything from beer to peanuts.
It was seen as an ideal summer job for observant teenagers. The ballpark is a short ride from Chicago’s Orthodox neighborhoods, it wasn’t too onerous to join the union required to vend, you could make a decent amount of money in just four hours’ work, and vendors could choose when they wanted to work and when they didn’t — perfect both for Sabbath observers and teens uninterested in committing to a regular job.
Plus, there was the baseball.
“This was a dream come true,” said David Porush, 40, a lawyer who vended for a couple of years starting at age 16. “I’m a huge Cubs fan. I love baseball. I love Wrigley Field. If you were a very big fan like me, I’d make $30 or $40 and then sit down to watch the game. But if you were a very aggressive vendor, you could make a lot of money.”
Danny Altschul, now a partner at the accounting firm McGladrey, credits his five years of vending with helping pay for his wedding and the down payment on his house in the Chicago neighborhood of West Rogers Park.
“For those few hours you were out there it wasn’t the time to be lazy,” said Altschul, who could make up to $300 on a good day. “You work hard, try to work swiftly and take advantage of an opportunity when you’re in a commission-based business. It helped me pay for college.”