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California Briefing

At the World Baseball Classic, where a Jewish team always belonged

The better the World Baseball Classic got, the cooler it was that a Jewish team played in it

Welcome to the California Briefing, the weekly dispatch of California Jewish news and links by Louis Keene. In this edition: Mel Brooks’ long-awaited sequel, a Jewish comedian you should know about, and getting back into Girls.

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During a lull in Team Israel’s first game at the World Baseball Classic last week, I ditched the press box for the upper concourse, where I met a stadium worker who told me she was from Colombia, but rooting for Israel. “That’s where Jesus was born,” she said. That seems as good a reason as any.

I spent the bulk of my four days at the WBC, a 20-team international tournament that was played in part in Miami, trying to put a finger on what this all meant — on the significance of having a “Team Israel” made up almost entirely of American Jews on this global stage.

So, I got the players to talk about wearing the Jewish star in a time of antisemitism, about wearing Israel across their chest while the country was ripping apart. And I got some of them to share their earliest Jewish memories. Matt Mervis, who figures to be the Chicago Cubs’ starting first baseman very soon, recounted baking challah with his grandmother.

Meanwhile, odd and beautiful things kept happening on the concourses. Searching fruitlessly for Team Israel swag in the stadium store — the only Israeli merch on hand were logo-branded yarmulkes and mini flags — I met a man with a white mustache wearing the blue Israel cap. We struck up a conversation, and soon I discovered that he was not Jewish, but a Christian Zionist. “If I want to be blessed according to the Abrahamic covenant,” James told me, “I have to bless God’s people.” He had flown down from Boston so he could root for Israel in person. He was going to all four games.

Yes, there were Jewish fans in Miami, too, and tons more following online. Israel won its first game with a stirring eighth-inning comeback, then dropped the next three against Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. But even in the losses, there were victories: a teenage Orthodox pitcher fanning three MLB all-stars; a Jewish minor leaguer collecting three knocks against Venezuelan pitching.

As the tournament continued on without Israel, the crescendo of intensity, culminating in an unforgettable showdown of the sport’s best two players who are also regular-season teammates, seemed only to add to the wonder that a Jewish team had featured in it. But there was never a question of whether they belonged. Baseball is as intertwined with American Jewish culture as it is with Dominican culture or Puerto Rican culture, after all. There should be a Jewish team at an event celebrating the sport — for the tournament’s sake as much as ours.

Wandering the concourses one last time on my last day at the park, I ducked down a hallway of luxury suites, which is decorated with blown-up photos from the annals of baseball history. Among them was one of Sandy Koufax on September 9, 1965, the day he threw a perfect game for the Dodgers. It fit right in.

What we’re watching (or need to watch, or wish we could)

?  Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 2 is now streaming on Hulu, and it’s gotten raves (trailer above). I’ve never seen Part 1 yet, apparently because I’m not a real Jew, but my sense is this is some kind of sequel?

?  Conservative pundit Bethany Mandel’s delicious on-camera brainfreeze when prompted to define “woke” is, well, a good reason not to make a career out of assailing progressivism! The Atlantic columnist Adam Serwer proposed an alternative definition — and it’s only one word.

?  Shout out to the Instagram algorithm for introducing me to Eunji Kim, specifically Kim’s excellent bit about her son’s quest for Jewish public school classmates.

?  A romantic comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers (The Parent TrapSomething’s Gotta Give) and set to star Scarlett Johansson has been called off because Netflix couldn’t stomach the cost, which is too bad because it would have been the most expensive romcom ever. Let me have the $150 million romcom!!!!

What we’re reading (or at least telling you to read)

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 12: Eric André speaks onstage at “Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show” during the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Esther’s Follies on March 12, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW

?‍♂️  Jonathan Safran Foer’s weirdly well-documented and predictably ill-fated flirtation with Natalie Portman is now a play. Not starring either, sadly.

?  “I could be the Black Jewish answer to Kumail Nanjiani.” With the help of mass quantities of whippets, gonzo comedian and recent page-six fixture Eric Andre got all gassed-up for Rolling Stone.

??  Former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti is now Ambassador to India, somewhat shockingly, after two years in limbo as a nominee. Politico has the story of how Garcetti survived the nomination gauntlet — despite a few Democratic senators (including Sherrod Brown) pulling their votes. But hey, my parents also paid lobbyists $90,000 to get me a job, so who am I to judge?

?‍♀️?‍♀️  Why are people watching Lena Dunham’s Girls again? I’m serious. Why are they doing this.

Vogue wants to tell you about a new fashion trend: the “Torah teacher aesthetic.” I swear the rain has made people lose their damn minds.

Your humble correspondents

?  Rob Eshman delivers the hard truth: People actually like Jews quite a bit. (I’d think that too, if I were Rob Eshman. Everyone likes Rob!)

Finally, in the we-are-so-lucky-to-live-in-California-department…

The Hollywood sign is seen through raindrops on a window in Hollywood, California, on January 10, 2023. Photo by Photo by Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thank God for covered parking.

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