A Jewish Kid in Catholic School? Nothing But Nachas.*

April 18, 2013 § 3 Comments

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My son Nicky loves baseball. He’s really, really good at it.

Despite the looooong list of Jews who made it big in baseball, we were shocked to learn our town was not overflowing with Jewish schools that have viable baseball programs. My husband’s old Catholic school, however, (“The Hall”) has a very well-respected baseball program. So does another Catholic school nearer to us (“The Mount”). Mark Teixeira is a hometown boy who went to The Mount. We forgive his playing for the Yankees.

Nicky wanted to apply to these schools because of their baseball programs. So he took the Catholic School entrance exam, applied to, and toured both schools. He struggled, though, with what to put on the part of the application that asked for his religion.

You see, right after we were married, Dave and I sought out counseling from both a priest and a rabbi, and they both gave us the same advice. They felt that which religion we chose for the kids was much less important than that Dave and I agreed on which religion we chose. Twenty-two years into the marriage, it’s pretty clear that even though we decided back then our kids would be Jewish, we did next to nothing to raise them with religion. I’m sad about that, but we’re still incredibly proud of the people they have become.

So when it came to Nicky’s school application, Dave suggested “Jewish, non-practicing.” That worked. Nicky got into both schools and chose The Mount.

The kink at this point was only in my conscience. I had a hard time reconciling the fact that I’d be sending my son to a school whose governing church preached certain views I found abhorrent–especially regarding homosexuality, the role of women, and legalized abortion. In fact, I had written a blog post that ran in my local Patch, called “An Open Letter to Pro-Lifers.” Hilarity ensued. (Not Really.) So, not only was I uncomfortable supporting this organization financially, I was reluctant to be viewed as a hypocrite in my local community.

To whom could I turn for guidance? Naturally, John Shore–a powerful voice in the Christian Left movement. I enjoy his blog, and am always impressed with the advice he gives to people facing situations ranging from sticky (mine) to downright gut-wrenching. He offered me the following guidance:

“…Personally, I don’t think you should lose a moment’s sleep over the choice you’ve made….My understanding is that…local Catholic-affiliated institutions are…self-sustaining, grassroots entities. They’re not funneling money upwards to the Pope….

“Life is complex. Needing to do what’s best for your son isn’t. As long as he understands the complexities and subtleties involved in the decision to send him to the school, and he’s cool with it all, then…boom. Done.” Leave it to the unfundamentalist Christian to help the non-practicing Jew make sense of sending her son to Catholic school.

While Nicky’s likely the only Jew in his class, he’s not the only non-Catholic. He’s got company when he sits out communion. He’s not feeling any pressure to convert–only to learn. No pressure to actively participate, only to be respectful of his Catholic surroundings. Enthusiastic teachers, many of whom graduated from The Mount themselves, have clear and deep loyalty and appreciation for the school and the kids. There are high expectations and a loving community. There’s the fact that when anyone asks how he likes high school, he answers, “I REALLY like it!” We couldn’t be happier. Baseball tryouts were in February, and he made the 9th grade team.

Here’s a clip from the second game he pitched for the Mount.  (Music, courtesy of Billy Joel at Shea Stadium.)

This post originally appeared on Kveller.com.  I’ve updated to include information since it was published in October.  🙂

*Nachas is Yiddish for the joy children bring to their parents.

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Is That a Birdseed Milkshake?

October 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a presidential election coming up soon.  In this country.  America.  Last Wednesday evening, the two presidential candidates (one of whom is already President) squared off to talk about domestic policy.  I was prepared for a good show,  but it was boooooooooooring.  I mean, generally, no one can know whose proclamations and views are accurate until they read Politifact the next day, anyhow.    Usually, though, there’s at least something I can follow, or at least grasp.  The minutia about tax policy doesn’t fall into that category.

Also possibly contributing to my inability to follow what Obama and Romney were discussing is that I was tweeting the whole time about the few things I did recognize and understand:

1.  President Obama likes Obamacare.
2.  Mitt Romney would cut the subsidy to PBS, even though he likes Big Bird and Jim Lehrer.
3.  Jim Lehrer was so flattered that Romney liked him that he allowed Romney to trample him whenever he weakly suggested Romney’s time was up.  Or maybe Jimmy-boy was so terrified of an impending pink slip if Romney were elected, he decided to be nice to this potential new boss.  On the other hand, the only sucking up Obama did was to his wife at the beginning because it was their 20th anniversary and he felt bad this was how they were spending it. He should have told Jim he liked him – maybe the evening would have gone better for him.
4.  Obama played by the debate rules, was courteous, and lost.

So tweeting during the debate – even though it was ABOUT the debate – is not something my brain does well.  I’m easily distracted.  I also can’t talk on the phone and drive at the same time.  Not because it’s dangerous, but because my little brain can’t seem to divide its attention in that particular way.  So I don’t.  Also, I’m easily distracted.  (Is that a cookie?)

Speaking of divided attention, two other teams are squaring off in a contest of epic proportions.  Right here in my backyard.  Birds figure as prominently in this contest as it did in Wednesday’s debate.  I live in Baltimore, baby.  We’re talking the Orioles (though the Ravens are usually front and center this time of year…)  I’ve written before about my love affair with baseball.  If you know me, you understand why I’m having a hard time concentrating on politics AND baseball at the same time.  I’m easily distracted.  (Is that an appletini?)

Like so many events of this magnitude, the presidential debate and the O’s/Yankees series raise more questions than they answer.  Both are competing for my attention, which makes it hard for me to focus.  Because I’m easily distracted.  (Is that Facebook???)  So, here are some of the many questions going through my mind as I try to immerse myself in these momentous goings-on.

1.  If Romney were elected president, would the Orioles bird be fired?
2.  If Jim Lehrer were umping home plate, would he throw Mark Reynolds out for arguing balls and strikes, but not A-Rod?
3.  If Paul Ryan were doing color commentary in the booth, would I be distracted by his blue, blue eyes the way I am with Cal Ripken’s?
4.  What percentage of fans in the stands tonight in Baltimore will be wearing pinstripes?  1% or 47%?
5.  Should the fans only be allowed to clap and cheer at the beginning and the end of the game, like the audience members at the debate?
6.  Would Big Bird be able to get a birdseed milkshake at Boog‘s?

These, my friends, are questions that MUST be answered.  I hope they’ll get the attention they deserve in the press and the interwebs.  And in both contests, in case you’re wondering, I’m rooting for the team that begins with “O.”


Bizarre Love Triangle – Baseball Edition

September 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

Sure, I could be writing about “Eastwooding” and Akin’s thoughts on my magical voodoo vagina.  I could be writing about Crazy Uncle Joe Biden’s ridiculous metaphor that cast Republicans as 21st-century slave owners.   I could be writing about Lance Armstrong’s doping and Prince Harry’s antics, or the coup de grace: a member of the United States Congress skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee.  (Don’t ask me why that last is just coming out now…it happened a year ago.)   Others, though, have taken on those subjects with greater speed (except the Sea of Galilee thing), wit and wisdom than I possibly could.  Sometimes I just leave the quicker minds to say what I wish I had.

Friends, no politics or gender issues here for me today.  Since April, a subject matter much closer to my heart has been sitting neglected and sad, like Baby in the corner of my blog.   I’m talking baseball.  Many esteemed political and historical minds – think George Will and Ken Burns – also love  baseball.  (Reader, to Empty Chair next to him/her: “Oh, no she did NOT just compare herself to George Will and Ken Burns…”  Empty Chair next to Reader: “Oh, yes, she DID…”)  Okay, FINE.   My political/historical savvy is to Will’s and Burns’s what my athletic prowess is to Cal Ripken’s.  Happy?  Still, indulge me in my baseball nostalgia.

I was born in May 1969.  The New York Mets went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series that year.  Coincidence?  I think NOT.  My dad took me to many games at Shea Stadium.  Rain delays and extra innings meant extra time at the ballpark.   I spent hours watching Mets games on TV, eating potato chips out of a bowl my dad propped on his belly.

My grandfather was also a die-hard Mets fan.  I’d pitch down the narrow hallway in his apartment to him.  Instead of the discreet hand signals catchers used to communicate, my grandfather had elaborately choreographed moves (think Elaine’s dancing from Seinfeld, but on speed) that had me in stitches between pitches.

In elementary school, my sister and I went home for lunch one day.  My dad was home doing some work.  After lunch, we were halfway to school when we heard my dad calling us.  We turned around and he was sort of running to catch us before we got there.  He looked at us very seriously, and said in a deep, quiet voice, “Ya wanna play hooky?”  He’d finished his work early, and there was a home game at Shea on that Tuesday afternoon.  So, while the rest of Mrs. Dounay’s class was learning cursive, I was watching the Mets from behind their dugout.  Easily one of my top five most cherished childhood memories.

Ah, John Stearns.  Tom Seaver.  Lee Mazzilli.  Also, Lee Mazzilli.  And don’t forget Lee Mazzilli.  Sigh.  What a dreamboat.  He was even from my part of Brooklyn, baby.  Surely, we were meant to be together…but the closest I came was the his rookie card given to me by a dear friend last year.  The Mazz would make an appearance much later in my baseball life as a manager for the Orioles, but we were both married to other people by then, so I made the tough, but ethical decision not to pursue him.

Baseball continued to be important throughout my teen years.  In matters of love, my hippie groovy parents said we could date whomever we wanted.  Any race, religion, even gender was okay with them.  As long as…and this was the ONLY condition…they weren’t Republicans or Yankee fans.  (They were kidding about Republicans.)  I’m still reeling from the past few years when they hint at early onset dementia by rooting for the Yankees if they make it to the Series.  “I can understand why you may be confused and upset about this, Aliza, given the way we raised you,” they say.  Meanwhile, I have the nursing homes on speed-dial.  But, I digress…

My freshman year in college in Baltimore began in August 1986.  My dorm room overlooked the baseball field.  The Mets once again won the World Series.  I watched the final game – that crazy 10-inning come-back game –  in the Students’ Union.  I almost cried watching Mookie Wilson (named my first cat after him) and Gary Carter (RIP) celebrate, and sprinted across campus back to my dorm to call my parents.  Before I could get there, another New Yorker/Mets fan came running towards me and jumped into my arms with glee.  Ah, it was a glorious way to begin my college career.

Slowly, though, the Baltimore Orioles worked their way under my skin.  I shared a rowhouse on 33rd street and my roommates and I became attached to the fans who would roll by during pre-game traffic.  I went to a few games at Memorial Stadium, but a couple of years in California and Virginia had me feeling distanced from baseball in general.  Virginia has no team, and the Nationals didn’t exist.

Then came Cal.  I really became attached to the Os during Cal Ripken’s run to break Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played.  I mean, try – just TRY not to love baseball after that.  I was almost hooked, but troubled at the thought of loving a team other than the Mets.  After all, I was a National League girl at heart.  What is this DH nonsense?  Pitcher doesn’t have to hit???  Come ON, man, where’s the STRATEGY in that?  Where’s the THRILL when a pitcher comes to bat and gets a single???  Where’s the ANXIETY as the bottom of the order comes around?  All those doubts drowned in the depths of those blue, blue Cal Ripken eyes.  Yes, Lee Mazzilli had competition.  Finally, I found solace and rationalization in the common ground I shared with Os fans – and that is, of course, a rabid hatred of the Yankees.

My subsequent love affair with the Os was (and is) peppered with appearances from Mets players from my past.  Davey Johnson – beloved manager of the 1986 Mets, managed the Os almost into the World Series in 1996 and 1997.  Lee Mazzilli also managed the Os for a couple of years.  Some Mets continue to break my heart.  I never really got over Joe Torre’s defection to the Yankees, or more recently, Bobby Valentine’s move to the Red Sox.  The Os and Mets shared some legendary players – Jesse Orosco and Roberto Alomar come to mind.  Bizarre love triangles, to be sure.

With interleague play came the inevitable.  A Mets vs. Os series.  How great could it get???  I’d be rooting for BOTH teams!  I was so excited for this first face-off, I actually SEWED something.  I bought an Os shirt and a Mets shirt, cut them in half, and sewed halves of the Mets shirt to the other halves of the Orioles shirt.  I gave one of the shirts to my sister, and wore this one to the first Mets vs. Os game in Camden Yards.

I even began my life as a parent at Camden Yards by going into labor there.  I had accepted an impromptu invitation to a game with friends on Emma’s due date.  She was my first – how likely was she to be on time?  Sitting in the car in the pre-game traffic, I timed contractions.  But hey – they were, like, 25 minutes apart.  Onward.  I would discreetly elbow Dave with each contraction so he could keep track.  I even managed to stay reserved when Eddie Murray hit a grand slam home run right to the bleachers where we were sitting – I didn’t dive for the ball or anything!  My friend finally caught on and said loudly, “OHMYGOD, are you having CONTRACTIONS????”  We left in the 8th inning to avoid post-game traffic.

Sixteen years later, the Os have a shot again.  Finally.  It’s taken us a long time to get back to potential play-off status.  Usually by September, I am so disgusted with the Os, I am itching for the Ravens to start playing and give me something to cheer about.  I’m used to my baseball team tanking spectacularly.  I mean, I grew up a METS fan, after all.  For the first time, though, in many, many years, when someone asks me if I’m excited for football season to start, I say, “Slow down, tiger.  Baseball’s not over, yet.”

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