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Jewish Joy In Mudville

Jewish Joy In Mudville

Soccer and basketball are Israel’s most popular sports, so what is U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer going to discuss at an event called “A Celebration of Jews in Baseball” — alef-beisball?
No, Kurtzer tells The Jewish Week, he plans to use baseball as a mirror on American culture.
“I will explain how I have tried to integrate baseball into some speeches in Israel and Egypt that are designed to help people understand the U.S. and American culture,” says Kurtzer, who also has served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt. “In Egypt I was able to point to a modern ‘connection’; that is, the travel to Egypt by an all-star team in 1889.”
A few years later, John McGraw’s Giants and Charles Comiskey’s White Sox played a game in the shadows of the Pyramids in 1913. But Israel still awaits its first major league exhibition.
“While the results of my efforts have been spotty — most people outside the United States find baseball boring and hard to understand — I persist,” Kurtzer says.
The “Celebration” will be held Sunday and Monday at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Expected to join the two days of nostalgia and congratulations are such former players as Ron Blomberg of the Yankees, the first designated hitter, and Elliot Maddox, who played for the Mets and Yankees. Joe Ginsburg, an original Met, will be there, too, as will Ken Holtzman, Mike Epstein and Norm Sherry. Others are Boston Red Sox executive vice president Charles Steinberg, Sandy Koufax biographer Jane Levey and Aviva Kempner, who made a documentary about Hank Greenberg.
Kurtzer’s remarks will focus also on “the importance of baseball to new immigrants, including Jews,” and include “some public policy comments — e.g., the need to invest in the game internationally.”
The rest of the weekend’s speeches and panel discussions — the Hall’s first kosher dinner is part of the lineup — will be more standard with reflections on the 144 identified Jews who have played in the major leagues in the last 133 years. They range from Lipman Pike, the sport’s first professional athlete and home run champ, to Hall of Famers Koufax and Greenberg; from Moe Berg, the catcher and World War II spy, to the more than a dozen Jews now on MLB rosters.
The gathering, under the auspices of the American Jewish Historical Society, which has produced a fund-raising set of Jewish baseball cards, is sponsored in conjunction with the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in this country.
As part of the anniversary celebration, an exhibit titled “Pioneers, Superstars and Journeymen: Major League Baseball Players, 1871-2004” will be on display at the AJHS, 15 W. 16th St., Manhattan, for three months starting Sept. 7.

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