Bay Area Jews Unite at Giants Jewish Heritage Night

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Jewish Heritage Night at Tuesday's Giants game featured an eclectic mix of Jews, from Jewish summer camp staff and a young adult group to Chabad (serving Kosher hot dogs and He-Brew beer before the game).

There was no obvious attraction, like Israeli basketball star Omri Caspi at the Warriors' Jewish Heritage Night last February. Rather, the Jews came out solely for the fun of celebrating their history, and gathering together as a community.

As I learned at Chabad's pre-game tailgate barbeque, Jewish history is intimately intertwined with baseball. "Hank Greenberg came along at a time when Jews were very oppressed in America, and anti-Semitism was at its most rampant," said Howard Sapper, originally from Pittsburgh. "Hank Greenberg gave American Jews a reason to have pride, and from that place you get many many Jewish baseball fans." Sapper said that Greenberg was one of the main draws for pre-war and post-war Jews to baseball.

However, on this particular day, aside from some fairly insistent JNF ads on the scoreboard, I didn't see much Judaism inside the stadium. The national anthem and 7th inning stretch were not sung by Jews, nor was the first pitch thrown out by one. Between the 4th and 5th innings, the scoreboard showed a brief historical video about Hank Greenberg, but it was only the length of a commercial break.

In fact, Tuesday's entire production was nothing compared to the Warriors' Jewish Heritage Night, which featured Jews, Jewish groups, Jewish schoolchildren, and Jewish activities at every break. (Granted, the Warriors didn't have a lot of other fans in attendance that night, and the Giants had over 30,000, but the Giants could easily have expanded the celebration without losing too much.)

Still, the existence of Jewish Heritage Night is a testament to the Bay Area Jewish community, and to founder Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad. "Every opportunity that we have to make Jews happy, and to show Jewish pride to the nations of the world, we take that opportunity," Langer said. "What better way than a tailgate at the ballpark with hot dogs and beer, and cotton candy, in the parking lot?" Langer said that this is the project's fourth or fifth year, and he does it with the Warriors and Raiders as well.

"I think that it's a really good atmosphere at the ballpark," said Abby Rochman, 13 and Jewish, of San Francisco. "We went last year, and we had a lot of fun." She said that even though she's terribly observant, she appreciates the Jewish traditions, and their role in uniting the community. "[Jewish Heritage Night] is a good place to feel like you're around people that you can relate to," she said. "It's comfortable."

Ben Ryzak, of Foster City, was sitting next to Rochman. "Jews have always had a place in professional baseball," said Ryzak, a student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. "At my house, baseball's practically a religion in and of itself."

Becky Trigonis, a longtime camper and lifeguard at Camp Tawonga (a local Jewish overnight summer camp), was impressed by the community's strength. "It's really cool that they have a Jewish Heritage Night at the baseball game, and that so many Jewish people come out for it," she said. "I think we're very unified."

And that seemed to be the theme of Tuesday's Jewish Heritage Night at AT&T Park. The entire Jewish community sat together, in three designated sections, and enjoyed the excitement of a late-season baseball game. Coupled with the unity of Bay Area Judaism, Jewish Heritage Night seemed to strike a deep and reverent chord inside all of the attendees.

"We go out into the world and use sports to have a good time, and do whatever we can to show our Jewish pride," Rabbi Langer said. "We're all Yids, right?"

EBAC thanks the San Francisco Giants for access to the Jewish Heritage Night events.

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