Photo Credit: Courtesy MLB
Pitcher Sandy Koufax throwing

Everybody remembers how the great pitcher, Sandy Koufax, did not play on Yom Kippur back in 1965. It was Game One of the World Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers (Koufax’s team) were playing against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax was scheduled to be the starting pitcher, but since the game fell on Yom Kippur, he refused to play. Instead, Don Drysdale pitched the opening game, and LA lost 8-2.

(Funny side note: When LA manager Walter Alston came to the mound to take Drysdale out of the game, Drysdale said, “I bet right now you wish I were Jewish, too!” True story!!)

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Sandy Koufax pitched Game Two, but LA lost again. He then pitched a complete game shutout in Game Five and was brought back to pitch Game Seven on just two days’ rest. Once again, he pitched a complete game shutout! The LA Dodgers won the World Series and Sandy Koufax was chosen as the MVP.

There’s no question that what Sandy Koufax did was amazing. He was not a religious man, but he was a proud Jew and, to him, playing baseball on Yom Kippur negated a core belief of his. He stood strong in his conviction and showed the world that while “the show must go on,” it would have to go on without one Jew. In the end, neither Koufax nor his team suffered. LA won the World Series, Koufax was MVP, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Fast forward to Yom Kippur 2017. Here’s a quote from Israel National News: “Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela left a match, on Friday afternoon, due to Yom Kippur. Sela gave up midway during his quarter-final clash against Alexander Dolgopolov at the ATP Tour Shenzhen Open when he realized that it was almost sunset and the Yom Kippur fast was about to begin. The 32-year-old, who’s ranked 77 in the world, lost the first set 6-3, before winning the second 7-5, thereby ensuring a third and deciding set. Eight minutes into the third set, however, Sela informed the umpire of his decision to retire from the match and left the court. With his decision, Sela forfeited the chance of reaching the semi-finals.”

Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela

Now read this line from The Times of Israel: “Sela forfeited $34,000 in prize money and the chance to win 90 ranking points.” With all due respect to the great Sandy Koufax, I must stress that although I applaud his action, conviction, bravery, and courage, he gave up nothing to sit out that game. Let’s compare that to our tennis player, Dudi Sela. First of all, Sela was in China, not Minnesota. I highly doubt he had anywhere to hear Kol Nidrei that night. Second of all, Sela gave up a tremendous amount. He lost $34,000 in prize money and also lost an opportunity to make it into the semi-finals of a major tennis tournament.

His ranking as the 77th best tennis player in the world will be negatively affected, which will – once again – hit him in the pocketbook. In short, Dudi Sela’s Yom Kippur was a rather expensive one. The website “Pressreader” published an article about Sela in which it quoted Dudi’s older brother, Ofer. You have to read this: “Dudi isn’t a religious man… but for the first time in his career he was forced to make this excruciating decision which affects his ATP ranking and cost him tens of thousands of dollars. No one forced him to stop the match. He didn’t do it because he was afraid of any one or because he was asked to. He did it only because he respects Yom Kippur and the country he represents.”

In other words, he lost money, lost ranking, and – in front of thousands of fans – forfeited a match, not because of injury, but because “he respects Yom Kippur and the country he represents.” By the way; on Yom Kippur day, Israel’s only NBA player, Omri Caspi, was scheduled to make his debut with the Golden State Warriors in a pre-season game versus the Denver Nuggets. People came to see him, but he wasn’t there since he too refused to play on Yom Kippur. While NFL players are running away from their country and refusing to stand during the national anthem, Israel’s professional athletes are doing the complete opposite! They are connecting to their nation and showing just how proud they are to be Jewish.

I have written over and over again that new winds are blowing in Israel – the winds of Jewish identity. Hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel – mostly under 40 – are reconnecting in some way to their Jewish soul. They want to connection to their identity and all they ask is for someone to give it to them. That’s our job for this new year. Let’s reach out and bring “Zehut” (Identity) to our brothers and sisters. They are waiting for us. Let’s not let them down.

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