In Israel, homesick baseball fans have tried desperately to start a major league setup — or even a minor league round — or anything, as long as a few teams could play semi-professional baseball.
It worked for one season and then fizzled out. But Americans in Israel never forgot. Families still send their kids to Little League teams each year. Guys gather to play when the weather is good. Bats, balls and gloves abound. It’s out there.
Jews love baseball.
That’s not reflected in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York though, where you’d think there were never any Jewish players. Only two Jewish major leaguers – Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, ‘The Hebrew Hammer’ — ever made it in.
But there were so many others.
Now The Jewish Baseball Museum has gone one better, making the Jewish baseball lover’s dream of seeing a hero’s face immortalized a virtual reality on the Internet.
Creator Jeff Aeder, 54, has taken the concept above and beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes Hall of Fame, but for Aeder it never was about “basic” anyway. The Chicago real estate mogul is one of the biggest collectors of Jewish baseball memorabilia in the United States, the owner of some 2,000 items. His collection is on the site with other things.
Is he a fanatic? He’s a Cubs fan.
But he believes that younger Jewish generations need to know about their sports history, especially in baseball.
Aeder showcases his Rom Blomberg bat with the Star of David on the knob on the site. He also exhibits a letter written by Hank Greenberg to a friend during World War II; these are things that Jews around the world relate to.
How about pre-1990 baseball cards featuring Jewish players? Aeder has 2,500 of those. (Wanna trade?) Consider Lipman Pike, the first Jew who went to the big leagues in 1871. The stories of so many others.
Nearly every Jew who ever made it to The Show is on the site, which features biographies of each Jewish major league player.
One can find a time line of Jewish baseball stories dating from the 1860s, and interviews with former players and prominent personalities in the industry.
Aeder is, perhaps not surprisingly, also a philanthropist. He and his wife, Jennifer Levine, were named 2013 Chicagoans of the Year for opening the Wolcott School, a high school for students with learning challenges.
He’s also the founding owner of Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed – a kosher BBQ eatery near Wrigley Field. The home of old-fashioned ribs and sides donates its profits to worthy causes, and is the dining choice of Cubs fans of all faiths, including the 2015 Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta.
Aeder’s next project is likely to be the materialized museum from his virtual launch.
As with the first, the founder’s collection will form the core of the museum’s permanent exhibit, although others are expected to rotate through as well. At present, he’s told media that if the project is a “go” he might build on the city’s North Side; he hopes to open it some time in 2017.
When Theodore Herzl said “If you will it, it is no dream,” he probably had never heard of baseball. How many Jewish baseball fans have ever known of Theodore Herzl?
Aeder did.Hana Levi Julian