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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Japan FM: Japan Ready to Cut Iran Oil Imports

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Japan pledged to take “concrete” action to reduce the amount of Iranian oil imports, Finance Minister Jun Azumi said  in a press conference Thursday with his counterpart,  US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

“What I told the secretary is that we have already reduced Iranian oil imports by 40% in the past five years,” Azumi said. “The nuclear development issue is an issue that the international community cannot overlook, so we very much understand the U.S. action.”

Azumi gave no details regarding the timeline of the planned cuts.

Geithner welcomed the  increased cooperation, especially in light of China’s rebuff of a similar appeal by the US earlier in the week.

 

The Sirota Family and the 20th Century at the Japan Society

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I am blessed to live in a tradition filled with many incredible people, but it is rare I actually have the chance to meet a hero.  I give sincere thanks to the Japan Society for honoring a great Jewish woman, Beate Sirota Gordon.  A distinguished lady who wrote the equality clause of the new Japanese constitution, Ms. Gordon is also the scion of an illustrious musical family whose tree is traced in the movie, The Sirota Family and the 20th Century.  As Ms. Gordon herself said, although her father has been a half-century in the grave, the director of the film fell in love with him. While Leo Sirota, her father, could obviously not be interviewed; his music is played throughout, giving him a voice in the film that shows the depths of his passion of music. It is fair to say the audience fell in love with Sirota as well.

Having a distinct love for the Japanese culture, due to their excellent literature, and being fiercely proud of my Judaism, I could not imagine a more perfect evening.  The Japan Society is a beautiful building, tucked away by Dag Hammarskjold Square, a place I had visited so many times to protest the UN.  I was very pleased to be there for a less stressful reason. From the indoor water garden to the elegant pictures on the wall, the place seems to be a quiet oasis in a very busy city. Given the emotions I knew I would feel watching a Holocaust film, I found myself feeling strangely at peace and calm. It was a perfect place to watch the movie and I hope there will be more joint Jewish-Japanese events in the future.

Both the family and the film begin in Kamianets-Podilskyi during the time period in which Ms. Gordon’s grandparents lived. Each member of the Sirota family has been blessed with an incredible gift for music. Although they endure persecution and pogroms, they continue to attend some of the most prestigious schools of music from Kiev to St. Petersberg to Paris, performing and teaching wherever they went. Leo Sirota tours the world with his music and finds himself being offered a job in the most unlikely (and non-Jewish) place – Japan. Unfortunately, their lives and the lives of the people around them are shattered when the Nazis come to power.

Ms. Gordon talks painfully of her memories of being taught to Seig Heil at the beginning of every class, of being twelve-years-old and ostracized by those around her.  An uncle perished in Auschwitz and a cousin was killed fighting in World War II. Ms. Gordon herself was in America studying at Mills College and spent years having limited conversation with and information about her parents.

     After the war ended, the twenty-two-year old Ms. Sirota joined the Occupation force in Japan as a translator, as she was one of the sixty-five Caucasians who were fluent in Japanese. Her previous experience at Time Magazine had taught her how to gather information and therefore, she was able to do the research required to assist in writing the Japanese constitution. Although the project was top secret, Ms. Gordon sneaked in to gather as much information as possible while sneaking in a few novels in order to make sure no librarians caught on to her ruse. She was instrumental in making the constitution of Japan strive for a more equal and better place for everyone, including women.

Throughout the movie, I was amazed at the strength of the Jewish people, who have given so much to such a terrible world. This is the heritage of a people who have survived and thrived and embraced the title of “chosen” by contributing wonderfully to every society where they have found themselves as refugees.  What an honor to have the Japanese cultural society honoring the contributions of our people.  When talking about fixing the world, this is where it starts.

Ms. Gordon may be elderly, but she is still taking on the world. She talks about the pride she feels in the Japanese making war illegal in the constitution, “forever renounce(ing) war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” She speaks as a grandmother who hopes to see that amendment ratified in every single country, as another world war would end the world, as we know it.  In the stress I have been feeling with the developments in the Middle East, I very much doubt that such an amendment would work, but it is a dream well worth having.

At the reception after the movie, I felt a bit overwhelmed to be the youngest person in the room and mingled accordingly, trying to sound sophisticated and praying no one would send me back to the children’s table. I was honored to actually speak with Ms. Gordon and tell her how much I shared her dream of seeing war banned. “I am not an expert on the subject,” Ms. Gordon said modestly. “But it’s the only hope we have.”

Fried Banana Chips

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

It was a chilly Shabbos morning in 1984 when my friend, a pearl importer, and I were walking up the long steep road to the hilltop synagogue in Kobe, Japan.

When we finally reached the flat street on top of the hill, I was out of breath. There was a feeling of joy and accomplishment when the shul came into view. Only 50 more feet to go!

The two of us completed the minyan, which was composed of Kobe resident foreign exporters and New York pearl importers. The credit for getting 10 Jews together from all over the Kobe, Osaka and Tokyo areas went to the local Syrian religious leader, Rav Yoseph Gamliel. To accomplish this feat, Rav Gamliel must have had spies in every hotel lobby in Japan!

The shul’s outstanding architectural features included a beautiful green marble floor and brass-laced mechitzah. The Sefer Torah was kept in a decorative metallic encasement. The credit for building the shul went to Jewish Iraqi-Afghani businessmen, which accounted for its Sephardic flavor.

After the morning service, the community invited us to a simple, tasty kiddush. There were three long, linen-covered tables set with large bowls of tuna salad, egg salad, potato salad and small bottles of grape juice. According to the shul’s custom, the participants related their names, where they were from, and their mission in Kobe. We all got to know one another, which resulted in a warm Shabbos tisch.

A very distinguished gray-bearded rabbi sat at the head of the table. He introduced himself as Rabbi Berel Levy. He wished everyone a good Shabbos, and explained that he was a mashgiach for the OK Labs.

He told us, “This trip has turned out to be a very illuminating one for me. Hashem sent me from Brooklyn to Osaka, Japan to check on the kashrus of a Japanese company’s new snack, banana chips fried in coconut oil. The bananas were fine. However, the coconut oil was imported from Singapore/Malaysia, and shipped in vats by boat to Japan. My job was to check the vats from point of origin to finish. This meant that I had to travel to Singapore.

“After getting settled in Singapore, I attended a Shabbos kiddush where I was introduced to a very nice young man. He was also from Brooklyn, and attending medical school. At his side was a lovely young gentile lady. The man introduced her to me, and then took me aside for a private conversation. He explained that he was in love with this young woman, and had just given her a diamond engagement ring. However, he had not had the courage to break the news to his parents. He asked me to visit his parents and told me how beautiful and fine his fianc? was. He then gave me his phone number.

“Two weeks later I was back in Brooklyn, in his parents’ apartment, and called his number.

” ‘Hello, Rabbi Levy. Is that you?’ ” he asked excitedly.

“Yes, it’s me. I just gave your parents your news, and we are dealing with a nightmare scene. Your mother is clutching her chest with one hand, and hanging on to the kitchen table with the other. Your father fell to the floor, and is kneeling on both knees. I have to call Hatzolah. I don’t want to be responsible for what is happening here. The only way to save your parents is for you to break your engagement, and ask your parents’ forgiveness. Should I call the ambulance, or are you going to give me your word that your engagement is over?”

“Yes, it’s over! It’s over! Please tell them I am sorry. I am giving you my word.”

“I thought Hashem had sent me to the Far East to check on fried banana chips. It turned out that my trip had an additional dimension. We never know when Hashem will make us a messenger for a lifesaving mission.”

This story is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Berel Levy, z”l, and all the rabbis who put their lives at risk by flying overseas to supervise the kashrus of food products.

George H. Gisser has recently completed his exciting new children’s book, to be released soon, entitled, Happy Kappy – The Flying Kangaroo. His creative cartoon, “It’s Kappy Time,” can be seen onwww.kappythekangaroo.com.

Hanging In the Balance: Nightmare in Japan

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

           The loneliness is overwhelming. Yoel G., Yaakov Yosef G., and Yossi B. have spent ten months in solitary confinement, sitting on a hard concrete floor, their mobility severely restricted. They have no contact with anyone they know, except for their lawyers. No visitors are permitted, with the exception of parents, whom they may only see briefly and infrequently. Even these visits are held through a glass partition, and monitored by guards and interpreters.

 

And the fear. How long will they have to remain in these forbidding jail cells, thousands of miles away from their homes and yeshivos? Will they be sentenced to a decade of forced labor by a judge who cannot comprehend the naivet? of innocent yeshiva bachurim cruelly exploited by ostensibly pious Jews? Will they ever again lead a normal, Jewish life after being “reformed” by the highly efficient Japanese corrections system?

 

Yossi was only 17 at the time of his arrest; Yaakov Yosef was 19. Lack of kosher food has caused one of the boys to lose 100 pounds, and another to lose 60.

 

It started out as an innocent favor for a friend. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi were kindhearted yeshiva bachurim who spent their spare time doing chesed for sick people in Bnei Brak, and when someone they knew and trusted approached them with an assignment of a different nature, they had no reason to think anything was amiss.

 

“I have a friend who is an antique dealer,” the person told them, “and he needs to deliver some antiques to Japan for the Tokyo 2008 Art Fair that will be taking place in a few weeks. He is unable to go himself, due to family obligations, so he asked me to find three bachurim to each take one parcel containing valuable antiques. He is willing to pay $1,000 to each of you on your return for the effort.”

 

The boys recognized the name of the antique dealer, a prominent and respected member of the religious community in Eretz Yisrael. Nothing about the assignment sounded suspicious, and the promise of some bein hazmanim pocket money was inviting.

 

The boys were told their assignment was 100% legal and that the antiques they would be delivering did not have to be declared at Japanese customs. Instead of receiving a parcel, they were each given an empty suitcase and instructed to put their personal belongings inside. The antiques, they were told, had been placed in a sealed compartment inside the suitcases as a precaution against theft, damage or accidental loss.

 

They did not dream the sealed compartments of the three suitcases contained narcotics worth $3.6 million. They did not dream the favor they were being asked to do was a mask for a crime punishable by ten years of imprisonment and forced labor. And they did not dream that instead of the $1,000 in pocket money they had been promised for their effort, Jews the world over would have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage a massive legal battle on their behalf.

 

Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the three unsuspecting boys placed their luggage onto the x-ray machine. Japanese customs officials spotted the hidden compartments, cut open the suitcases, and discovered a total of over 50 pounds of narcotics cleverly concealed inside. The boys were immediately arrested and placed in solitary confinement.

 

For the next 21 days, the three were subjected to grueling interrogation. The 2,500-page record of this interrogation, as well as the results of polygraph tests, showed clearly that none of the boys had any knowledge of the hidden contents of their luggage. But the law is the law, especially in Japan, where there is a zero-tolerance attitude to crime. The Japanese stance on illegal substances is one of the toughest in the world, and 99.9% of people caught smuggling drugs into Japan are convicted. Sentences can range between 10 and 15 years of prison and forced labor.

 

            By the time Japanese prisoners are released, they are fully “reformed,” usually with drastically diminished physical and mental capabilities. The Japanese corrections system is designed to act as a powerful deterrent to crime, and indeed, the crime rate in Japan is infinitesimal compared to other westernized countries.

 

Ten months in jail have taken their toll on the boys physically and emotionally, and they and their families tremble at the thought of what ten years of imprisonment and forced labor will do to them. Experts estimate that young, sheltered yeshiva bachurim like Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi would not survive even one year of prison without permanent damage.

 

             Both Yossi and Yaakov Yosef are considered minors by Japanese law, but they are nevertheless being tried in adult court in light of the severity with which the Japanese authorities view their alleged crime. Yossi’s trial was held at the beginning of February; he is now awaiting sentencing. The trials of Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are due to begin shortly, but it will be several months before all of the verdicts are delivered.

 

Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are managing to learn Torah and have completed a number of masechtos in the detention center as they await trial. The three boys struggle valiantly to adhere to halacha, despite their circumstances, and have sought rabbinic guidance in how to cope with the unique halachic challenges they face.

 

Askanim in Eretz Yisrael, the U.S., England and Belgium have worked tirelessly to provide them with kosher food, religious articles and medical attention. More importantly, they have invested tremendous efforts into putting together top-notch defense teams for each of the boys. These teams are composed of both Japanese lawyers and experts in international law such as Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli and international lawyer; the well-known Dayan Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp; Rabbi Jacob Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine; Rabbi Aaron Nezri of London; and Rabbi Elimelech Bindiger. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi are not just three boys sitting in jail in Japan. They are our brothers, they are our children. If you or your child were in their situation, you would desperately want kind Jews to come to your aid. That’s how these boys feel. They are totally dependent on the mercy of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the mercy of the Japanese judges, and the mercy of Klal Yisrael.

 

The first way we can help the boys is by intensifying our tefillos on their behalf and begging Hashem that the judges be fully convinced of their innocence. The full Hebrew names of the boys are: Yoel Zev ben Mirel Reesa Chava; Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel; and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.

 

The second way we can help is by shouldering some of the costs of the legal and humanitarian assistance they require. These costs have already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project that a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed until all the trials are over.

 

The mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim overrides Shabbos and takes precedence over all other forms of tzedakah. Whatever our financial situation, whatever other obligations we might have, we must remember that boys are relying on our kindness and generosity.

 

The cost of legal and humanitarian assistance has already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the rabbonim listed in the ad on page 11 of this week’s Jewish Press.

Hanging In the Balance: Nightmare in Japan

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

           The loneliness is overwhelming. Yoel G., Yaakov Yosef G., and Yossi B. have spent ten months in solitary confinement, sitting on a hard concrete floor, their mobility severely restricted. They have no contact with anyone they know, except for their lawyers. No visitors are permitted, with the exception of parents, whom they may only see briefly and infrequently. Even these visits are held through a glass partition, and monitored by guards and interpreters.

 

And the fear. How long will they have to remain in these forbidding jail cells, thousands of miles away from their homes and yeshivos? Will they be sentenced to a decade of forced labor by a judge who cannot comprehend the naiveté of innocent yeshiva bachurim cruelly exploited by ostensibly pious Jews? Will they ever again lead a normal, Jewish life after being “reformed” by the highly efficient Japanese corrections system?
 
Yossi was only 17 at the time of his arrest; Yaakov Yosef was 19. Lack of kosher food has caused one of the boys to lose 100 pounds, and another to lose 60.
 
It started out as an innocent favor for a friend. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi were kindhearted yeshiva bachurim who spent their spare time doing chesed for sick people in Bnei Brak, and when someone they knew and trusted approached them with an assignment of a different nature, they had no reason to think anything was amiss.
 
“I have a friend who is an antique dealer,” the person told them, “and he needs to deliver some antiques to Japan for the Tokyo 2008 Art Fair that will be taking place in a few weeks. He is unable to go himself, due to family obligations, so he asked me to find three bachurim to each take one parcel containing valuable antiques. He is willing to pay $1,000 to each of you on your return for the effort.”
 
The boys recognized the name of the antique dealer, a prominent and respected member of the religious community in Eretz Yisrael. Nothing about the assignment sounded suspicious, and the promise of some bein hazmanim pocket money was inviting.
 
The boys were told their assignment was 100% legal and that the antiques they would be delivering did not have to be declared at Japanese customs. Instead of receiving a parcel, they were each given an empty suitcase and instructed to put their personal belongings inside. The antiques, they were told, had been placed in a sealed compartment inside the suitcases as a precaution against theft, damage or accidental loss.
 
They did not dream the sealed compartments of the three suitcases contained narcotics worth $3.6 million. They did not dream the favor they were being asked to do was a mask for a crime punishable by ten years of imprisonment and forced labor. And they did not dream that instead of the $1,000 in pocket money they had been promised for their effort, Jews the world over would have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage a massive legal battle on their behalf.
 
Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the three unsuspecting boys placed their luggage onto the x-ray machine. Japanese customs officials spotted the hidden compartments, cut open the suitcases, and discovered a total of over 50 pounds of narcotics cleverly concealed inside. The boys were immediately arrested and placed in solitary confinement.
 
For the next 21 days, the three were subjected to grueling interrogation. The 2,500-page record of this interrogation, as well as the results of polygraph tests, showed clearly that none of the boys had any knowledge of the hidden contents of their luggage. But the law is the law, especially in Japan, where there is a zero-tolerance attitude to crime. The Japanese stance on illegal substances is one of the toughest in the world, and 99.9% of people caught smuggling drugs into Japan are convicted. Sentences can range between 10 and 15 years of prison and forced labor.
 
            By the time Japanese prisoners are released, they are fully “reformed,” usually with drastically diminished physical and mental capabilities. The Japanese corrections system is designed to act as a powerful deterrent to crime, and indeed, the crime rate in Japan is infinitesimal compared to other westernized countries.
 
Ten months in jail have taken their toll on the boys physically and emotionally, and they and their families tremble at the thought of what ten years of imprisonment and forced labor will do to them. Experts estimate that young, sheltered yeshiva bachurim like Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi would not survive even one year of prison without permanent damage.
 
             Both Yossi and Yaakov Yosef are considered minors by Japanese law, but they are nevertheless being tried in adult court in light of the severity with which the Japanese authorities view their alleged crime. Yossi’s trial was held at the beginning of February; he is now awaiting sentencing. The trials of Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are due to begin shortly, but it will be several months before all of the verdicts are delivered.
 
Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are managing to learn Torah and have completed a number of masechtos in the detention center as they await trial. The three boys struggle valiantly to adhere to halacha, despite their circumstances, and have sought rabbinic guidance in how to cope with the unique halachic challenges they face.
 
Askanim in Eretz Yisrael, the U.S., England and Belgium have worked tirelessly to provide them with kosher food, religious articles and medical attention. More importantly, they have invested tremendous efforts into putting together top-notch defense teams for each of the boys. These teams are composed of both Japanese lawyers and experts in international law such as Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli and international lawyer; the well-known Dayan Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp; Rabbi Jacob Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine; Rabbi Aaron Nezri of London; and Rabbi Elimelech Bindiger.
 
Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi are not just three boys sitting in jail in Japan. They are our brothers, they are our children. If you or your child were in their situation, you would desperately want kind Jews to come to your aid. That’s how these boys feel. They are totally dependent on the mercy of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the mercy of the Japanese judges, and the mercy of Klal Yisrael.
 
The first way we can help the boys is by intensifying our tefillos on their behalf and begging Hashem that the judges be fully convinced of their innocence. The full Hebrew names of the boys are: Yoel Zev ben Mirel Reesa Chava; Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel; and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.
 
The second way we can help is by shouldering some of the costs of the legal and humanitarian assistance they require. These costs have already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project that a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed until all the trials are over.
 
The mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim overrides Shabbos and takes precedence over all other forms of tzedakah. Whatever our financial situation, whatever other obligations we might have, we must remember that boys are relying on our kindness and generosity.
 

The cost of legal and humanitarian assistance has already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the rabbonim listed in the ad on page 11 of this week’s Jewish Press.

The Right Place at the Right Time

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

It can be very challenging to be arranging a flight to Israel while dealing with the needs of a large family, managing a high-pressured job, and satisfying the needs of parents who are eagerly awaiting your visit.

After much consideration, my husband bought a ticket leaving Newark airport Sunday, September 7th and returning Monday night, September 15th.We marked our calendars with the dates, and although I was not looking forward to his absence, I knew it was something that had to be done.  

During the month preceding the flight, my husband received numerous calls from Israel requesting that he change his scheduled flight and come sooner, since his father’s health was taking a turn for the worse.  Hospitalizations for either a stroke or an infection of one kind or another caused drastic changes in his father’s ability to function.  My husband needed to keep his original dates though, and on September 7th I took him to the airport and waited anxiously to see what would be.

At ninety-one years of age, my father-in-law had lived through the Holocaust.  Over the years that followed, he led congregations in England, Japan and America and then, upon his retirement, had fulfilled his lifelong dream of settling in Eretz Yisrael. But because my father in law was so ill, father and son were not able to share even a single conversation during their visit together. There was one special moment when my husband felt his father respond to his voice, lift his arm, and give him a kiss he will always treasure.  Most of that week, however, was spent in crisis mode. 

As the only son in his family, my husband felt compelled to help his exhausted mother and sister with the burden of caring for his father. The week was filled with urgent calls to doctors, nurses, social workers and a long visit to a medical emergency facility.  However, my father in law’s health continued to deteriorate. Whenever my husband found a moment to phone home, his voice was full of tension and strain.

Finally, Monday arrived and I was excited that we would be reunited again. As my husband got into the car, I noticed that he had never looked so exhausted before and I was glad that he would now have the opportunity to catch up on his rest and regain his strength.

The following day, the sad news reached us that my father-in-law had taken his last breath. I worked vigorously making arrangements for my husband and our oldest son to travel to Eretz Yisrael as soon as possible.  I was worried about my husband and wondered how we would cope with getting him ready to race back to Israel, and how I would manage another week on my own.  My husband was still disoriented from the previous week, the difference in time, and the news that he had just received, so I was relieved to see that our son was planning to travel back with him. On Tuesday afternoon they went racing to the airport, and I was alone again.

I was afraid that my husband’s absence would put a feeling of distance between us. However, when he called after the funeral, anxious to hear about my well being, I knew that I had been wrong. The One Above is in charge of our lives. Our relationship was only strengthened because we were forced to be apart.   

I was able to plan the final day of shiva arrangements in our home, and my husband was able to see how much I cared to make it all work out well for him on his return. As tragic as the loss of life is when the angel of death strikes, we must learn to appreciate even more, the important relationships that we are able to sustain.

My husband had originally planned his trip to visit his entire family. Instead, his trip wholly entailed taking vital care of his sick father. This resulted in the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim (honoring parents) many times − more than had been planned.  Both parents benefited tremendously from their son’s dedication and perseverance in response to the crisis.  My husband will always be able to reflect back on the wholehearted actions he took on their behalf.

Traveling back to Eretz Yisrael the day after his return to the U.S. had shown a tremendous act of honor on behalf of his father, as our rabbi commented.

As much as we try to be in control of our destinies, we must always take a back seat to the One Above Who is really writing our calendars.  May we always remember that, no matter how we feel at the moment, Hashem is sending us to the right place at the right time. May we always be worthy to be put on His schedule.

Winter Thoughts On The Summer Game

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

         The Boston Red Sox will have three opening days in three different countries. The first will be in Japan on Tuesday, March 25, against Oakland. The A’s will act as the home team in the two-game series that opens the 2008 major league season. After the Wednesday, March 26 game, the teams will return to the U.S. to open the season in Oakland on April 1. After two games in Oakland, Boston goes to Canada for the season opener in Toronto.

 

         Red Sox Nation will have to wait until Tuesday, April 8, for the Fenway opener, but will be rewarded by seeing baseball’s best two teams – the Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers – go at it. The Tigers’ lineup – their new additions combined with last year’s regulars – had a collective batting average of .312, tops in the majors. The Yankees were second at .292 and Boston slid in third at .287.

 

         Boston and Detroit both boast good pitching, but I’d give the edge to the Red Sox. However, the ferocious lineup of the Tigers can start a rally at any time. No one knows who will have baseball’s best record in October, but it should be either Detroit or Boston.

 

         Speaking of Boston, the Red Sox sold out the 2007 season at Fenway and drew 2,970,755 fans – 29,245 short of three million. They’ll hit the aforementioned milestone for the first time this year as 840 new seats have been added to the roof of the storied ballpark.

 

         Look for other cities to also set new attendance highs. Detroit is poised to top last year’s record mark of more than three million. Season ticket sales were cut off at 25,000 in January in order to accommodate groups and individuals for selected games. Baseball expects to set a new collective attendance high this year.

 

* * * * *

 

         I’m lucky enough – and old enough – to have seen games in two Washington ballparks. Griffith Stadium, where the Senators played through 1961, and D.C. Stadium (later renamed for Robert F. Kennedy and called RFK Stadium).

 

         The first game of the 2008 season on American soil will take place in Washington’s spiffy, brand new Nationals Park on Sunday night, March 30, and carried around the baseball world by ESPN.

 

         The best viewing location in Nationals Park is the upper deck along the first base line. You’ll be able to see the Capitol dome about two miles beyond left field, and if you want to see the Washington Monument at the same time, move down the line closer to right field.

 

* * * * *

 

         Don’t you wish you could sit in a big league ballpark without a coat and see lush, green grass at this time of year?

 

         Well, you can – and I did.

 

         You can sit and snack in the bleachers in Petco Park in beautiful downtown San Diego. There’s a plaza behind the outfield decks and bleachers that is open to the public on non-game days.

 

         You can also take a guided tour of the four-year-old 42,445-seat impressive home of the Padres. The left field corner incorporates a most unusual building. Built in 1909, the 80-foot high former home of an iron and steel foundry, overlooks the field. Bleachers on top of the building and three levels of bleachers attached to the structure hover over fair territory.

 

         On a tour from the top deck behind the infield, you can look in the opposite direction from the field and even see Mexico while drinking in the view of the Pacific Ocean.

 

         Forget Florida – San Diego is a lot cheaper this time of year.

 

         There are motels a pop-up away from San Diego’s two kosher eateries, and the shul – Beth Jacob – is less than a mile from there. Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky and his rebbetzin are superstars and Brooklyn natives. The rabbi still has some Yankees memorabilia from the early 70′s when the Yanks were on the wrong end of the standings.

 

         Affluent LaJolla also has a beautiful shul and superstar leaders (Wohlgelernters). However, the impressive area is almost a half-hour drive from the San Diego eateries, and motels are much more expensive and quite a walk to shul.

 

         Another advantage of the Beth Jacob area is that the San Diego Aztecs baseball team, coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, plays in a cute little ballpark (named for him) in the college area about a mile from the shul.

 

* * * * *

 

         I’ve had the pleasure of being the baseball-scholar-in-residence at many shuls through the years. (“You’re the Paysach Krohn of baseball and Jewish baseball stories,” one fellow told me. Well, I’m not as good as Rabbi Krohn, but who is?)

 

         Anyway, no matter what color hat or head covering we wear (if any), one thing unites us: baseball.

 

         And it never fails – old-timers always bring up Hank Greenberg and anti-Semitism.

 

         “Pitchers didn’t want Greenberg to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1938,” they say.

 

         Is that really true?

 

         As history buffs recall, Greenberg was chasing Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs set in 1927 (since broken by steroid stuffers in recent years).

 

         I grew up (though not all the way) in the 1950′s, years after Greenberg retired as a player, but I also heard in the community that managers and players at the time didn’t want a Jew to break the Babe’s record.

 

         I was lucky enough to interview Greenberg and had the chance to ask the Tigers superstar about 1938.

 

         “Most players were my friends and wanted to see me break the record,” Greenberg recalled.

 

         “In fact,” he said, “my 57th home run that year was a gift. I should have stopped at third with a triple but kept going, trying for an inside-the-park home run. I was called safe at the plate but was really out by a mile. The umpire was a friend of mine and the catcher didn’t argue the call. We were playing Cleveland, and I felt the Indians were rooting for me to do it. But I could never hit Bob Feller and had to face him too often as the season wound down. I just ran out of gas.”

 

* * * * *

 

         The initial offer by the Yankees and Red Sox for Twins lefthander Johan Santana was far better than the package Minnesota received from the Mets. At least Boston and the Yanks included one impact player and better prospects.

 

         Mets general manager Omar Minaya landed a superstar pitcher and gave up nothing of importance in terms of players the club was counting on. Will the addition of Santana be enough for the Mets to win the National League East? I’ll give my predictions after spring training.

 

         In the meantime, send me yours.

 

         Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish press. Cohen, president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/winter-thoughts-on-the-summer-game/2008/02/06/

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