Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Baseball announcer: “And here comes the pitch….” Would the batter get a hit and bring glory to his team and great joy to me?

That moment in time played a significant role in me becoming religious observant. It was a matter of me keeping my eye on the ball or taking my eye off it.

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Weeks before that pitcher threw that ball, I had a conversation with Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, the Rav of the Beginners Service at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, in the early Fall of 1986.

I was getting my feet wet in a religious lifestyle, but I had one concern. I still loved going to sporting events, I still loved going to the movies and theatre.

I asked Rabbi Buchwald, “If I became observant, would I have to give up all of those things I love?” He answered right away. “No Alan, you don’t have to give those things up. You just need to put Judaism first.”

I had no idea at that time, how his answer would change my life.

Soon after, it was erev Yom Kippur and I was watching a baseball playoff game that I was very interested in…ENTHRALLED WITH. The team that I wanted to win oh so much was so close to winning, and if they did so, they would win the pennant. That team’s manager had managed my home town Phillies team decades prior and had always come out short at the end. Now, decades later, I wanted him to win his first pennant but baseball games sometimes take a long time to play out. And it was getting closer to Kol Nidre, the early evening, beginning service of Yom Kippur.

I made up my mind I was turning off the television set at 6 p.m., no matter what.

At 5:59 p.m., a batter on the team I was rooting for hit a long fly ball to left field. If it cleared the fence it would be a glorious pennant winning victory and that manager of my youth would finally get that big win he had been denied for so long.

But oh no! The ball hit the top of the fence, inches away from glory. The fielder was able to hold the batter to a double.

The next batter stood up, waving his bat, waiting for the pitcher to throw. If he could get a hit and drive the runner home for the winning run, pandemonium would break out. I was THRILLED with what I might soon see.

At that moment, I looked up at my clock and it said 6 p.m. No matter what was going on in that baseball game, I had made a commitment. I turned the television off and made my way to walk to shul, A year ago, this would have been unthinkable. But I experienced a different kind of joy than sports could ever offer.

It was deeper and more profound.

I had put Judaism first.

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