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Baseball, Hot Dogs, and Haroset

April 21, 2016

baseball and hot dogsHaroset

Written on April 3, 2007 and dedicated to my father-in-law, Max Frank

Some days are made for celebration. When I told my son, Kyle, that I was going to get a mini-package of Tiger tickets which included Opening Day, he wondered whether we should pay the extra $75 fee and extend his visit for one more day. He was coming home from college for only three days and was planning to leave April 1st, the day before Passover. I agreed with him that it wasn’t worth it and he should go back to school to attend his one class on Monday, April 2nd. But when I talked to my wife, she disagreed and after we discussed it, I realized she was right as usual. For Kyle to spend an afternoon with me at our first Opening Day and then to be here with his family for the first seder was, as the commercial says, priceless.

April 2nd started with Siyum HaB’khor, the service commemorating the sparing of the Hebrew first-born sons on Passover. I had imagined Kyle’s Zadeh Max noticing my son putting on tefillin in the back of Adat Shalom’s chapel, jubilant his grandson had not flown back to Philadelphia as scheduled. But Zadeh Max can’t see well these days and it was only me joining him.  Kyle slept in, needing his last day of rest before school and not wanting to ruin the surprise. Besides, I didn’t have tefillin, after I realized the night before that the brand new set I received for my 50th birthday was missing the “shel rosh,” the black box with Torah passages on parchments with kosher leather straps to be worn on the head. Instead, it had two “shel yads,” two black boxes with their long leather strands to be wrapped seven times around the arm. I wondered what Rabbi Nevins would have said if I wore these on both arms instead of on my head. Even though the rabbi is a really nice man, a true mensh, I doubt if he would have been too pleased.

Rabbi Nevins was in good spirits this morning as he discussed the Mishna’s Tractate, Chagigah, and its obscure rules, and mentioned the counting of the Omer. I was lost in thought, imagining the baseball game in a few hours. But I realized also that this would be the rabbi’s last breakfast before Passover with us, his congregation, as he was leaving in the summer for New York City and his new position at the Jewish Theological Seminary. When I sat near him and ate my last chametz breakfast before the seder, I was more thankful than disappointed that we were able to share this dedicated teacher for thirteen years. When the 28-year-old rabbi gave his first sermon at Adat, Kyle was only 8 years old.

Before leaving for the baseball game, I gave the last of our chametz to my father-in-law to burn on his driveway. (If you’re not Jewish, it’s not worth explaining chametz or tefillin or the Haggadah. Consult a rabbi, a good book on Judaism, or Wikopedia.)

Kyle and I decided to leave at 11:00a.m., even though we knew the Lodge was blocked. I detoured down ‘696 to ’75 before we reached downtown where we proceeded to wander for thirty minutes, trying one full lot after another, and finally parked in a glass-filled vacant lot, giving the large man near us his requested $20. The question was, would my car still be there afterward and would we make it in time for the American League Championship flag ceremony?

As we quickly walked through the throngs of people in the cold wind, I didn’t think about Comerica’s executives exiting Detroit for Dallas or that our state’s economy was miserable. We were preoccupied with spring, the sunshine, the clock, and the excitement of the Tigers starting a new season after their year of winning the American League pennant.

Maybe this year would bring the glory of a World Series Championship. In spring, in the season’s renewal of hope, anything seemed possible.

We cheered with the rest of the city during the first game, celebrating this new year of baseball. When I saw kosher hot dogs at a food stand, I licked my lips, already missing bread even before my first taste of matzo. I ordered the kosher dog with onions but threw out the bun. I couldn’t remember the exact reason we couldn’t eat bread in the hours before the first Passover Seder. The rabbi said this morning that after 10:00a.m., leavened bread was prohibited. It was just one of many Pesach rules we were simply supposed to follow.

I didn’t really need food anyway. It was a mitzvah being with my only son, celebrating his first Opening Day and mine. We had both seen our first World Series game last October in the cold rain and now, we were together again for this baseball rite of spring. It was another meaningful moment in my life, one of many since I’d turned fifty. Even though the Tigers lost in 10 innings, 5-3, it was still a gorgeous sunny day, in weather and in spirit.

As we were basking in the sunshine, in the excitement of the game, my wife, Judy, and my youngest daughter, Marlee, were busy, helping my mother-in-law cook the seder meal. Passover is a huge responsibility, if you follow all of the rules. It involves weeks of intense house-cleaning and getting everything ready for Pesach. And the seder meal itself can take days to produce. But when the seder finally comes, all the work before it seems worthwhile.

Then, when Kyle’s aunt, uncle, and grandparents finally saw their first grandson after he entered their home for the seder, it was as if Elijah himself had entered. He knocked on the door ten minutes after me and was let in. My mother-in-law had told Judy that she had cried a few times during the week, realizing that her oldest grandson would not make the seder. He had been there every year since birth except once, in his freshmen year at college. When she turned, stunned to see his face behind her, she truly wept with joy.

My two daughters, wife, and I sat down to the table to join Judy’s brother, sister, and parents. Just like the last 22 years, we proceeded to read and sing the Haggadah, beginning with the very first page, all the way to the Had Gadya, the bloody poem about a little goat. I felt nostalgic from all the seders we had shared at Judy’s old home and felt incredible gratitude that we were still here, together, thankfully one year older.

We were celebrating the mitzvah of being Jews in America, able to enjoy the bounteous dinner and the knowledge that without Moses and God, we wouldn’t be here. For one night, we could forget about layoffs and terrorism in Iraq and Israel and rejoice in our ancestors’ freedom and our own. We could celebrate another year of haroset, the combination of walnuts, apples, cinnamon, and wine, the simple treat that accompanies the bitter herbs and matzos. We could recite the four questions, Dayeinu, and rejoice in each other.

As we raised our glasses of wine and grape juice, I realized that even in these turbulent, troubled times, we could still be happy. We were a part of America with its baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. But instead, we had an apple cake made with matzo meal rather than wheat flour.

It didn’t matter. Spring was about to begin. Baseball was reborn in Detroit. We were celebrating tradition, family, eating, prayer, memories, gratitude, and freedom. We were just happy.

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One Comment
  1. I can see it’s been awhile since I checked back here. It’s nice to see you writing again. I can see I have some catching up to do!!

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