St. LOUIS — Taking a page from “Fiddler on the Roof,” mega baseball fan and Congregation Shaare Emeth Rabbi James Bennett was recently heard uttering a variation of the famous Teyve line, “May God Bless and keep the Czar . . . far away from us!” Only in Bennett’s case, it went, “May God Bless and keep the Dodgers . . . far away from the World Series!”
Guess what, it worked. The St. Louis Cardinals claimed the National League Championship Series title, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2. The Red Birds happened to win the game that clinched the title last Friday night, on the Sabbath. Now the Cardinals will play the Boston Red Sox in the best of seven games in the World Series, which starts Wednesday (Oct. 23) at Fenway Park in Boston.
“We really, technically are not supposed to pray for such trivial things like sporting events,” said Bennett, whose Reform congregation is located in suburban St. Louis. Then, laughing, he adds, “But what can I say? I am a huge, huge Cardinals fan.”
Bennett isn’t the only rabbi in town with Cardinals baseball on the brain, or on the bimah. From sporting red kippahs with the team’s bird insignia to wearing Cards jerseys underneath their rabbinical robes, baseball in St. Louis, even among many rabbis, is, well, a religion.
Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation awoke Sunday morning to find this message on the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Facebook page:
"St. Louis and fellow Boston colleagues: Yes, I'm talking about you Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg and Roxanne J. Shapiro and others . . .
"If the Cardinals win the World Series, each of us will post a picture to Facebook wearing a Cardinals hat and we will each send a donation to St. Louis Children's Hospital. If the Red Sox win, each of you will post a picture in a Red Sox hat and send a donation to Boston Children's Hospital.
"So, what do you say? Let me know who's on board, either by posting here or sending me a message."
CCAR is an organization made up of Reform rabbis in North America. The post came from Peter Stein, a huge Red Sox fan, who is the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Cranston, R.I.
Rosenberg and Shapiro, who also is a rabbi at United Hebrew, immediately began tagging colleagues who either are rabbis in St. Louis or rabbis who grew up in St. Louis. This included Rabbi Stephanie Alexander in Charleston, S.C., who graduated from Parkway Central High School and attended United Hebrew, and her husband, Aaron Sherman, who grew up a Cardinals fan in Tulsa, Okla. Also tagged was Rabbi Justin Kerber, of St. Louis, but it turns out he grew up in Boston and professes to be a diehard Red Sox fan.
“He’s part of the Boston contingent, which right now is a lot stronger in number than the Cardinals,” said Rosenberg. “But we’re still hoping to build our numbers.” As of Monday afternoon, Rabbi Stein reported roughly 50 rabbis signing on to the wager, with about twice as many favoring Boston.
Rabbi Bennett, at Shaare Emeth, understands divided loyalties. He was born in Needham, Mass, a Boston suburb, where his doctor father counted several Red Sox players among his patients.
“I have very blurred childhood memories of going to games with my father when I was 4 or 5 years old,” said Bennett. “One memory is being in the Red Sox dugout where a baseball was signed for me by the team.”
When he was 6, Bennett’s family moved to Kirksville, Mo. about three hours northwest of St. Louis. “We were in Cardinals country where I would listen to the games on the radio,” said Bennett. “I remember in 1967 getting my heart broken when the Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in the World Series. I vowed after that series that I would root for the Cardinals in the National League and root for Boston in the American League.”
That plan worked out just fine until 2004, when once again the Cardinals and the Red Sox faced each other in World Series play. Bennett remembers being at Game 4 with his son, a lifelong Cardinals fan, who was rooting hard for his team.
“It was cold and raining. Of course, as you probably remember, the Cards lost that game and the series, with the Sox beating them in four games,” said Bennett. “I had my arm around my son, trying to console him and with my other arm, I was making a fist and pumping it up in the air.
“But honestly,” he quickly continued, “my loyalties are 100 percent with the Cardinals.”
So much so, he says, he made his own friendly wager with Rabbi Jay Perlman of Temple Beth Shalom, which is located, in of all places, Needham, Mass., where Bennett lived until the age of 6. Perlman’s previous rabbinical post was at Bennett’s congregation, Shaare Emeth.
If the Red Sox win, Bennett’s congregation sends Temple Beth Shalom a case of Fitz’s root beer, which is made in St. Louis. If the Cardinals win, Perlman’s congregation sends a case of Boston baked beans. There also is tzedakah involved, with a donation made to the winning rabbi’s charity of choice.
Oh, and of course being the Cardinals fan that he now is, Bennett hopes to take in one of the Series home games at Busch Stadium.
“I’m planning to go to Game 4,” he said, “but I’m hoping for a different outcome than the one in 2004.”