Ominous wasn't a strong enough adjective to describe the black cloud that had parked itself above Citizens Bank Park, followed by the kind of breeze that tells you something powerful is at hand. Perhaps at the Philadelphia Phillies Jewish Heritage Night, biblical was the only descriptive that would fit.
As the Phillies took the field for the start of the fourth inning with a 3-0 lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the public address announcer told more than 40,000 fans that a severe weather warning had been issued, and that they should take cover. As Marvin Laster descended from his upper deck seat to the concourse near the concession stands, he quipped that "if we can part the Red Sea, we can stop a little bit of rain."
But rain it did, so hard that a wall of cascading water rendered the baseball field all but invisible. Crowds huddled together as wild winds whipped through the stadium, dousing nearly everyone.
Edward Berenson and his 91-year-old father, Norman, were among the Jewish fans who vowed to stay, no matter how long the delay lasted. Once a die-hard Phillies fan, always one — even if he lives in New York, said Edward Berenson. The delay turned out to be exactly two hours and 17 minutes. In the end, the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks 4-1. "I have never gotten this wet before at a sporting event, even when I was playing," said the New York University history professor, who came down to take in the evening with a large family group, most of whom still live in the Philly area. "It's like being on a sailboat in really rough weather. Even Noah would have been impressed."
During the downpour, Yardley resident Norman Berenson recalled attending the 1950 World Series in which the Phils were swept in four games by the Yankees. Father and son are hoping for a repeat of the team's 2008 championship.
More than 500 people purchased tickets set aside for the fourth-annual Jewish Heritage Night, the first presented by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Some fans said that with Phillies tickets so hard to come by these days, this was the only way to get into a game without paying inflated prices.
Countless other members of the tribe came out to the ballpark, many wearing Phillies hats and shirts done with Hebrew lettering.
The game just happened to take place during the same week that the team called up a Jewish pitcher from the minor leagues, Michael Schwimer. The reliever pitched three innings on Sunday. According to jewishbaseballnews.com, he's now one of 11 Jews in the majors.
Before the start of the game, a klezmer band played on the field as fans milled about. Many headed straight for the kosher food stand set up by Max & David's restaurant in Elkins Park. The line for brisket sandwiches, hot dogs, falafel and turkey sausage snaked way back. Owner Steve Katz said the stand is only in the park one day a year, but he's trying to set up a permanent presence. His employees will be serving kosher food at all Philadelphia Eagles home games starting this fall, he said.
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Sons of Israel, an Orthodox congregation in Cherry Hill, N.J., waited with sons Nachi, 8, and Zev, 6. Zev was attending his first game. The rabbi said he wanted to spend "a night at the stadium with all of my brothers and sisters."
Judy Solomon of Lafayette Hill, who was getting food while her husband scoped out seats, said it was a welcome change to enjoy kosher food at a Phillies game.
Big baseball fan? "My husband watches it constantly on TV. I could take it or leave it but I love to come to the park," she said.
Stu and Susan Rosenthal, who live in Landsdale, are season ticket holders and have attended Methodist Night and German Heritage Night, so they made sure to show up for the night celebrating their own religion.
How is this night different from all other nights? "Tonight, we can hear 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' in Yiddish," said Susan Rosenthal.
To get the night going, Federation President Leonard Barrack threw out the first pitch, a change-up that made it as far as home plate before bouncing. Federation CEO Ira M. Schwartz donned a red apron and headed to the 400 level seats — where Federation had reserved three sections — and tossed out bags of peanuts.
The Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia brought 15 clients to a suite donated by Citizens Bank. The group got a surprise visit from Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino.
Ryan Zeitzer, a 17-year-old entering his senior year at Upper Dublin High School, debuted his unblemished, white, Hebrew Phillies T-shirt, which he'd purchased on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. The teen just returned from a five-week trip to the Jewish state with United Synagogue Youth. With limited Internet access in Israel, he counted on his mother to keep him updated on the Phils' progress.
"Every night, she texted me, Phillies win, Phillies lost. Mostly win, thankfully," he said, as Phillies rightfielder John Mayberry stepped up to the plate.
For him, there was never any question of not coming to Heritage Night. "It's a bit of pride, I guess," Zeitzer said. "I'm proud to be a Jew and proud to be a Phillies fan."