The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s got game.
And as it so happens, it’s the most anticipated game in town, the one whose opening day is just a baseball toss and hot dog bite away.
The Phillies open their season on April 1 with the Braves in Atlanta, with many new players as well as with a new team partner: the Jewish Federation, which is joining with the club in ties that will go far beyond the annual “Jewish Heritage Night” event that the two have teamed up for the past two years.
The focus of the new joint effort is on hunger, with the two enjoining the battle to help address a national concern.
The partnership fits like a glove, Ruben Amaro, Phillies general manager, says of the two-team effort.
Working together to fight hunger is a battle of communal concern, Amaro said in a telephone interview as spring training was winding down in Clearwater, Fla.
Federation has been at the local and national forefront of innovative ways to attack the problem through the development of food pantries, home delivered meals for the disadvantaged and as co-leader of last year’s Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge in which those taking up the cudgel committed to spending only $5 a day for a week for food to see what it meant to go hungry.
Federation leaders have also participated in the past with the Phils, taking part in Food Fight Night with Roy and Brandy Halladay last fall in Center City, joining other Phils and assort-ed guests at the function. And the team — waging war on its own against hunger through its Phans Feeding Families pro-
ject — was represented at the groundbreaking of Federation’s Choice Food Pantry last fall at the Klein JCC.
All this cooperation is not forsaking what has become a Phillies-Federation summer tradition: “Federation has once again committed to be the presenting sponsor for the ‘Jewish Heritage Night’ — our third year,” Alex Stroker, Federation’s chief operating officer, says of the scheduled Aug. 20 clash with Colorado.
The Phils and Federation are also “exploring other potential community synergies” beyond the hunger relief collaboration, adds Stroker. For now, though, “as the partnership continues to evolve, our hope is that food insecurity will become a thing of the past.”
Federation is no stranger to Philadelphia-born Amaro, whose mother is Jewish and whose father was Phillies iconic shortstop Ruben Amaro Sr., a Catholic Hispanic.
Indeed, earlier this year, Amaro consulted with Federation as well as other local Jewish agencies before hiring Delmon Young, a player whose personal past included an anti-Semitic incident for which he did community service and sensitivity training and was briefly suspended from the sport.
“It is important for our organization to be involved with and supportive of diverse groups,” Amaro explains of the linkup between Federation and his team as well as the Phils involvement with other ethnic groups.
And hunger relief is a mutual interest.
Hunger in an affluent society is an obvious concern to be addressed, he says. “Sometimes we forget about our own,” the Stanford University graduate notes of the tendency for people to disregard obvious signs of poverty that would disturb their own sense of well-being.
“For me personally, hunger is an issue” that plays into his activity on behalf of children, “which is where most of my charitable involvement is concerned,” he adds.
The efforts to stem social ills is no short stop in the Phillies’ long-term humanitarian campaign, he says. “It all starts at the top, with David Montgomery, the club’s president, and Bill Giles before him, and our ownership group.”
Certainly hunger is on the national agenda these days; it also is remembered at the Passover seder, which Amaro was hoping to attend this year as he has in the past at his Aunt Linda and Uncle Freddy’s home in Philly with other family members.
The Phils executive, who terms his upbringing in Northeast Philadelphia as “diverse,” says he’s “a huge matzah ball fan.”
“That’s my favorite soup,” he says laughing.
And what better time of year to answer a question — if not four — raised by many an Exponent reader in the past about this member of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame: Does he consider himself Jewish?
Amaro hems and haws a bit as if avoiding a guard rail while flagging a fly ball twisting into foul territory.
“I live life in a very Jewish way,” he says.
But “in the purest sense of the word, am I Jewish?” He laughs and hesitates and laughs again. “Let’s say I view myself as partially Jewish.”