Boston Cancels Home Opener for Passover?
There’s a little problem with this claim that has been swirling about the blogosphere: it’s not true! And neither are many of the other claims made in this message, which travels under the title “Only in America!”
But the popularity of the piece and the readiness of so many to accept (wish?) it were true, speaks to some pretty weird conceptions of Jewish pride and what it is that many Jews think it is that makes America great. In fact, it opens up the question of how any religious or ethnic group experiences pride in who they are, their expectations of others, and what is it that really makes this country great.
With all of our imperfections, endless and often pointless legal battles and culture wars, and so much ugly rhetoric and bad policy which emerge on the American religious landscape, there is no country doing better on the celebration of diversity and guaranteeing the rights of those from the most radically religious to the most ardently secular. That’s why I find the response to this internet rumor so troubling.
It provides an important test about what we mean by minority rights and whether we aspire to anything more in this country than a culture in which each group can gather up sufficient power and influence to afflict others with the same kind of insensitivities which they have previously experienced. And I am willing to ask those questions of those in my own Jewish community first, not because I think Jews are guiltier of this misstep, but because we should always ask the toughest questions of our own communities first. So I will.
Why should we be proud of Red Sox General Manager, Theo Epstein, canceling the opening game? Because it would be a 21st century “Sandy Koufax moment”? Not hardly! Forget how strange it is to think that the condition of Jews in America is the same as it was in Koufax’ day – that we should even carry around the worries about our acceptance in general society that our older brothers and fathers did. That would be strange enough.But this false rumor which delighted so many is not even comparable to what Koufax did.
Koufax refused to pitch a particular game in the 1965 World Series because it was Yom Kippur. In this case, we are supposed to delight in the fact that a Jewish GM was prepared to make it impossible for an entire team to play because it was his holiday! Far from being an assertion of personal religious freedom, this would have been a case of precisely the kind of religious coercion which concerns Jews and so many other members of minority religious groups in America.
I guess it’s true what they say: the longer you fight against something, in this case the unfair dominance of a religious majority over religious minorities, the more you become like that against which you struggle. In that sense, it’s probably a good message for the week before Passover. No Biblical teaching is more often repeated than Moses’ directive to the ancient Israelites than the obligation to recall that we were once slaves in Egypt. Why? Perhaps because the greatest temptation for those who have been slaves is to begin enslaving others. That’s certainly at least part of the underlying logic in this rumor which is so joyously accepted by so many Jews.
Is that what makes America great? Is it about our fantasy to do to others in the name of Jewish pride, that which has been done to us in the name of Christian pride? If it is, that is not something of which to be so proud.
And like many instances in which people derive pleasure from doing to others what has been done to them, we can not help but repeat some of the ugly stereo types which have been used against us for centuries. In this case, not only is the GM a Jew, but so is Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig. And Selig, according to the original false message, would want to deal with the concerns of angry fans (you know, all those Gentiles who hat us -sic), but could not, because of his own Seder preparations. I other words, he used a technicality to avoid moral accountability. How “Pharisaic” of him!
Worse still, one of the reasons — according to the false rumor — that Epstein canceled the opener was that many of the (high-priced) box seat ticket holders were Jewish and they objected to the schedule. In other words, a small cabal of rich Jews manipulated the schedule affecting an entire team, its fans and the league, to meet their own narrow needs. Very nice! And this is what gives us pride? What are we going to do to celebrate this amazing achievement, pollute some communion wafers or kidnap a little Christian child and get away with it? I don’t think so.
America is great, and it is especially great for religious minorities, precisely because it secures our rights not at the expense of others’. The majority must always wrestle with the fact that their influence is not proportional to the size of their community but to the parameters of the constitution. And minorities must always wrestle with the desire to make ourselves feel big by making others small. When each side successfully wrestles that way, we really do earn the right to proclaim, “Only in America!”