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ABOUT TOWN: Shooting overshadows marathon game

  • Two people support each other in front of flowers at a makeshift memorial at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Robert Bowers, the suspect in Saturday's mass shooting at the synagogue, expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die, according to charging documents made public Sunday. Associated Press



Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2018

GREENFIELD — Looking at the yellowing library card in the back of the book, my friends quickly joked about how I must’ve taken the book out for a Sunday school report as a child. 

It was a big, hard covered book, the kind that would be intimidating for a kid, and it was titled something like “American Jewish Sports Legends.” I was flipping through the pages recently when back home in Queens and at my childhood synagogue.

“Hank Greenberg was the Hank Aaron of his time,” I told my friend, who wasn’t too interested. “Moe Berg was the most interesting man you could imagine! A catcher but also a spy in World War II and he was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb.” She nodded. “And of course you know Sandy Koufax — one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and he pitched here in New York, too, before the Dodgers left for LA...”

The conversation carried on as I counted the number of times I had taken the book out of the quaint library of books on Jewish history, the Diaspora and biblical literature. I remembered waking down the streets in Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, with my parents as a kid, seeing a framed photo of Koufax in nearly every novelty shop. I had thought that one day I would have the money to buy one of those signed photos of him and put it up in my grown-up person’s office. 

Back in Greenfield this weekend, about a couple hundred miles away from Queens, I cozied up in a local bar to watch the World Series. The Red Sox headed to Los Angeles, up two games to nil on the Dodgers. Two more wins and the Sox were going to be crowned World Series champions, and it seems in the two years since moving up here, every Boston team, from the Patriots to the Celtics to the Bruins to the Sox, is having a Golden Age, just as I, a lifelong, diehard Yankees fan, moved to the state. 

The TV broadcast panned to Koufax in the crowd. They spotlighted him throughout the Friday night game. On Twitter, I saw photos of him every time I refreshed my feed. The funny thing is that I grew up knowing he had kind of gone into seclusion after his playing career. The greatest Jewish baseball player rarely seen in public. I barely recognized him on TV because I just am so used to seeing him in black and white, whirling the ball into home on grainy archival footage. I smiled, seeing a childhood hero in the stands. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the Dodgers. This World Series is a nightmare for my mom, who still has negative feelings toward the Dodgers as a constant rival of the Yankees and as the team that up and left Brooklyn. But for me, generations later, Koufax was a man I could get around and root for, especially if that meant I had an additional reason to root against the Sox. 

As many will forever remember, this game went well past Koufax’s bedtime. An 18-inning, seven-hour affair, which broke the playoff records for longest game in innings and time. The Dodgers won it on a walk-off home run at around 3:30 a.m. out here on the East Coast. 

After the win, I stayed up in bed, energized from a historic game. I scrolled on Twitter, reading commentary from baseball writers who were asking if anyone else was still awake for this moment. When I got my fix of hot takes and jokes, I headed — finally! — to sleep at about 4 a.m. 

When I woke up, after much tossing and turning, it was nearly noon. I figured I’d have texts from friends who didn’t stay up for the game and now regretted not staying up. I had a couple. There was the ESPN alert: 

“#ICYMI: Watch all the dramatic calls as Max Muncy’s solo HR in 18th ends longest game in World Series history.” 

Right next to it was a different notification, from NPR: 

“Pittsburgh Police are reporting multiple causalities in a shooting near a synagogue. Residents are warned to shelter in place.” 

The notifications continued. NYTimes, “Two officers who responded to the scene were shot.” The Jerusalem Post, for whom I worked before coming to the Greenfield Recorder: “At least 8 killed in active shooting in Pennsylvania synagogue.”

I went back to Twitter. I scrolled through a news diet of World Series banter and evolving details of the shooting. By the time I set to write this, the Associated Press broke that authorities were saying at least 10 people were killed. 

I got off of social media and FaceTimed a childhood friend I grew up with in the synagogue back in Queens. We grieved. We understood there was little that separated that Pittsburgh temple from ours in Queens. We saw news breaking that President Trump said in his immediate remarks to the press that the incident could have been made better if there was an armed guard in the synagogue. We sighed. We thought about the heavy police presence we grew up with at our synagogue for the high holy days in the years post-9/11, but never on the regular basis. 

I remembered going to a temple in Sydney during my semester in Australia and going to high holy day services there and being asked by a guard for proof I was suppose to go to the temple; I think he asked me what story from the Torah did I read for my Bar Mitzvah, to prove I was in fact Jewish. 

I saw one tweet from a journalist who grew up in that synagogue. I remembered growing up in mine, from Saturday services to Sunday school, to taking out books from that little library, searching for big heroes. 

I joked with my friend on FaceTime that I just wanted to wake up and talk about the baseball game. Why couldn’t that be the only history to talk about this morning? 

At Hangar Sports Bar, folks came and went as the Sox played Saturday night. There was no fanfare or memorial, at least none made clear to those watching from home. Koufax didn’t seem to be in the stands tonight. 

When the Sox took the lead late and pounded way a host of insurance runs, the handful at the bar erupted, showing fans were in fact there for the World Series game. 

As the final out was caught, the bar cheered — the cheer of those who know their team is now one win away from another championship. As I readied to head out the door, one of the TVs switched over to the local news:

A Springfield structure fire, and then came the “synagogue shooting.” One man next to the other asked what had happened. He hadn’t heard. He shook his head, and while others still cheered to the tune of the other TV screen, we watched the footage from Pittsburgh. 

Some chatter followed and the night faded into the next day. 

In Florence, a synagogue on Sunday held a scheduled book talk on Jewish illicit immigration to the United States in the period between the world wars. 

Before the talk Sunday evening, the Rabbi Riqi Kosovske of Beit Ahavah, the reform synagogue of greater Northampton, offered a few words on what had happened. She explained how she typically does not look at her phone on the sabbath, but on this day she did. And on this day, she quickly saw the news come in and those feelings of dread come through. 

The rabbi said they had contacted the Northampton Police Department yesterday about possible security for the event and the cost of a detail. She said they volunteered the department’s assistance and an officer was present as you walked inside. 

Before the talk began, Kosovske closed with a song that a rabbi had written in honor of his daughter following 9/11: With Love You Build A Better World. 

Tomorrow, Kosovske said, they will likely hold something in honor of the 11 victims at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. Possibly the following week there will be an interfaith community event to remember the lives.

In Greenfield, Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener said Temple Israel’s doors will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. 

“Temple Israel thanks you in advance for the expressions of love and solidarity that so many have expressed,” Cohen-Kiener said in an email. “What happened in Pittsburgh happened to all of us. Thank you for your support and love.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264