Lessons Learned
Nov 15th 2015

After the Blue Jays’ loss to Kansas City, I had many flashbacks to my childhood. The Blue Jays’ World Series wins in 1992 and 1993 are some of the happiest moments of my youth. After all, as a seven and eight year old, there’s nothing better than seeing your team win a championship. The key moments are further imprinted in my brain thanks to repeated viewings of the commemorative videos. 

The year 1993 was also the one that my grandmother, my Savta, started a wonderful tradition; she began taking each of her grandchildren on a special trip when they turned ten. My older cousin Rina went on her trip that year, and in the spring of 1995, I was all set to travel to the Blue Jays spring training with my cousin David, six months my junior. We delayed the trip because of the baseball strike, but in March 1996, we got to meet many of the heroes that we had seen on TV and on those videos: Joe Carter, John Olerud, Cito Gaston and some new prospects including Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green. 

Shawn Green was our new favourite player—a Jewish guy who made the majors and who was on our beloved Blue Jays. As part of the preparations for our trip to Florida, our Savta encouraged us to write him a fan letter and to invite him to our hotel room for Shabbat dinner. We never got a reply, but we knew that the request was pretty unlikely to be fulfilled. 

I’ve been thinking about that fan letter: come to us for Shabbat dinner. My Savta must have known that the likelihood of Shawn Green joining us was non-existent. So why have us write that invitation? Why get our hopes up that he might say yes? 

I never asked Savta these questions, and she passed away seven years ago. I’d like to think that she was teaching us the value of openness, of sharing our passion for Jewish living and of welcoming guests, not only into our homes, but also into less ideal spaces like our hotel room. As this Bulletin column overlaps her yahrtzeit, I am thinking about these lessons. I am thinking about how my cousin David (who is now a rabbi in Chicago and lives a block from Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs), how I, how all my cousins, have internalized this lesson and so many others that she taught us. I am also thinking of the values that we learned from the 1992, 1993 and now 2015 Blue Jays teams: hard work, perseverance, believing in yourself, teamwork, celebrating the great moments, having fun and working towards a common goal. 

The most valuable lesson I learned that trip to Florida was compassion. We arrived on a Wednesday and departed on a Sunday. On Wednesday afternoon, we watched a team workout and took some photos with players and coaches, including Shawn Green. Our photographer promised to have the pictures developed by Saturday night, when we were to attend a dinner for the whole team and their spouses in advance of the first round of cuts. Our plan was to get Shawn and the others to sign the pictures. When we arrived, we heard that Shawn’s grandmother had passed away and that he was leaving to attend the funeral. We were crestfallen, believing that we wouldn’t have a chance to get the photos signed. We went about the evening collecting lots of autographs and having a good time, but something felt missing.

 In the end, and to our surprise and delight, Shawn did come to the dinner and we did get our pictures signed. Most amazingly, he ended up spending some time talking with Savta, reminiscing about his grandmother. I’m not sure what they said to each other, but she was there for him in his time of need. It showed me how important it is to listen, to offer support and compassion and to be kind. Savta was able to see Shawn as a person, as a grieving grandson, as a Jewish soul, and not just as a professional athlete or celebrity. 

As we get ready for H̱anukkah, we think about the symbolism of light, how it connects us to our past and how we are supposed to share our own light, strength and values with others. We think about our Jewish pride and of sharing what we have with others. We think about our history and the story of a team of underdogs that ended up victorious. And as the weather gets colder and the days shorter, we think about those less fortunate, those in need of our compassion and our action. We have lots of opportunities at Beth Tzedec to participate in acts of ẖesed, as an individual or as a family, as an adult or as a youth or teen. We are also here to help you get your ẖesed project off the ground and to spread the word. I hope that this season is one of caring, of compassion and of action for all of us.