Weekly Chasidic Story 693 (s5771-27 / 2 Adar B 5771)
Baseball to Boston
The Bostoner Rebbe reports a childhood experience: Not having the vaguest idea what was baseball, I decided to just watch from the sidelines. But the teams were one man short, so soon I was surrounded by eager classmates.
The Bostoner Rebbe of blessed memory was quoted on a childhood experience from the 1930’s:
Towards the end of our first year at Mesivta (yeshiva high school) Torah Vadaat, Rabbi Shrage Feivel Mendlowitz (the founder, in 1926), invited our class to go to Camp Mesivta, a yeshiva-oriented summer camp he had started in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. This was a radically new idea in those days, and most of us had no idea what the experience entailed. The camp had actually opened on a smaller scale one or two years before, but ours was the first year of a full-scale, fully organized operation.
Unlike some modern American camps, Camp Mesivta usually had comparatively little time for sports. There were, however, some notable exceptions, one of which was particularly memorable for me.
One day the administration announced, “Today we are going to play baseball.” Not having the vaguest idea what this was all about, I decided to just watch quietly from the sidelines. Unfortunately the teams were exactly one man short; and soon I was surrounded by eager classmates.
“Come on, we need you.”
“But I don’t know how to play.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll learn fast.”
I soon found myself in the outfield waiting for a ball to catch. It occurred to me, however, that once hit, baseballs travel at great velocity, are quite hard, and could cause considerable pain to a young, inexperienced yeshiva student without a mitt. So my first and only baseball game passed more in a state of high anxiety than fun.
I couldn’t help but wonder, “What did I need this for?”
Later I found out.
Thirteen or so years passed and we were spending the summer in Nantasker, a beach resort near Boston. One day the non-religious son-in-law of a chasid of ours offered me a ride into town. I hadn’t really spoken to him before, and my attempts at conversation during the ride were painful failures. We simply had nothing in common to talk about. Finally I gave up trying to reach him and our non-conversation lapsed into complete silence. Then he turned on his car radio to listen to…the Sunday baseball game.
A few minutes went by and then I commented on a play. His mouth dropped open. It was as if the steering wheel had suddenly started speaking. He couldn’t believe that a chasidic rabbi in full chasidic garb could know anything about baseball. So we talked baseball most of the way to Boston, and soon began to talk about other subjects as well. He started coming by, became religious and eventually became a chasid of ours.
In fact, he later became an important local Jewish leader, both within our own New England Chasidic Center and within the broader Boston Jewish community. Then I understood how one can retrieve stray souls even with baseball: A home run can become a run home.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from “And the Angels Laughed: Biography of the Bostoner Rebbe”[Mesorah].
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe (1921 – 18 Kislev 2009), a direct descendent of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nicholsburg, led two communities: in Boston and in the Har Nof district of Jerusalem. He was known for the vast help he has extended to people in medical emergency situations, and his open, friendly nature made him beloved to Jews of every type.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.