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God of the Yankees
By Robert Michael
My bedroom had a high ceiling fading away into infinity and a single window that took up almost the whole wall at the foot of the bed. Only one other piece of furniture found its way into the cramped room, a creaky hand-me-down bureau. Mother always forced me to bed before the sun disappeared behind the city of Hope's "mountains." Sometimes with a pot or frying pan in her hand. But this didn't mean I went to sleep. As soon as mother left the kitchen for her own bedroom, I found my flashlight hidden in the bottom bureau drawer and, under the covers, read and wrote. On old newspaper, I drew Plastic Man, my favorite comic-book hero, one of God's heros trying to mend a broken world. Plasman wrapped his enemies - Crab, Dazzla daughter of darkness, Fiend, Mangler, Raka the Witch Doctor, and Amorpho, Plasman's evil double--into gift packages and delivered them to justice. And he wrapped his infinitely extendable arms around his girlfriend Penny, the beautiful young woman with huge babooms.
I imagined God was something like Plastic Man. When I grew up, I'd help God make the world a better place, what the Rabbi called Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. God created the world as a vessel holding Divine Light, but this vessel shattered into countless shards. Jews have an obligation to help God - even a God that suffered in silence - by raising the wandering sparks of light back to the divine, to restore a broken world to its original form.
The single window at the foot of the bed looked out upon a single maple tree. In the branches of that tree outlined against the bleak winter sky I thought I recognized the dark silhouette of God's bearded face. I prayed to that image, "Carry me away to the world where the freight cars go, to Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, to Georgia and Pacific, to Baltimore and Ohio." One morning, I clambered onto a red caboose at the end of a slow-moving Boston & Maine freight train. But when it stopped again near the Square, I jumped off, tripped on the railroad ties, got a wicked walloping for dawdling home with torn and blood-stained pants.
God never seemed to help me, never helped the Chosen People. "Vos hostu zikh ongezetst oyf undz? What do you have against us?" my father often asked, glancing up at the ceiling after reading about some Jewish disaster. "We were chosen only to suffer."
I decided to give my silent suffering God one more chance to help. It was my bar mitzvah year, 1949. The pennant race between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees was heating up. The Sox came from way back to catch the hated Yanks, but they needed to win the last game of the season to capture the pennant. "Oh God of my fathers, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of Moses and Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Isaiah, take my jackknife as my humble offering," I intoned as I tossed it into the creek alongside the railroad tracks. "Please, please let the Red Sox win. Prove to me, O Holy One, that you're a good God active in the world. I'll do anything you want if you let them win." Alone in front of the family's tablet-shaped radio, hands clasped in front of me, I got down on my knees, something no good Jewish boy ever did. I offered even my self-respect up to God as a sacrifice.
Then I listened to the game. Every Yankee hit cut me. Every Yankee run bled me. The damn Yankees tore out my heart and dug their cleats into it when they won the game five to three. My incipient faith drained from me like a rip tide.
* * * * *
It wasn't until years later, after I served in the Marine Corps, after I was working as an editor in New York City for a half-dozen years that it all came clear to me. It was a colleague named Ira. A curly-haired son of the Torah like me. Ira rode a motorcycle to work from Brooklyn. Because he wore no helmet, I considered him quite a fool. But this fool convinced me that of course there was a God and he was, yes, indeed, the God of the Jews and He answered Jewish prayers. What was the proof? After I told him my woeful story about the end of the pennant race in 1949, Ira explained that of course the Yanks had to win, as they did most years. They won because God was answering the prayers of all those millions of Jews living in Greater New York City, many more Jews than were living in Greater Boston. God did help the Chosen People.
from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine