There is an old Jewish joke about how, on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean, you will find two synagogues: the one we go to, and the one we don’t go to. Yesterday, I took my son to Yankee Stadium for the first time. I am a Mets fan, and, for more than a year, I tried to ignore his kindergarten drawing that’s up on our kitchen wall, for an assignment about dreams, of the House that Ruth Built.
And much as I would like to blame peer pressure or the Wilpons for my son’s apostasy, a psychologist who I consulted last year for this Father’s Day post told me that the primary influence on a child’s fan preferences is his father. Since then, I’ve been exerting my soft power. We’ve watched a lot of both New York teams on television before bedtime, and this winter, while the YES network was showing the Nets, he got interested in the rebroadcast Mets Classics on SNY. So when my old high-school English teacher invited us to join him and his son for Curtis Granderson Bat Day, I felt it was time.
We arrived at Yankee Stadium before 11:00 a.m., and waited in line under the elevated subway, near the gate where the players drive in to the stadium. Mark Texeira and Rafael Soriano had their windows up, but Nick Swisher stuck out his left arm to wave. The gates opened, the boys received their dark wooden bats, and we headed straight for Monument Park, where there are plaques honoring late, great players and managers, the 9/11 victims, and Pope Benedict XVI, who celebrated mass in Yankee Stadium on April 20, 2008, while the team was at Camden Yards; Andy Pettitte threw seven shutout innings en route to a 7-1 victory over the Orioles. And looming larger than all these sainted figures is the scowling bas-relief of George Steinbrenner.
When the boys got bored of the center-field shrine, we went out to the right-field porch and waited for the visiting Reds to hit one into the stands, or for their outfielders to toss one over. Batting practice ended. We stopped for food and found our seats in time for the national anthem.
The Mets spent the weekend at Rogers Park, in Toronto, but Citi Field, our usual house of baseball worship, was at capacity yesterday. Forty thousand fans, all of them men, showed up, dressed in black hats, yarmulkes, white shirts, and dark suits. It was an All-Star lineup. Zalman Teitelbaum, the chief rabbi of the Satmars of Williamsburg, was in the house. So were the Vishnitzer and Pshevorsker rebbes, and the spiritual leader of the Lakewood Yeshiva. The Haredim—Hebrew for those who tremble before God—have their internecine sartorial and spiritual differences, but these groups share a desire to keep modernity at bay, out of concern that it will erode the community’s devotion to Jewish laws and traditions, as their rebbes interpret them.
The asifa, or gathering, was covered by the Jewish press (not to mention the Jewish Press) and by the Times, despite a report in the Forward that the organizers, a group known as Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane, or Communities United for the Purity of Our Camp, wanted to exert a level of press control that would be the envy of any sports-information office:
Lazer Paskes, one of the events’ lead spokesman, told reporters assembled outside the gates of Citi Field that they would not be allowed inside. He blamed the decision on “Homeland Security,” saying that the federal agency had determined that press could not attend. When asked to explain why a federal agency would have deemed the press a security risk, Paskes declined to elaborate.
Also unwelcome were women, though they were allowed to watch remotely from Brooklyn. (Why the women couldn’t watch from a mile away, at the National Tennis Center, which the organizers rented too, I can’t understand. It is, after all, named for Billie Jean King.)
I first learned of the Haredi Internet rally on Thursday, while at Citi Field, on an outing with my new colleagues. We’re a digital publishing company, and we spent several innings discussing the the dangers of the Internet before the Mets scored five runs in the eighth and split a two-game series with the Reds. The Mets have gone through a rough patch, financially, athletically, and morally. But now that they are underpromising and overdelivering (Citi Field had thirty thousand on a Thursday afternoon before school is out) and the Madoff mess is largely behind them, why do the Wilpons need to rent out the stadium to a group like this? Do they need Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal to help pay Johan Santana’s salary? (And if so, does the Shuler rebbe realize he’s helping to pay Santana’s salary?) Can you imagine the press coverage that an all-male gathering of a Muslim-American group called the Communities United for the Purity of Our Camp? Even if that gathering were in the hundreds, we’d be hearing about it on Fox until next Shavuos.
And the story seems to be not so much that the crowds at Citi Field yesterday are against advances in telecommunication. There are Haredim who feel that way:
The camp of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, one of the two claimants to leadership of the large Satmar Hasidic sect, will reportedly boycott the gathering. Teitelbaum’s group objects to allowing Internet access at home at all, even with filters. The Satmar also generally refuse to attend religious gatherings conducted even partially in English.
Driving through the heart of Satmar Williamsburg yesterday evening, however, most of the men I saw out walking were talking on their cell phones. And the rally was open to a “Kosher Internet,” a place where community members can avoid gambling and pornography (and perhaps news of child sexual abuse in their own community). They want the sort of closed network that places like China and Syria and Belarus hope to establish. Or it may just be about controlling the Haredi telecom market. Communities United for the Purity of our Camp, the Times reports, “is linked to a software company that sells Internet filtering software to Orthodox Jews,” and Sunday’s gathering began with an expo for Web filtering software. Rabbi David Sedley, who lives in Jerusalem and teaches at “the world’s first fully-interactive Torah study program,” wrote on his blog:
In other words, it seems to me that the main purpose of this whole thing is to allow a few individuals to have an exclusive market of several thousand customers.
Whatever the motivation, there’s only so much you can do to protect the ones you love from the temptations of the modern world, or from worshipping false idols. And sometimes letting them requite their desires will do more than filtering reality. As we sat in Section 326, on the third-base line, my son washed down his Hebrew National foot-long with some ordinarily verboten Pepsi, which the boys split, but he switched to water. CC Sabathia threw a no-hitter through four innings, and Raul Ibanez hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. In the top of the seventh, Sabathia gave up two home runs, a single, then walked three straight batters, the last with the bases loaded, before extricating himself by striking out Jay Bruce. Boone Logan gave up two more in the eighth, and the Yankees lost, 5-2.
The boys seemed okay with the result. When I asked my son if his first trip to Yankee Stadium was all that he dreamed of, he said, “At least we got bats.”