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In honor the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Tournament and Yom Yerushalayim

03/24/2017 10:42:32 AM


One of the greatest films of all time, in my view at least, is field of dreams. As a young boy growing up in Boston, with baseball in the air and in my blood, I watched this film several times and could watch it again and again.


The film is about so many important things. Its about our connection to the past and our connection to the future. Its about the game of baseball as a something that connects generations, as something that connects fathers and sons. Its about following your dreams, even if others think you are a little crazy.


For those unfamiliar with the plot, I am giving you homework for after Shabbat to become more familiar with it. For now, here is what you need to know: Ray Kinsella is a novice farmer in Iowa who had a troubled relationship with his dad who was a big baseball fan. Ray missed his dad who had passed away recently.  Walking in his cornfield one evening, he hears a voice whispering: “if you build it he will come.” He cuts down the corn down and builds a beautiful baseball diamond. 


The last scene of the film is powerful. The scene is called “a catch with dad.” Ray sees on the field that he built, his father Jon, when Jon was a young strong man brimming with confidence and a smirk on his face.

In his fantasy, imaginary world (which seems so real): Ray approaches Jon and says: “Hey dad: want to have a catch?”

“I’d like that.” Jon says.


They pick up their gloves and begin to throw the ball around. Back and forth. That is how the film ends.


Ray reconnects with his past and touches his dreams.


This is the power of baseball. This is the power of the baseball tournament that we are hosting this Shabbat. And this is the power of Yerushalayim which we will be celebrating this upcoming week.


Before coming back to talk about the tournament, I need to speak about Yerushalayim. I need to speak about Yerushalayim because we are on the cusp of a celebrating a miraculous milestone in Jewish history—with Yom Yerushalayim this week.


Yerushalayim is not just a geographical place; it is a religious concept that transcends time. Yerushalayim reconnects us with our past and enables us to fantasize and to touch our dreams.


Rav Yochanan, in Masechet Ta’anit 5a, wonders about the Pasuk that we are familiar with from Tehillim 122:3:Yerushalayim Ha-Benuya k’ir Sh’chubra La Yachdav, that a built up Jerusalem is like a city that is connected together.


What does it mean that Jerusalem is connected together to something else? Rav Yochanan explains that this verse implies the existence of another city, another Jerusalem which is connected to and is the counterpart of the earthy Jerusalem.


There must be, says Rav Yochanan: a Yerushalayim shel mata and a Yerushalayim shel mala. A Jerusalem of below and a Jerusalem of above.

What is Rav Yochanan talking about in naming this duality? What does it mean that there these two Jerusalems and that they are connected?


I believe that he is pointing to the reality of Jerusalem as we see it today, and as he saw it in his time, soon after the destruction, where there are ruins, there is confusion, chaos and conflict and he is also pointing to the potential of Jerusalem of what it can be and were we want it to be in our dreams.


This is what is meant by Yerushalayim shel mata and Yerushalayim shel mala. The two are connected such that there are moments in which even today, within the mundane reality of current day Jerusalem we get a taste of the latter, of Yerushalayim shel mala of the future, divine-like, dream-like, utopic, spiritual and peaceful Yerushalayim.  


50 years ago, this Wednesday, Yerushalayim shel mata and Yerushalayim shel mala became much closer together. 50 years ago, the Jewish world held it's collective breath as war in the Middle East loomed, and Nasser threatened to drive Israel into the sea.


One of the most momentous wars in modern history was fought in 6 days, and with Hashem's help the valiant Israeli Defence Forces emerged victorious beyond their wildest dreams. Jews were allowed to walk the stone streets of the ir ha-atika, the old city and to open up their hearts and daven at the kotel ha’maravi, the western wall of King Shlomo’s temple.  After 2,000 years “har ha’bayit b’yadenu.” Temple Mount had been returned to Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years.


This was a moment in which we as a people, were able to taste yerushalayim shel mala this was a moment in which we as a people were able to reconnect to our past and touch our dreams.


This week on Tuesday night, we will be celebrating this event with joy, uplifting prayer, music and inspiration together with the greater Boston Jewish community. We will gather at Beth El in Newton together with 6 other shuls in the area to celebrate as a strong religious Zionist community. I invite and encourage everyone to make the drive to newton.  


As we all know, and have been told by our friends the drive from Sharon to Newton is a short one; It is the drive from Newton to Sharon that is a long one. Kidding aside, I hope you will join me in celebrating one of the greatest Miracles of recent Jewish history.


Yerushalayim teaches us to hold onto past memories and to fantasize about dreams. And now I return to the tournament, the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Tournament.


The past two days have been very full of baseball. I have been able to go to most of the games and watch our boys push themselves, compete and have fun. Somehow the Maimo boys lost their first two game and are still going to play in the Championship game tomorrow!


For me personally and for us a community, it has been a time to connect to our past and touch our dreams.


On Thursday morning, Ari Schwartz invited me to join him on the Sharon high field, to paint the foul lines and prepare the pitchers mound and the batting box. I had not done this since 2002 when I worked at fenway park.  But it came right back to me. Picking up a rake, putting down the lining chalk, getting my hands full of white power and dirt under my fingernails, made me feel like a high school kid again. Watching the M-Cats play with the logo on their caps also made me feel nostalgic and connected to a glorious past, to childhood memories, when things seemed whole and good.


On the website that Ruth put together for the tournament, there is a clip of Ari pitching to Ezra as a little kid. Strike one, strike two, foul tip…and then Ezra makes contact and surrounds the bases. My eyes started dripping the first time I watched it. A time when things seemed whole and good.


And I can’t help but think of field of dreams, of that whisper, if you build it he will come. And of that last scene: a catch with dad. “Hey dad: want to have a catch? ”I’d like that."


Throughout this tournament, I have felt Ezra to be so present and so absent—all at the same time. Its confusing! It confusing to fantasize and to hold onto dreams.


Because after all we live in Yerushalayim shel Mata, in the broken and painful realities of our lives. A world without Ezra ztkl. But sometimes we can have moments in which we taste Yerushalayim she Mala. And this tournament has given me and given us some of those moments.


May we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim in the coming days with awareness of the Yerushalayim shel mata and with desperate tephillot for Yerushalayim shel mala. 

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784