Nothing can unite communities like sports teams.
As writer George Plimpton noted in the landmark documentary “Baseball” by Ken Burns: “You know, there’s a theologian named Michael Novack who’s quoted as saying that ‘a community is better off losing its opera house, or its museum, or its church’—here’s a theologian speaking—than its ball team.” Or in the words of Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham”: “The only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”
Especially in a metropolitan area as incredibly diverse as Los Angeles County and Southern California, the Dodgers are, in many ways, the glue that holds the region together. People of different backgrounds, who might otherwise have little to say to each other, are connected through and by their love of the Dodgers. Dodger hats, in ever increasing colors and styles, are worn by fans of all ages in every diverse neighborhood of Los Angeles. When searching for connection, we can always break the ice with another Angeleno by talking about Dodger baseball.
The Dodgers seem to understand the value of diversity and their role as a unifying force within the community. Integral to the success of the Dodgers on the field has been its willingness to break barriers—from Jackie Robinson to Fernando Valenzuela to Hideo Nomo. Off the field, the Dodgers have celebrated our diversity by highlighting the individual flavors that make up our “salad bowl” region.
This year, the Dodgers are hosting a Mexican Heritage Night, a Black Heritage Night, an LGBTQ+ Pride Night, a Japanese Heritage Night, a Filipino Heritage Night, a Korean Heritage Night, a Salvadoran Heritage Night, a Native American Heritage Night, a Guatemalan Heritage Night, as well as a Christian Faith Day.
As lifelong Dodger fans who bleed blue, we are both disappointed and saddened by the Dodgers’ omission of LA’s Jewish Community in their Heritage Night schedule.
It wasn’t always this way. Pre-pandemic, Jewish Heritage Nights (or Community Days) were a regular feature of the Dodger promotional schedule. Jewish Dodger fans could purchase a special ticket package that included a Jewish-themed Dodger item such as a cap or t-shirt with “Dodgers” spelled out in Hebrew, in addition to enjoying pre-game, Jewish-themed activities.
Of course, the Jewish connection with the Dodgers goes back to the team’s roots in Brooklyn, with its large Jewish population and Dodger fandom overlapping. History professor Bill Simons wrote: “Arguably, no baseball team ever forged a closer relationship with Jewish fans than did the Dodgers during their Brooklyn years.”
That relationship continued when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, to the region that would ultimately become home to the second largest Jewish community in the United States.
Jewish Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, who started his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, is one of only two players to have his statue at Dodger Stadium. The other player is Jackie Robinson. Koufax’s refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur remains to this day one of the most inspiring, meaningful gestures by a Jewish professional athlete to highlight the importance of our traditions, our culture, our religion and, yes, our shared Jewish heritage.
Baseball and the Dodgers have been a constant for both of us personally in defining our identities as Americans, for one of us as a refugee from the antisemitic regime in Iran, and for the other as an emigrant to Europe.
Other baseball teams understand the importance of including the Jewish community in their community relations efforts. For example, on June 27, the Oakland A’s are hosting Jewish Heritage night, featuring an A’s branded Jewish Heritage hat, with partial proceeds of ticket sales going to Jewish nonprofits.
Dodger division rival, the San Diego Padres, are hosting Jewish Community Day on June 25. Even worse, the hated San Francisco Giants are honoring the San Francisco Jewish community with their own Jewish Heritage Night this August 15, when fans can get a themed orange and black scarf with “Giants” written in Hebrew, and with partial proceeds of the ticket sales going to the Jewish Community Federation and Chabad of San Francisco.
Considering the Dodgers’ own history, the organization’s proactive attempts to promote inclusivity, and the Jewish heritage events of rival baseball teams within the state, the Dodgers’ decision to exclude the Jewish Community from its roster of heritage nights feels like we have been abandoned by an organization that has always been a source of comfort and pride (and sometimes frustration) to us. It feels like our Jewish identity is being ignored by a team that has been such an important part of our own identities as Americans as baseball fans and as Jews.
With antisemitism on the rise in Southern California and the entire nation, we need and expect our Dodgers to go to bat for us, just the way they are doing for so many other Southern California communities.
It’s still not too late for this season. The Dodgers could still add a Jewish Heritage Night with a Jewish-themed jersey for later in the season. In fact, there is even a preliminary webpage for “Jewish Community Day” on the Dodger site with a note to “check back soon.” We encourage the team to turn the webpage into more than a placeholder and to make Jewish Heritage Night 2023 a reality.
We would be among the very first to purchase our special event tickets and to proudly wear a Jewish-themed Dodgers jersey, standing next to our Mexican, Black, LGBTQ+, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Salvadoran, Native American, Guatemalan and Christian friends, our fellow Dodger faithful.
In addition to shoring up the starting rotation and the bullpen, it’s time for the Dodgers to correct the omission of the Jewish community and to recognize its importance to the team, to baseball and to the larger Southern California community.
Let’s go, Dodgers!
Sam Yebri is an experienced lawyer and prominent Jewish non-profit leader. John Mirisch was elected to the Beverly Hills City Council in 2009, and has served three terms as mayor. He is currently a garden-variety councilmember. Both Sam and John are looking forward to the next Dodgers World Series victory parade, whenever that may be.