By Carl Zebrowski
Editor of Hakol
It’s only one night a year that you can go to a professional baseball game in the Lehigh Valley and hear the Israeli national anthem sung before the first pitch and eat a kosher hot dog. That’s Jewish Heritage Night at the IronPigs, and on June 13, the Jewish community came out to Coca-Cola Park to watch the Philadelphia Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate face the Toledo Mud Hens.
The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, host and organizer of the event, sold out the tickets it had available for the night. The holders of those tickets got their choice of a specially designed promotional giveaway after they entered the park: an IronPigs cap featuring a Star of David or a backpack with IronPigs emblazoned on it in Hebrew.
During the pregame festivities, several community members lined up with other fans behind the mound to throw the ceremonial “first pitch” (which is actually numerous pitches, one after the other). After that, students from the Jewish Day School sang “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, under the direction of Ariel Solomon, director of Hebrew and Judaics at JDS, and JDS alum and JCC staffer Yitzi Powers.
“It’s a really great opportunity for representation and just to be able to have our local Jewish Day School kids get on the field to sing the Israeli national anthem in front of an entire stadium of people,” said Powers. “I was happy to be a part of it.”
Powers’ dad, Rabbi Jonathan Powers, the mashgiach who oversees kosher food preparation for Muhlenberg College, ran the night’s kosher food stand. He served up meals of either a hot dog or knish along with potato chips and a drink.
Between the third and fourth innings, Aaron Gorodzinsky, the Federation’s director of campaign and security planning and organizer of Jewish Heritage Night, joined radio play-by-play announcer Sam Jellinek in the broadcast booth for an interview.
Jellinek asked what makes this event such a success for the Jewish community. “There’s a rich history of Jews in baseball,” Gorodzinsky said. “It’s one sport we’re really very good at. And then, second, we have kosher food at the ballpark. That’s the only time where the community can really enjoy eating hot dogs with everybody else, and that makes it a very special night for us.”
Jellinek pointed out that he himself is Jewish and said part of his introduction to baseball was learning Jewish baseball history. “My grandfather got me a card collection of all the Jewish major leaguers,” he said. “And learning the history through all of that was one of my favorite things in the world.”
Gorodzinsky brought up the Jewish community’s recent efforts to combat antisemitism. “We are a small but mighty community in the valley, and we really love being here,” he said. “It is a very welcoming place for everybody, but nationally, unfortunately, we’ve seen a rise of antisemitism, and we’re asking everybody to show their support.”
He offered the listeners some basics about the local Jewish community. “We have a community center, a school,” he said. “We have eight synagogues that are very vibrant. And we have a Jewish Family Service that serves the entire community. It has the only food bank in the 18104 area. So we see our responsibility as not only to take care of the Jewish community, but to take care of our Lehigh Valley community.”
The conversation turned toward the Jewish community’s summertime Camp JCC. “The camp is sold out, which is wonderful,” he said. “And they do have sports at camp — I’m looking forward to the Maccabi Games.”
He said to Jellinek, “Maybe we’ll invite you over so you can be a judge.”
Jellinek liked the idea of participating in the multisport event. “I’d be more than happy,” he said. “If you want me to throw on a headset and broadcast a little bit too, I’d have fun: the official IronPigs radio host at the camp being a judge for the Maccabi Games.”
Meanwhile, members of Congregation Sons of Israel held an evening prayer service off to the side of the front gates.
There were still a few innings left in the game after that. The IronPigs eventually lost, but they made it interesting, rallying for three runs in eighth to come within a point of tying the score.