Monday, November 25, 2019

Joe DiMaggio and the Jews

Joe DiMaggio, considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, was born on November 25, 1914. “Joltin’ Joe,” as he was known, played his entire thirteen-year career, from 1936 to 1951, for the New York Yankees. (He served in the U.S. Army Air Force from February, 1943 to September, 1945 as a physical education instructor).

Although Joseph Paul DiMaggio was Catholic, and his parents, Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio, even called him “Paulo” in memory of his father’s favorite saint, there is no lack of interest in his life by Jews.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, a professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, who grew up an avid Yankee fan in the Bronx, delivered a well-received eulogy in tribute of his childhood baseball hero, highlighting the Jewish values that can be learned from DiMaggio. According to Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff, from DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, one of the most iconic baseball records that still stands, we can all learn the virtue of consistency. DiMaggio was famous for always hustling on and off the field. When asked why he continued the practice, even after his prowess was already universally acknowledged, the “Yankee Clipper” responded, “There may be one kid in the Grandstand, who never saw me play. I want him to see Joe DiMaggio in his prime.” Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff spoke of how DiMaggio controlled his emotions on the field, and is the reason why DiMaggio never authorized a biography of his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, to be written, to protect her reputation from the salaciousness of such literary works. Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff also maintains that we can learn life lessons from two of DiMaggio’s incredible statistics: In his entire career, Joe struck out only 8 times more than the number of homeruns he hit, and DiMaggio was never thrown out when running from first to third base.

Joe DiMaggio is also mentioned in the culture of music.

In addition to Joe DiMaggio’s name being prominently included in the 1967 #1 hit song, “Mrs. Robinson,” written by two young Jewish men from Queens, NY, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the renowned Jewish composer and lyricist, Abie Rottenberg, also a native New Yorker, recorded a song entitled, “Joe DiMaggio’s card.” Although the song is not about DiMaggio, per se, it speaks of the religious maturation process of a young man, revolving around the boy’s ownership of a Joe DiMaggio baseball card and his adoration of the Yankee Hall of Famer. Paul Simon performed “Mrs. Robinson” in Yankee Stadium as a tribute to DiMaggio after his passing.

A postscript: Morris Engelberg was a dear friend of Joe DiMaggio and the sole executor responsible for DiMaggio’s estate after his passing. In addition to dedicating hospitals and donating to other philanthropies in DiMaggio’s name, Engelberg chose to name the social hall after DiMaggio, at Congregation Judea Chabad in Hollywood, FL, where Mr. Engelberg had begun to pray.

While our sages say that Torah scholarship is to be found exclusively within the Jewish community, Jewish tradition teaches that wisdom and inspiration can be found anywhere, and it is incumbent upon Jews to seize all sources of wisdom and inspiration and learn from them.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No comments: