By Rabbi Andy Koren
Just a few days ago, there was a news report that snow was on the ground in 49 of the 50 United States. That was certainly the case here in Greensboro, North Carolina, the proud home of the Union for Reform Judaism’s 6 Points Sports Academy.
So, it is certainly understandable if, as you were digging out your driveways or “lamenting” another snow day, you might have missed the news that baseball’s Spring Training began.
Spring training is for baseball fans what the Jewish holiday TuBishvat is for us as Jews. We celebrate the New Year for trees and nature even though it is still winter. We talk about trees when it would be absurd to plant them, we eat fruit and drink juices that won’t naturally appear in the places we call home for many months. We know, even as the leaves are off of the trees and snow is on the ground, that spring will soon be with us.
We have a word for this in Hebrew – tikvah – hope.
As Jewish sports fans, Spring Training brings that same reminder. It is still winter. Football season is over. March Madness is not yet here. Yet, our favorite baseball players are already in camp and the first games in Arizona and throughout Florida are only a matter of days away. We have the audacity to talk about spring over one month before it officially arrives.
And we hope. We hope that this will be the season for our team or our favorite player, no matter how they did last year. The slate is clean, everyone has the opportunity to be the batting champ, the Gold Glove winner, the home run king, or the next Cy Young winner.
Spring Training also makes me think of how we as Jews get ready for our holidays. Take Hanukkah as an example. We don’t just wake up one morning and it’s Hanukkah. We have to go to the closet, take out the hanukkiah or hanukkiot, set them up on the table near the window, and clean out any of the remaining dust from last year. We need candles. We have to be go to the store to get supplies to make latkes or suganiyot. If we don’t do this, we’re not ready. I like to think of this as Jewish Winter Training.
The same could be said for the High Holidays where, in addition, to getting apples, honey, and other food for the table, we our tradition encourages us to spend the entire month prior to Rosh HaShanah preparing ourselves spiritually for the new year to start. This is the Jewish Fall Training.
Our tradition also gives us a month prior to Pesach (Passover) to prepare. Purim ends and we know that we have to get our supplies and schedules together so that we have the right haggadot, extra readings, and activities for the seder together with Matzah, Marror, and the other symbolic foods we need. Our Rabbis will tell is that there are also a series of special Shabbats (Parah, HaHodesh, HaGadol) that lead up Pesach, reminding us to do the community work necessary to help those who still year for freedom as well as the spiritual work necessary to leave whatever it is that is enslaving us. What do you know… a Jewish version of Spring Training.
So, what is our Summer Training?
Perhaps it is getting ready for camp.
For some of us, that excitement begins when we first hear about a Jewish camp from friends or from a visit to our community by someone promoting camp such as a camp director. For others, it starts as spring kicks in with the realization that camp is only a matter of months or weeks away. And for others (you know who you are) it starts as soon as summer session ends, when we head home but already start connecting with camp friends and counting the days until we return to our “summer home.”
Rabbi Andy Koren is the Director of Religious Education for Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, NC located a “lazy nine iron” from the 6 Points Sports Academy. For 6 summers, he served on the faculty of URJ’s Camp Coleman. An unabashed baseball fan, he has been one of the Rabbis 6 Points’ faculty since it inaugural summer session in 2010.