The Miami Marlins defeated the Washington Nationals 2-1 on Aug. 27, keeping pace in the National League wild-card playoff race. The Florida team’s victory wasn’t the only thing being celebrated in its home stadium that Sunday afternoon.
Among the 17,216 people in attendance at LoanDepot Park in Miami were more than 750 guests who turned out for the Marlins’ annual celebration of the Jewish community that took place throughout the game.
A portion of the ticket sales from the celebration benefited multiple Jewish nonprofits in the tri-county South Florida area of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In addition to the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to the first pitch came a rendition of the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah.” It was sung by Lisa Segal, cantor of Temple Judea, a Reform synagogue in Coral Gables, Fla.
“It was a very thrilling and emotional moment,” she told JNS afterwards.
“I’m very proud to represent Israel, the Jewish people in Miami and the clergy in Miami,” said Segal, who also performed “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, consul general of Israel in Miami, spoke with JNS right after he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. “I want to commend the Marlins for everything that they’re doing to fight against antisemitism and racism, and to promote tolerance in our community through their community engagement programs,” he said.
“They’re a role model of an organization, and we’re proud to partner with the Miami Marlins not only today but throughout the year,” he added.
Jewish ‘Star Wars’
South Florida Jewish federations, organizations, synagogues and Jewish community centers brought groups to the game, which also celebrated the team’s “Star Wars Day.”
Some Jewish attendees had their pictures taken with fellow fans dressed as Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and other characters from the popular film series.
David Oxfeld, the chief commercial officer for the Marlins, told JNS that the team tries “to celebrate everybody.”
“While it’s exciting when we’re celebrating my culture,” Oxfeld, who is Jewish, told JNS “it’s also exciting for me personally when we celebrate other cultures.”
“I certainly feel a little more pride for this event, given my religion,” he said.
‘Show that there’s unity’
The annual celebration began almost 20 years ago as Jewish Heritage Day, its name for many years. Roni Raab, host and producer of the weekly Jewish radio show “Shalom South Florida” created the annual event.
Raab, who remains a consultant for the celebration, told JNS that his goal was to build loyalty within the South Florida Jewish community for the Marlins. He also wanted to have kosher food at the stadium, to have fans wear blue and white, and to have the Israeli flag on the field alongside the American one, with both national anthems played for the audience.
“If you looked at the scoreboard, you saw a lot of names of Jewish organizations,” he said. “It’s critical for the Jewish community to come together and show that there’s unity.”
The Hillel at Florida International University helped coordinate pre-game honors, including a Jewish community recognition on the field acknowledging leaders from a variety of South Florida Jewish organizations and the singing of the national anthems.
Fifteen students from the FIU Hillel were on hand, as was Jon Warech, executive director of the university’s Hillel.
“It’s important for the Jewish community to be recognized here in a public forum at a big thing like a baseball game, especially when there’s a heightened sense of antisemitism,” Warech told JNS.
Warech told JNS that his synagogue in Aventura received bomb threats in recent weeks. “To know that you can come to a baseball game and feel supported by the community feels good,” he said.
Rabbi Michael Klein, religious leader of the Conservative egalitarian Temple Torat Emet in Boynton Beach and adviser for the Florida region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, was one of 92 people from South Florida Conservative synagogues that the men’s clubs brought to the game.
“It’s really important for everyone to know that Jewish people, just as anybody else, enjoy going to a baseball game and celebrating being together,” he told JNS.
“We’re also able to let our non-Jewish neighbors know that we are wonderful neighbors and that we are proud of our American heritage, as baseball is part of our American heritage,” he added. “That is something we are all very proud of.”
Larry Schwartz, president of the Men’s Club of Temple Beth Am, a Conservative congregation in Margate, laid out the game ball behind the pitching mound and two rosin bags for the pitchers.
Bringing men’s clubs from different synagogues together for the game creates “camaraderie,” he told JNS.
“We develop friendships with other members of other temples,” he added.
Also prior to the game, the author Howard Megdal delivered a presentation at the stadium about his 2009 book The Baseball Talmud. He told JNS that “there is something so warm and welcoming in being in a room with people who understand the value of baseball and the Jewish community.”