Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let My People Go

Back in the days of a youthful TigerBlog, one of the biggest events of any year was the race to find the Afikoman.

For those who will be celebrating Easter this weekend, or of any other religion not currently abstaining from bread, the Afikoman is a broken piece of matzoh that is hidden by the leader of the Passover Seder. Eventually, all the children present will have a mad scramble to find the Afikoman, and the winner would be given a small prize.

TigerBlog's assumption is that the prize money he would get in the years he would outwit BrotherBlog and his cousins Paul and Janet is a fraction of the going rate for a successful Afikoman hunt these days.

Passover, which began at sundown last night and runs for eight days, is basically the telling of the story of the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, led by Moses, who told the Pharaoh to "let my people go."

The story was told nicely in the movie "The Ten Commandments," by the way.

As for the Seder, the leader leads those assembled through the story of how the Jews came to be enslaved in Egypt, what their life there was like, how Moses eventually got the Pharaoh to allow the Jews to leave after the 10 plagues rained down on Egypt and how the Jews made their way through the desert.

Along the way, there are multiple stops to eat, drink win and hear from the youngest present, who asks the four questions to answer the main question: "Why is this night different from all other nights."

TB was always the youngest at the Seder, and the pressure was on him every year.

A proper Seder takes hours, and there are two, one on each of the first two nights of the holiday. A more reform version of the Seder takes a fraction of that time.

The Seder has, in fact, been satirized a million times, including in this way:
It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again.

TB's memories of Passover as a kid are much more vivid than of any other holiday other than Thanksgiving, and certainly more so than any other Jewish holiday. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur also were big, but when it came to family, food and celebration, for whatever reason, TB remembers Passover and Thanksgiving the most.

TB grew up in a town by the Jersey Shore that had a very high Jewish population, and he attended a college famous for its high number of Jewish students.

In his lifetime, TB has encountered very little in the way of overt anti-semitism, though he has heard his share of comments that have made him roll his eyes. In fact, he's heard people he knows who didn't know he was Jewish make some odd statements.

What really amazes TB is when he reads the comments under newspaper stories about issues related to Israel or Judaism and sees just how hated his religion can be by some. Whenever he sees that, he thinks back to the time he voiced those sentiments to a friend, who replied: "People hate Jews; this is news?"

In general, TB has found Judaism to be more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious one. And, while he has studied many religions and been welcomed into the world of faiths other than his own, he still is glad that this is the hand he was dealt.

Princeton's historical record in dealing with Jewish students is, except for a few well-documented episodes around eating clubs a half-century ago, is pretty strong, and the school has at times been unfairly labeled as being anti-Jewish.

Princeton has produced any number of great Jewish athletes.

The current rosters include among others women's basketball player Lauren Polansky, hockey player Andrew Calof and baseball player Michael Fagan.

In recent times, Princeton has had Jewish athletes like men's lacrosse player Jason Doneger, men's basketball player Howard Levy, men's basketball player Scott Greenman, women's lacrosse/field hockey player Rachael Becker and men's hockey player Jeff Halpern, as well as an army of others.

TigerBlog isn't sure who the first Jewish athlete in school history was, but he knows that going back to the early 1920s, Princeton did have a baseball player named Moe Berg.

For those who don't know his story, Berg is as fascinating as any athlete the school has ever had. He grew up in Newark and played baseball here before graduating in 1923 and embarking on a long career in the Major Leagues, as well as going through Columbia Law School.

Back in the days when Major League players would often go on "barnstorming" tours of other countries in the off-season, Berg became a popular figure in Japan.

Little did anyone realize that he was also a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, and that he was secretly filming Tokyo Bay and ultimately helping make strategic maps for the U.S. military.

He also did work in Europe, and he attended a conference to hear the top Nazi nuclear scientist speak about where Germany's atomic bomb program was. If Berg determined that the Nazis were close to the bomb, his orders were to kill the scientist - and then himself - then and there. He even had his own cyanide pill hidden on his in case it became necessary.

Passover runs until early next week.

Easter is this Sunday. That's a whole different Charlton Heston movie.


Anonymous said...

Seven or eight years ago, the website JewishSports.org attempted to count the number of Jewish players on Division I basketball rosters. They came up with a grand total of 33.

If you figure roughly 340 programs times about 15 players each, then approximately 0.6% of Division I players are Jewish.

Amazingly, two schools accounted for fully one-third of the entire total, Princeton with 6 and Yale with 5.

CAZ said...

Good thing you chose not to let Mr. Frohman write a guest TB today. Let's just say that the tone would have been drastically different to say the least.

Zissen Pesach!

Anonymous said...

Chag Sa'meach!

Gib Kirwin said...


Besides Dave Blatt, one cannot leave out Artie Klein and his famous half court hook shot buzzer beater in 57- 58 (no such expression in those days) to defeat Dartmouth- and repeated it at practice the following day after the customary "you could never do that again!"

Regards, Gib Kirwin