Baseball, Bar Mitzvah... A Double Header

 

From left, Jeffery Berger, Nick Berger, Rabbi Dubov.

Nick Berger, from Winter Park, soon-to-be 13, was taking batting practice at a baseball diamond in Cooperstown, New York, last month and spotted a familiar face walking across the field towards him. His face lit up. It was Rabbi Sholom Dubov from Chabad of Greater Orlando, Nick's family's synagogue.

Nick was in Cooperstown in upstate New York because his Winter Park Little League team was playing in the national Hall of Fame championship. Rabbi Dubov was there because he was the Berger family's rabbi-and he had a mission: To lay telfilln on Nick's 13th birthday, a traditional ritual preceding a young man's bar mitzvah.

The happenstance of Nick's bar mitzvah and the baseball championship landing on the same week had led to some scrambling between Nick's parents, Jeff and Erica Berger and Rabbi Dubov.

Nick's bar mitzvah had been scheduled for August 6. Then Nick's team won the state championship in Jensen Beach for 12-year-old players and got invited to Cooperstown the week before Nick's bar mitzvah. Nick's dad, Jeff, got on the phone to Rabbi Dubov. "We'll move his bar mitzvah to August 20," said the rabbi. "Nick can't pass up a once in a lifetime chance to play in the Hall of Fame."


So the day before Nick's birthday, Rabbi Dubov hopped on a flight to Newark, rented a car and drove 3 1/2 hours to Cooperstown. At sunrise the next morning Nick, his father and some of Nick's teammates and coaches lined up at a baseball diamond and observed the centuries-old Jewish tradition of laying the telfillin, scrolls of scriptures worn during prayers. "Nick's teammates' reaction to this was very positive," said Rabbi Dubov. "They were impressed seeing a young boy's commitment to his religion and its traditions."

Nick's team made it all the way to the top 16 and won six of eight games. Nick had a great series-he hit two home runs.

Before Rabbi Dubov headed back to Florida, he made one stop. "I'm not a baseball fan but I wanted to visit the statue of Sandy Koufax," he said. Koufax would not pitch a game on Yom Kipper during the 1965 World Series. "Koufax was not a religious Jew but he showed he was proud of his Jewish identity," said the Rabbi, "just as Nick did when he laid telfillin on the baseball field with his teammates."

Making Nick's Bar Mitzvah even more memorable, he invited his entire team and their parents and coaches to the ceremony on Aug. 20 at the Maitland. The service, of course, was conducted by one of Nick's biggest fans, Rabbi Dubov.

 

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