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Op-Ed: They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes — but they weren’t talking about Sandy Koufax



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Final month, on the day after Father’s Day, my cellphone rang. Regardless that the decision was from an unknown quantity, I answered and heard a voice say, “Hello, it’s Sandy Koufax.”

I held my breath in shock, though only a few days earlier our lives had briefly intersected.

My journey with Sandy started years in the past once I was a younger little one who idolized him. I used to be 9 years outdated when the Brooklyn Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles in 1958. The workforce introduced me such pleasure whereas I attempted to outlive the turbulence of a chaotic dwelling life. I spent many nights with my transistor radio on my mattress, preserving rating as Vin Scully advised the story of the sport and of the gamers themselves — Jackie, Duke, Pee Wee, Don and particularly Sandy.

Dwelling in Huntington Park in southeast Los Angeles, I used to be one in every of just a few Jews in my highschool and I had no Jewish function fashions or heroes. That every one modified when Sandy took the mound. All baseball followers marveled at his extraordinary no-hitters, full video games and strikeouts. I took satisfaction in Sandy due to these accomplishments — and since he was Jewish.

Then got here Recreation 1 of the 1965 World Collection, the Dodgers enjoying the Minnesota Twins. The sport fell on the identical day as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the crucial important holidays within the Jewish religion. Sandy selected to not pitch. He said of his choice not to play, “A person is entitled to his perception and I consider I shouldn’t work on Yom Kippur. It’s so simple as all that…”

But this one easy resolution created reverberations that proceed at the moment. To me and lots of others, it made him a champion of spiritual conscience and standing up for one’s beliefs. I consider it is among the key causes I pursued a life as a rabbi, in search of justice and doing humanitarian work. Followers usually connect massive narratives to our heroes, and it does not likely matter if these comport with actuality, if they assist to encourage us and supply us with hope.

On June 18, my son Micah and I made the pilgrimage from Northern California to L.A. to be current when the Dodgers unveiled the Sandy Koufax statue at Dodger Stadium. At our lodge, we stepped into the elevator and because the doorways closed, we realized that Sandy was standing there behind us. At first, I didn’t wish to be “that man” who infringes on the private house of a well-known icon, however then I made myself converse to him, sharing just a few overheated expressions of admiration and respect. If Sandy was embarrassed or uninterested, he didn’t present it in his phrases or his smile. In these few moments, he reworked from my childhood superhero to a real-life individual of heat and integrity.

Later that weekend, we noticed Sandy within the lodge restaurant consuming breakfast. We didn’t wish to trouble him, however we organized for his meal to be charged to our room and gave the waiter a word to cross alongside to him. We left Los Angeles feeling delighted that we had handled Sandy Koufax to breakfast.

Then got here the cellphone name. Sandy mentioned he needed to say thanks and we had a beautiful 10-minute dialog. This straightforward act speaks to the person we’ve got all the time believed he’s, somebody who treats others with respect and tries to do what is correct.

His remarks that weekend on the statue unveiling confirmed the identical factor. They have been marked with gratitude and celebrated others. Listening to his speech, I lastly understood that this intensely personal man has a a lot easier view of himself than the one so many people have projected on him.

I now view Sandy’s resolution to not pitch on Yom Kippur in a different way. It’s now not the grandiose act I had constructed it as much as be. Similar to along with his cellphone name, he was merely doing what was proper for him and his conscience. He was not making an attempt to be a mannequin of something larger.

Viewing Sandy’s actions by this mild reinforces for me that the world is reworked not by phrases and proclamations, nor daring heroic acts, however by on a regular basis acts of thoughtfulness and decency that everybody can do. These acts, that are central to the human expertise, are wanted extra at the moment than ever earlier than.

Lee Bycel is a rabbi, the vice chair of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities and the writer of “Refugees in America: Tales of Braveness, Resilience and Hope.”