Sports & Religion Today
Religion and sports make good teammates.
Jewish Heritage Day
It's not just the players' Judaism that is gaining attention. Teams are making concerted efforts to be welcoming and accommodating to Jewish fans, hosting special nights to attract the Jewish population. In recent seasons the Florida Marlins, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies have held Jewish Heritage Nights to reach out to the local Jewish communities. At the San Francisco Giants' Jewish Heritage Night in 2006, Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad of San Francisco was deemed the "Rally Rabbi" as he sounded a shofar in an attempt to rally the fans. Of course attendees could pick up their free Rally Rabbi boblehead as well.
Roni Raab is director of The Jewish Heritage Day Foundation, which works with the Florida Marlins to put together Jewish Heritage Day in Miami. While it began as a proposed Israel Day, Jewish Heritage Day became an event to benefit day school education in South Florida. Raab was not expecting the event to turn a profit immediately, and was surprised to see money coming back to each of the participating schools in year one.
Leading up to the event, each school tries to sell the most tickets to the game, with the winning school earning a visit from the Marlins mascot. At the game itself, live bands perform Jewish music, and kosher food is available throughout the stadium. Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem, is sung along with the Star Spangled Banner prior to the first pitch, and recently a pair of El-Al round-trip tickets to Tel Aviv was raffled off to a lucky Jewish Heritage Day participant.
In its brief existence in Miami, Jewish Heritage Day has been a big success with ticket sales topping out at 1,500 a year. But even with the tremendous success the event has had thus far, Raab is not satisfied. "It's a great way to bring the entire community together and hopefully one day we'll sell out the stadium," he says. "What a great statement of Jewish pride that would be, and every city should have one."
Get Your Hot Dogs Here
Kosher food is helping to keep more Jews coming to the ballpark on regular nights. At eight stadiums along the East Coast, kosher food is available on a daily basis. "I know how it felt when I was younger and there was nothing to eat," says Jonathan Katz, President and CEO of Kosher Sports Inc. In 2003 he founded the company and opened a kosher food stand at Giants Stadium. While the stand there is no longer in operation, Katz has opened stands at six professional arenas as well as the USTA National Tennis Center.
The stands have been well received in each location. Fans say that beyond attracting business with the kosher food, the food itself is better quality than most other ballpark options. Perhaps the most important factor though is that the price for kosher food is comparable to the prices of other stadium food.
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