July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Edison’s Ahavas Yisrael Hosts Baseball Historian Irwin J. Cohen

AY Co-President Jay Culang, Irwin Cohen, Jeff Borell, Cindy Borell.

On Father’s Day, June 16, Edison’s Congregation Ahavas Yisrael (AY) hosted a sumptuous brunch featuring a presentation by Irwin Cohen. Cohen parlayed his knowledge and love of baseball into a long time front-office position with the Detroit Tigers and is the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring.

Attendees were treated to a traditional Sunday brunch augmented with peanuts and Cracker Jack and baseball-themed decorations serving as a tribute to America’s pastime. Event organizer Jeff Borell thought the presentation would be a novel way to honor the fathers of the community (and all baseball lovers) while raising money for the congregation’s building fund campaign. Borell was familiar with Cohen’s books and newspaper articles and with Cohen recently relocating to Lakewood, it seemed like a solid plan.

Menachem Kravitz of Highland Park called the event a “great way to start Father’s Day.” Audrey Rockman of Edison, a self-described major sports fan, joined her husband at the presentation and was captivated by Cohen’s stories. One father and son drove over an hour from Philadelphia to attend!

The several dozen people in attendance listened with rapt attention to Cohen as he spoke about his career and many of the baseball legends that he worked with and/or interviewed over the years. Cohen told charming stories of baseball greats—Jewish and not. Boston native Richie Hebner kept himself in shape during the off-season by digging graves for his father’s company who had contracts with the Jewish cemeteries. Telling Cohen that “if you ever die in Boston, don’t worry. I’ll take good care of you.”

Cohen wearing his World Series ring.

Ralph Branco would often come to Tigers games after he retired from his baseball career. Seeing two Chabad teenagers giving out literature before a game, he asked what they were doing. When they explained, he said that he was a Catholic, but they could come to his office and he would gather all the Jewish people in the building. Each time the Chabad students came to his office, the secretary would announce them to Branco as “Your rabbis are here!” Over time Branco mentioned that he had found out that his mother had been born Jewish and the Chabad visitors helped him put on tefillin. Branco was a long-time administrator of the Baseball Assistance Team that helped aging players in the days before pensions and tremendous compensation and justified his work by saying “I like to do mitzvot too.”

Cohen also shared that when Sandy Koufax wouldn’t pitch on Yom Kippur, Don Drysdale was sent in his place. When his team lost, Drysdale is reported to have asked his manager if the team had wished he was Jewish too so that he would not have been able to pitch that losing game that day. Cohen’s delivery style made these and many other stories come alive and were fascinating even to the non-sports lovers in the audience. Cohen noted how additional tales could be found in the books he wrote, such as “Jewish History in the Time of Baseball’s Jews” and “Tiger Stadium Comerica Park History & Memories.”

The question and answer session following the presentation was equally as interesting and brought Cohen’s opinions on the Hall of Fame, various players, his 1984 World Series ring, and more.

As synagogue fundraising events go, AY clearly hit this one out of the park!

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