It sounds like the start of one of those jokes in the vein of “A priest, a rabbi and a frog walk into a bar … “
A vegetarian Jew from Tuscaloosa who attended a Catholic high school in Memphis goes to a Passover Seder in Arizona – and doesn’t even win for best story.
Like I’ve often said (OK, I’ve said it once or twice) … if you can’t spend a Passover with your family, you might as well celebrate the holiday with Jimmy Bank and Jose Bautista.
For those of you who don’t know what Passover is, I stole liberally from Passover For Dummies in order to best explain the holiday in less than eight days:
What Is Passover and How Is It Celebrated?
“Passover is both the most-celebrated Jewish holiday of the year and the holiday voted most likely to elicit a groan. People groan when they consider Passover's dietary requirements. They groan when they think of all the preparations. They even groan when they remember how much they overate during Passover last year.
“But the real irony behind the moaning, groaning, and kvetching is that in some ways this is exactly what you’re supposed to feel at this time of year. Passover is a celebration of spring, of birth and rebirth, of a journey from slavery to freedom, and of taking responsibility for yourself, the community, and the world. However, strangely enough, none of this taking of responsibility gets done without groaning. It was with groaning that the Hebrews expressed the pain of their ancient enslavement in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. It was with groaning that they called attention to their plight. So groan, already!
“The Torah states that Jews are to observe Passover for seven days, beginning on the 15th of the Jewish month Nisan (usually in April). The first night always includes a special Seder (ritual dinner). Plus, traditional Jews outside of Israel don’t work on either the first two or the last two days of the seven-day period. Outside of Israel, Jews celebrate a second Seder on the second night of Passover.
“You can think of Passover as honoring the renewal of the sun (it’s always on the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox), or a time to step firmly into springtime. You can also think of Passover as celebrating the Jewish people’s “birth certificate” and “Declaration of Independence.” Or you can think of it as memorializing something that God did for the Jews 3,300 years ago.”
Based on its yearly placement on the calendar, Passover sometimes started during spring training. Passover 1994 was one of those times.
1994 was Jimmy Bank’s second year with the Cubs as the team’s traveling secretary. Hard to believe, but back in those days, Mr. Bank was quiet and reserved.
Jimmy was interested in going to a Seder for the holidays, and he asked if I would join him if he could find one – since he didn’t want to go alone. I groaned (see above) and answered in the affirmative.
Jimmy was Tuscaloosa born-and-raised before moving to Memphis when he was 10. Although Memphis has a large Jewish population, he attended Christian Brothers High School, “where literally a quarter of the school was Jewish,” he recalled. “My senior class president was an Orthodox Jew. It was great because we never went to school on the Jewish holidays, the Catholic holidays, and the civil holidays. We never went to school at Christian Brothers. They wouldn't have tests or assignments or any of that around the holidays when they knew we'd be absent.”
When Passover started during spring training, Jimmy would look for a host family. Back in March of 1994, Jimmy somehow came across a woman nicknamed “Schatzi,” pronounced “Schottzie” – like the famous St. Bernard owned by infamous Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. That’s a whole different story.
And Schatzi … if you’re reading this, I hope I’m spelling your name correctly.
Anyway, Schatzi invited Jimmy and any of his Cubs cohorts to her house for Passover. He told her that I would be joining him. He also said that he was going to reach out to a Cubs player about coming with us.
I’m sure they were excited about the thought of a player spending the holiday with them. But imagine the family’s surprise when we showed up with Jose Bautista – a Dominican Jew.
“I was in Pittsburgh on the High Holy Days (in the fall of 1993),” Bank said. “I would always try to find a temple in the town to go to. I’m pretty sure it was Dan Simonds, our bullpen catcher, who was with me – and we went to a service. It must have been an Orthodox temple. We sat down, and there was not a word of English in the prayer book or in the service.
“The next day we’re in the clubhouse talking about it. Jose Bautista walks by and hears us talking about it, and says, ‘Thanks for inviting me.’ And we started laughing. I said we were talking about going to a Jewish religious service. And he said, ‘I’m Jewish.’ And we laughed. And he pulled out his Star of David that he was wearing. That’s how I find out he was Jewish. And then he told me his story of a Jew living in the Dominican Republic.”
Bautista’s mother was Israeli. His father was Dominican.
“He was raised Jewish and his children were raised Jewish,” Bank said. “He was very proud of his Judaism.”
I don’t recall specifics about the Seder itself, because I was just enjoying watching this family watching Jose. Like Jimmy, I remember observing the family’s curiosity when we showed up at the house.
“I'm trying to pick the right word here,” Bank said. “They were not taken aback, but they were surprised that we were bringing a Dominican Jew with us.”
I remember more about Jose telling stories than the Seder itself.
Jimmy said what sticks out for him was when we went around the table reading out of the Haggadah (prayer book), Jose could read Hebrew.
“I do remember he did have a little trouble reading English, but he could read Hebrew,” he said. “It was easier on him with the Hebrew than English. You could tell he had read Hebrew in front of people before.”
I remember Schatzi and her family being great hosts, and I'm glad Jimmy not only saved photos from that evening – but he provided them for me to share.
“I just remember we were there and we had a good time,” Bank said. “It was different – and it was fun.”