When I was growing up in San Jose, I failed to latch onto Judaism. I stopped going to religious school after the sixth grade, and I dropped out of my weekly Hebrew class well before my 13th birthday birthday. A bar mitzvah seemed like something one did simply for the gifts, and I wasn’t interested. Plus, who wanted to waste their after-school hours stuck inside in Hebrew class?
So there I was — perhaps dangling in a spiritual void — when I found religion in the form of the San Francisco Giants.
The game programs (scorecard included) became my Torah, the media guides my Talmud. I snuck off into empty parts of Candlestick Park’s upper deck to announce games into my curvy blue Panasonic tape recorder, and I even made my own “media guide” based on statistics of games I had attended.
During my youth, the Giants finished in the cellar (or second to last) just about every year, never making the playoffs from 1972 through 1986. They were so awful that I really used to think that the postseason was for other teams and their fans. For us, making the playoffs was something completely outside of the realm of possibility.
As I grew older, I realized that wasn’t true, and I even believed — knew! — that at some point in my life, the Giants would actually win a World Series. It had to happen sometime — right, Cubs fans?
My inner confidence, though, didn’t diminish the joy I felt three weeks ago on Montgomery Street, orange and black confetti falling all around me, hundreds of thousands of people cheering and creating a wave of energy and emotion that I swear was a religious experience.
“It felt like what the huge pilgrimage festivals at the Second Temple must have felt like in Jerusalem,” said one of the parade attendees, Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. “It was unlike a synagogue, where most people know each other, but a wild celebration where all sorts of different people came together — sort of a primal bonding moment that we don’t experience these days. And Civic Center was the Temple courtyard.”
Bloom, who grew up on the Peninsula, is a huge Giants fan who fell in love with the team in 1971, then buckled in for 39 years of mostly heartache. So four days after the clinching Game 5 win over the Texas Rangers, is it any wonder he devoted his entire Shabbat sermon to the Giants and baseball? He titled it “A Giant Shehechiyanu at Last.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Dan Feder of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame put the title “A Love for the Orange and Black” on his column in his synagogue’s latest bulletin. A week after the parade, I got him on the phone to talk about it.
“For me, just like for you and Bloomy [that would be Rabbi Bloom], it’s not just about this year,” he said. “It’s all the more special because for many of us, it’s been 40-plus years of really caring and being enthusiastic, feeling like we’ve had an extended family that we lived with for seven or eight months every year.”
Feder, who grew up in San Francisco, remembers wearing a little Giants uniform to his fifth birthday party and sleeping in a classic S.F. cap (back before they made 20 varieties of them). Like me, he went to Giants games at the Stick with his father, who died two years ago, and brother.
“And I only learned this after I got older,” he said, “that my dad didn’t really love baseball. Me and my brother loved baseball and the Giants. But my dad, he just loved being with us.”
Bloom and Feder and I all have similar memories, from listening to Lon Simmons’ play-by-play on radios hidden underneath our pillows to following the exploits of players with names like Venable and VanLandingham, to seeing craziness at Candlestick Park that new devotees of the team could never imagine. And now, we all have a new and best memory.
During his sermon, Bloom told his congregation, “We probably shouldn’t say the actual Shehechiyanu, which expresses thanks for giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach this season … [but] for all of us lifelong Giant fans, we do say kol hakavod, all the honor and glory.” And then he concluded with, “And let us let out a ‘Giant’ amen.”
Andy Altman-Ohr lives in Oakland. Reach him at [email protected]