Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Eclipse of The Curse

The Jewish Week, November 4, 2004

Side by side in my office hang photos of Boston and Jerusalem. My exilic existence has been marked by a constant yearning for redemption in both of my ancestral homes. For one that meant a thriving Israel, freed from fear.

For the other it meant a Red Sox World Series championship.

Through the misty sky last Wednesday night, a ruddy moon glowed from behind the earth's shadow. At the precise time of the lunar eclipse, the Red Sox won the World Series and Yasir Arafat lost his grip on the reins of terror. In the scheme of things, I would classify that as a very good day. At long last, it appeared, definitive proof that there is a God.

Too many things broke right for the Sox this year, too many of their prior indignities were undone in uncanny ways, for their improbable victory not to have been written in the stars. Even before this season began, the Sox had couched this campaign in religious terms -- witness the huge "Keep the Faith" sign towering about the Western Wall, I mean the Green Monster -- and the numerous televised images of fans in various states of prayer.

Their epic series with the Yankees played out these redemptive themes, carrying the Sox and their fandom from the brink of disaster to the greatest comeback seen since the Exodus, climaxing with the parting of Cardinal fandom at its own self-proclaimed Red Sea.

The resurrection was so captivating that at a recent wedding reception I found myself transfixed at the lobby bar watching a rally and was not in the ballroom when my name was called to lead the blessing over the bread.

"Where's the rabbi?"

"He's at the bar, watching the game."

No matter. The bride's father was out there with me.

Let's assume that this victory was indeed divinely ordained. If that is so, my theological problems begin to multiply like the Yankees payroll: Why this baseball team and not another -- say that innocent group of clean-cut professionals from the Bronx? And why now, after so many years of torture?

Why was the Curse finally lifted?

It was because of my 13-year-old son, Ethan.

At least that's what Ethan thinks, and I'm having a hard time dissuading him. After all, wasn't I the one who suggested he put in a good word for the Sox when he scribbled his note to place into the cracks of the Western Wall (the "other" one) when we were in Jerusalem in August? He had already written the note, containing the usual prayers for family and peace, when I suggested that one little addition. Sure enough, as soon as the note was inserted the team went off on an unparalleled hot streak. So if Ethan was led to believe that direct requests of God could have such an immediate impact, I created this monster.

I shouldn't have been surprised then that the morning after the disastrous third game against the Yankees, with the Sox all but dead, Ethan informed me that he had informed God that if the Red Sox didn't win it all this time, he would become an atheist.

Imagine your child telling you this when no team in history had ever come back from the kind of deficit the Sox were facing. He was asking for a miracle. No, he wasn't merely asking, he was threatening God.

And it worked.

God, omniscient as always, evidently had read the latest National Jewish Population Survey and didn't want to lose Ethan from the fold. Or maybe God was impressed by Ethan's undying loyalty to a team whose season was nearing extinction.

True to my fatalistic Red Sox roots, I had spent my energy steeling my boys to accept the divine decree, or as Martin Buber called it in his aptly titled essay "The Eclipse of God," "the still unredeemed concreteness of the human world in all its horror." But the news just kept on getting better, and with last Wednesday's eclipse of this eclipse, I found myself becoming more and more troubled by the theological implications of victory.

If the Sox lose, my kid becomes a hardened skeptic, like the rest of us. But if they win because of this audacious wager, he could sink into a fundamentalist morass, totally convinced that God can be manipulated magically.

And if the Sox win again next year?

At that point he would become so smug as to render him indistinguishable from a Yankee fan.

Who says Red Sox fans no longer have anything to whine about?

I imagined what could come next:"God, get this cute girl to notice me ... or ELSE ... you know what!"

Please God, stop answering my child's prayers!

Among the dozens of congratulatory e-mails and calls I received the day after the Eclipse of the Curse, this message stood out:

"In this world of so much discouraging news, how wonderful to have something to cheer about! The eclipse underscored this night of sports history and affirmed the importance and joy of believing in your dreams against all odds."

As I read this, I understood that Ethan's impudence was in fact a statement of profound faith from one condemned by his father to live out his entire life in Yankee territory, in second place. His was a simple Joban cry against the injustice of it all.

This time, the Universe listened.

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