Koufax did not pitch on Yom Kippur during the 1965 World Series, and we should be inspired to similarly cause our Yiddishkeit to prevail over our careers
By RABBI MOSHE FELLER
I am receiving calls from newspaper reporters, rabbis and journalists from throughout the United States regarding my epic visit with Sandy Koufax at the Saint Paul Hotel on the morrow of Yom Kippur in 1965 — the Yom Kippur on which Sandy Koufax did not pitch.
Since the first game of the World Series took place in Minnesota, Koufax was in St. Paul on Yom Kippur. Being a shaliach (emissary) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and knowing how much the Rebbe wanted his shluchim to get Jews involved in mitzos, and particularly Jews in the public eye, I decided to attempt to visit Koufax the day after Yom Kippur and present him with a pair of teffilin as a token of our appreciation of his not pitching on Yom Kippur.
Since teffilin are donned on one’s weaker hand and since Sandy was a lefthander, we arranged the strap of the tefillin to accommodate one who dons teffilin on his right hand. I recited a few verses of Psalms to evoke the G-d Almighty’s help in making the presentation to Koufax and drove to the Saint Paul Hotel.
Arriving at the hotel, I went up to the front desk and announced, “I’m Rabbi Feller and I want to see Mr. Koufax.”
Knowing that Koufax was Jewish and therefore he didn’t pitch the day before, the people at the front desk probably thought I was his rabbi, so they gave me his hotel room’s telephone number. When Koufax answered, I introduced myself to him and told him how proud the Rebbe was that he refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.
“Sandy, the whole Jewish world is tremendously proud of you,” I told him. “Thousands of Jewish businessmen did not go to work on Yom Kippur because you wouldn’t pitch. Do you know how many Jewish kids didn’t go to school on Yom Kippur because you wouldn’t pitch on Yom Kippur? When you announced weeks before the game that you would not pitch on Yom Kippur, you informed thousands of Jews when Yom Kippur would take place because more Jews read the newspaper than have Jewish calendars in their homes. In great appreciation of the great sanctification of G-d’s name that you made by not pitching on Yom Kippur, I want to present you with a pair of tefillin.”
“Where would you like to make this presentation?” he asked me.
“Anywhere you would like,” I answered.
“Will you come up to my room?”
“Sure!” I said, and he proceeded to give me his room number.
In a moment, I was standing before the greatest pitcher in baseball and probably the most famous Jew in the world.
We chatted a few minutes about baseball, with him fondling the tefillin during our entire conversation. I wanted to don the tefillin with him but he intimated that he knew how to put on the tefillin by himself. He was very courteous and reverent the whole time we were together. As I turned to leave, Koufax escorted me with a parting statement.
“Rabbi Feller, everyone makes a big fuss of my not pitching on Yom Kippur; I don’t pitch on Rosh Hashana either!”
Len Levine, a columnist for the American Jewish World, reported the story as I told it to him and every Jewish newspaper in the United States picked it up (see below).
On the 40th anniversary of Koufax’s epic deed, in 2005, the Star Tribune interviewed me, and Pamela Huey wrote a feature article titled “Faith Trumped the Game.”
It is altogether proper that we pause this Yom Kippur and recall the great Kiddush Hashem Sandy Koufax made by not pitching on Yom Kippur and be inspired to similarly cause our Yiddishkiet to prevail over our careers when we are similarly challenged.
A K’siva V’chasima Tova. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.