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A league of their own: Rabbis and congregants at the bat - By Cindy Mindell
June 3, 2010 by Leora Kimmel


It was about a year ago that Temple Shalom congregant Pete Trager, a member of Temple Shalom in Norwalk, was batting around programming ideas with Rabbi Brian Leiken. "We needed a way to rally the troops," Trager says, referring to the men of the Norwalk congregation.

The two decided on softball, and Trager volunteered to organize a team. The 25-year veteran of the sport, both at college and in recreational leagues, now plays on a team in New Canaan, where he lives.

Trager invited players through the temple bulletin and emails, but response was slow and players weren't very experienced. At first, he planned to join the Stamford JCC league, which hosts Sunday pickup games. Then he thought to get a team together for a Norwalk league, "but I walked into a meeting where everyone seemed to be 6'-5" and over," he says. The New Canaan league was too competitive as well.

So Trager changed tactics: Why not invite all the area synagogues? Last summer, Congregation Beth El in Norwalk and The Conservative Synagogue (TCS) in Westport each put together a team. "We had a meeting at Temple Shalom to discuss the rules; it was like something out of 'The Godfather,'" he says.

Rabbi Ron Fish of Congregation Beth El in Norwalk sent Gary Mozer, co-chair of the synagogue's L'Chaim Society men's group and a softball veteran who plays at the Stamford JCC. The two are former Camp Ramah of New England staffers who met on the camp's softball diamond nearly 20 years ago, and now play together on CBE's team.

Adam Chusid of TCS says he was "voluntold" by the synagogue president to get a minyan on the softball field.
"It's a wonderful sport, and a great opportunity for people who haven't played for a while to play in a non-competitive setting," says Chusid, who has played in recreational leagues since he could pick up a bat. It's also a chance for observant Jews to get in the game, including TCS's Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn.

The inaugural season had only a handful of games, played in New Canaan, Stamford, and Westport, and many players were a little rusty, Trager says, but the tone was casual and fun.

"I had to teach everybody to go out for a beer afterwards," he says. Some of the games were held at area elementary schools with playgrounds and picnic areas so that member families can make a day of it.

The guys came back for the new season start in May, and Jeff Pardo of Temple Sinai in Stamford organized a new team this year, With games planned for every other Sunday, Trager sees the potential for a formal league, which he hopes to expand to between eight and 12 teams. Players have a range of expertise, from those currently active on other teams to first-timers.

"Our challenge, as a Jewish league, is that people want to go from third base to first base," Chusid says. There are halachic questions that come up on the field, Trager says, "like when we went into extra innings and asked Rabbi Fish if we needed to break for mincha."

"The league expands the Jewish community for guys," Chusid says. "You join your synagogue's men's club and meet guys only from your town, but now we're making friends in the community at large."

"To me it's all fun," says Trager, who says he has been named Commissioner for Life. "We're already starting to consider football in the fall."