I was born and raised in Chicago — the Cubs were the sports team of my youth. Last week, I spent less than 24 hours in Cleveland for Game 7 of the World Series. It was an out-of-body experience.
I can remember my friend Jason Schutzer asking me days earlier, “If they make it to Game 7, would you like to go with me?” “Sure,” I said. At the time, the Cubs were down in the series three games to one. Plus, I am a rabbi of a synagogue, a husband and a father of three. How could I just get on a plane to go to a baseball game? There was no chance.
I was preparing for an event at Adat Shalom on Tuesday night when the Cubs took the lead in Game 6 and Jason texted me, “Pack your bags.” I heard a voice inside of me scream with excitement. I realized that the screaming voice belonged to the “child me” deep within, who had been dreaming of this for 37 years.
As a rabbi and a sports fan, I can appreciate the natural connections between religion and sports. I joined Cubs fans from across the country in Cleveland. We all came in search of a communal experience. We carried a responsibility to represent a community that had suffered through 108 years of disappointment.
Words like community, euphoria, joy — these are words whose true meaning only reveal themselves in extreme cases. The night of Nov. 2 was such a case. Cubs fans came together with pure love. A crowd of strangers underwent an intimate life-changing experience together. We cheered and screamed and laughed and cried with one another. I hugged and jumped up and down with strangers whose names I will never know.
Something magical happened that night — I also attended the game as a child. All of us were transformed into the child versions of ourselves. Salaries, tuitions and mortgage payments all faded away with the playing of the national anthem. I looked around and saw a glimmer in people’s eyes, childlike wonder, like the anticipation my children express as we drive to Disneyland.
I realized that although my childhood is long over, my childhood self is not gone. It lives deep inside of me. As Jason and I watched the game on the field, I saw clear flashes of memories from my past. I felt my grandfather Simon “Ba” Lebovitz holding my hand as a child as we walked through the tunnels at Wrigley Field. I remembered my father surprising my brother and me at elementary school with tickets to a Cubs playoff game in 1989. I saw friends’ faces who I haven’t seen in 30 years. I was sure we all were watching this game at this exact moment — even Ba.
Finally, the game taught me a lesson about friendship. I cannot imagine a more incredible act of loving kindness than to make another’s dreams come true. Jason and I were simply two boys watching baseball together. The game opened with a Cubs home run. I hugged Jason and lifted him off the ground. When the Cubs lost the lead in the eighth inning, I sank down into my seat and felt like crying. Jason rubbed my back and told me that it would be OK. I appreciated his support, but I dreaded giving a sermon about how losing builds character.
And then the heavens opened, rain began to fall and the game was stopped. I called home where my wife, Blair, our children, my parents and my entire family were watching the game together. The child me told Blair that I thought God was crying. She corrected me, “It’s generations of Cubs fans who are crying up there. That’s why it’s raining.”
Suddenly, an Orthodox guy in a velvet kippah asked me to help make a minyan for Ma’ariv. I nodded. If ever there were a time to pray, this was it. Immediately after we completed the Aleinu prayer, the rain stopped. You be the judge.
Shortly thereafter, history was made. We won.
From time to time, it’s important to connect back to our childhood. We need to respect the dreams of that little boy or girl who loved sports or dancing or horses. Those early dreams helped shape our current ones. We are the summation of our entire lives — all of the people we have ever known and all of the family and friends who love and support us today.
In the hours and days that followed, I received text messages and emails from across the country from people with whom I do not ordinarily stay in touch. Joy and celebration bring people together. I suspect that many adults allowed their inner children to emerge during that game.
Sometimes, I’m so absorbed in being responsible that I forget to appreciate fun. Fun is a necessary quality for life. And when an opportunity arises, especially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, grab it.
We need worthy reasons to celebrate our love for one another. Judaism teaches me that … and baseball.
The Chicago Cubs are the 2016 World Series champs. Amen.
NOLAN LEBOVITZ is Rabbi at Adat Shalom in Los Angeles.