What started out as a mom’s project to help her baseball-crazed young sons stay focused at the Passover seder has turned into a well-received new addition to the growing lineup of family-friendly Haggadahs.
Rabbi Sharon G. Forman has hit one out of the park with “The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings,” a guide to the Passover seder that goes beyond mere ballpark lingo to draw meaningful parallels between a sport beloved by Americans of all backgrounds and played exceptionally well by Jewish sports legends Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.
“I wanted to do it with integrity. I wasn’t trying to drape the Haggadah in a uniform,” said Forman, who tutors bar and bat mizvah students in Westchester, New York, in a phone interview with The Times of Israel.
“It’s not a toy. It’s meant to help people feel connected to the seder.”
With an obvious educator’s sensibility, Forman stays faithful to both baseball and the contours of the Passover Haggadah as she draws parallels between basic ideas common to both of them, such as love of freedom, kindness to strangers and concern for others.
“This sports oriented Haggadah is designed for lovers of another springtime ritual (at least in North America — the game of baseball. Athletes and philosophers alike have written and spoken poetically about baseball’s ability to tap into our connection with nature, celebrate teamwork, and invite spectators into a spirited dance of timelessness and circularity,” Forman writes in the book’s introduction.
While sticking to the traditional order of the seder, the Haggadah prompts us to use our imaginations in turning the seder table into a baseball diamond and the seder plate into home base. Moses is the captain of the Israelites team, and Pharaoh leads the opposing Taskmasters. God throws the ultimate “splitter,” allowing the Israelites to cross the Red Sea, and the children get up and open the door to welcome the biblical prophets Elijah and Miriam during a delayed 7th Inning Stretch.
Throughout the Haggadah, Forman uses anecdotes about or quotes from famous baseball personalities to hit home certain parts’ meaning. In explaining the emotional underpinnings of the Exodus and the desire to reach the Promised Land, the rabbi doesn’t bring a Talmudic quote, but rather a quote from baseball’s seventh commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti: “Baseball is about going home and how hard it is to get there and how driven is our need.”
Forman pitched her baseball Haggadah to several commercial publishers, but ended up self-publishing it through IngramSpark. The Haggadah, illustrated warmly by Lisa J. Teitelbaum, retails at $11.99 and is available on Amazon.com, Jewish bookstores on the East Coast and in selected Jewish museums nationwide.
Although she never personally played baseball while growing up, Forman has come to love the game as an adult in appreciation of the importance it has played in the lives of those she loves.
She remembers her mother, a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan making her watch games as a girl, and that her immigrant grandfather used to tell her how rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers made him feel very American. Her husband is a huge Mets fan, and two of her children, 11-year-old Josh and 9-year-old Benjamin, are active Little Leaguers.
“I’ve fallen in love with baseball from watching my kids play,” Forman said. “I see what important values and life lessons they learn from it.”