Baseball Curses and the Ezer Kenegdo

Being a Red Sox fan is like being Jewish in my family -- you're just born that way, and for my kids, it's been passed down through the mother. Matrilineal Red Sox Fandom.

When my kids were born, in 2001 and 2003, this was bad news. When we got Ben his first little Red Sox cap and onesie, we said, "Sorry to do this to you, kid. You're in for a life of sadness and disappointment."

In those days, the last time the Red Sox had won the World Series was 1918, and since then there had been a string of events that raised the hope of Sox fans so high that the team was known as the Cardiac Kids. "The Curse of the Bambino" was real, and Bucky Dent, Bob Stanley, Mookie Wilson, Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone were verboten. Those who shall not be named. The Red Sox blew it in 1946, 1948, 1949, and most spectacularly in the World Series contests of 1967, 1975, and 1986, when the team was one strike (One Strike!) away from winning it all.

We believed in the curse, and it was a crucial part of our identities as Sox fans. We were beleaguered, persecuted, almost-rans whose hearts had been broken more times than we could count. Faith? Hope? Only for next year.

And then next year came. October 27, 2004. The miracle Red Sox had come back from a 3 games to 0 deficit against the Yankees to make it to the World Series, and they swept the St Louis Cardinals in 4 games. World Champs. The curse was broken. The Boston Globe headline was one jubilant word:

(Although I have mad love for this parody version)

86 years of cursedness. Gone. We had believed, and we had been rewarded. We had hung in there, and we had been rewarded. 

I've got the hats, t-shirts, newspapers, commemorative books, and a million memories from 2004 that will never fade. It was wicked awesome. 

Ezer K'negdo

What I did not realize at the time was that The Curse was our Ezer K'negdo
(עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ) . Our what?
In the second Creation account of Genesis, after God formed man from the dust of the earth and placed him in the garden of Eden, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable (ezer knedgo) for him” (2:18). 
As my rabbi has pointed out, we don't quite get the meaning of ezer knegdo/helpmeet these days. It's not just a partner for life. It's a force you lean against, the person who helps you keep your balance by offering just the right amount of resistance.

Red Sox fans pushed against that damn curse for 86 years, and it pushed right back. There was equilibrium, and we could talk in absolute language. "Always be losers..Always blow it...Always let you down..."

And then they won.

We were knocked off balance and stumbled a bit. Yes, we celebrated. Now what?

In 2005, the Red Sox were...average. They got to the first round of the post-season, where they were swept in three games by the Chicago White Sox, who would go on to win the World Series.

It wasn't The Curse. Teams have their ups and downs, and no one wins the World Series every year. (Not even you, Yankees fans... where's your team tonight?)

Suddenly, we just one of those teams. Sometimes we win it all (2007, 2013) and sometimes we're awful (2015).  We are...

In some ways, and I'll talk about this in other posts, Jews have been through the same journey. Much of the identity of Israel has been that of a persecuted people. The world pushed against us and we always pushed back. After the Holocaust and WWII, we pushed back hard. For some people, that push was their entire Jewish identity. Be Jewish if for no other reason than there are people who don't want you to. That doesn't always work in 2015. The world won't always push back.

I'm rooting for the Cubs to win the World Series this year. I haven't lived their curse (it involves a goat?), but they haven't won the World Series since 1908, and that joy of winning is oh, so sweet. Besides, watching history being made is cool, and that Back to the Future 2 connection is just too perfect.

Watch out for the fall, though, Cubs fans. If you lose, you get to keep being curse, and keep cursing your bad luck. If the Cubs win, you might end up missing your ezer knegdo when you end up in the "just another team that won it..." bucket with the rest of us.

Either way, I think you win.

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