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How a World Series Wager Was a Win for Our Communities

How a World Series Wager Was a Win for Our Communities

Houston Rabbi Oren Hayon eating a deli sandwich sent from Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles after the Houston Astros won the World Series

What do good deli, Talmudic teachings, tzedakah (using money to do the work of world-repair or, literally, justice), and the 2017 World Series have in common?

For a pair of rabbis in the Reform Movement, plenty!

Moments after the Houston Astros clinched their World Series berth with a Game 7 victory over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, I messaged the senior staff at Congregation Emanu El in Houston: “We need to make a wager against Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles.”

The team chimed in instantly; they were in. Senior Rabbi Oren Hayon agreed to reach out to Yoshi Zweiback, his rabbinic colleague at Stephen Wise. Would our friends in California accept?

The answer was affirmative!

What to bet on…? What could be included?

In addition to having their beloved baseball teams headed into the World Series, the two communities shared something else: disasters and devastation.

Though it did not suffer the extensive damage of other synagogues in the Houston community, Emanu El suffered several hundred thousand dollars of damage to our campus during Hurricane Harvey, including a roof leak and significant moisture in the walls of its school building.

Additionally, more than 150 of the 1800 families that make Emanu El their spiritual home sustained damage related to the hurricane. For some, it was the second or third time in as many years.

For our friends in California, the 485-acre URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, sustained significant structural damage in the recent fires in Northern California.

Many families at Stephen Wise had sent their kids to the site ravaged by the fires, which was bought in 1997 and serves more than 1,400 children each summer. (The camp recently announced plans to operate at Cal State University – Maritime Academy during the upcoming summer.)

With a friendly wager and the vehicle that is social media, we could remind our own communities and those beyond that Hurricane Harvey relief is still much needed and how difficult it is for those in California not to have access to their beloved camp site for the summer of 2018.

The wager was simple.

If the Dodgers won, Emanu El would treat the Stephen Wise staff to pecan pies from Goode Company, a popular barbecue restaurant that ships its pies throughout the country. It also would donate to Camp Newman.

Rabbi Zweiback accepted Emanu El’s challenge on behalf of Stephen Wise and countered with this: if the Astros win, Stephen Wise would send a platter of meat from Factor’s Famous Deli and donate to Emanu El’s Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Throughout the closely contested World Series, Rabbis Hayon and Zweiback had fun with the wager, trading videos back and forth on their respective synagogue’s Facebook pages.

Some of Rabbi Zweiback’s videos featured Dodger Stadium in the background and in others, he jokingly took phone calls from congregants in need of rabbinic advice, all the while touting the Dodgers’ Jewish star Joc Pederson. Hayon, in his videos, scarfed down pecan pie and made a visit to Houston’s Kenny & Ziggy’s Deli, all in hopes of celebrating what Emanu El would not send, and in anticipation of the forthcoming deli treats from Los Angeles. The videos, a mix of Talmudic teachings and comedic antics, went viral, and were featured on KHOU-TV in Houston and KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, as well as in several Jewish publications.

After the series, Zweiback paid up on the promise of Stephen Wise Temple, which included the deli platter and a donation for to the congregation’s Hurricane Harvey relief fund. In honor of his colleague, Hayon announced in his “victory video” that a donation would be made to Camp Newman on behalf of Emanu El.

Though the World Series is over, and the Astros have their first-ever World Series title, the work in both communities is far from done.

The Reform Jewish community prays for Camp Newman’s recovery, renewal, and restoration, citing a Jewish star on the hill overlooking the camp that survived the fire, as a sign of hope for the future.

Our community in Houston is still very much in recovery mode. At Emanu El, the remediation work required following the aftermath of the storm is nearly complete, and our member families continue to rebuild their homes and their lives.

To contribute to Camp Newman, visit #NewmanStrong Relief Fund. To contribute to Emanu El’s hurricane relief fund, visit the congregation’s website.

Jason Plotkin, program director at Congregation Emanu El in Houston, TX, oversees programming and communications for the 1750-plus family member synagogue. He also serves on the board of the Program and& Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism (PEP-RJ).

Jason Plotkin

Published: 11/17/2017

Categories: Jewish Life, Arts & Culture, Jewish Camping, Reform Judaism
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