By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD – By most counts, this is the 21st season of the Greater Hartford Synagogue Softball League. The seven teams are now batting their way toward the diamond at Hall High School in West Hartford, which will see playoffs on August 17 and a championship game the following week.
Each season brings small changes, says veteran league commissioner Alan Cetel of West Hartford. This summer, the league grew from six to seven teams, some representing single synagogues and others a coalition of congregations.
The line-up includes teams from Beth El Temple (West Hartford), Beth Israel Synagogue (West Hartford), Chabad House of Greater Hartford-Beth David Synagogue-Moishe House (West Hartford), Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford Alumni (West Hartford), Beth Sholom B’nai Israel (Manchester), B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom (Bloomfield)-Temple Sinai (Newington), and Emanuel Synagogue (West Hartford)-Beth Hillel Synagogue (Bloomfield)-Congregation Adath Israel (Middletown).
Cetel says that, while team names can be a mouthful, there hasn’t been a concerted campaign to come up with nicknames. (Any ideas? Send them to the Ledger at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The coed, slow-pitch, seven-inning game is an easy way not only to get involved in the game, but also acts as a friendly entry-point into the Jewish community, says Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky of the Benet Rothstein Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury, who plays for the Chabad House of Greater Hartford-Beth David Synagogue-Moishe House team.
“There is great camaraderie,” he says. “In Greater Hartford, we’re one Jewish community but on other hand, everyone is participating in different activities, so we don’t interact so much. This is a casual way to get to know each other in a friendly environment and friendly competition.” While greeting spectators, Wolvovsky often meets affiliated Jewish families who are looking to learn about the Jewish community.
Wolvovsky takes it upon himself to provide physical and spiritual refreshment at the games – cold water, ice pops, tefillin for the men – “to put on as an extracurricular thing,” he says.
The league has proven to be a good introduction to the Jewish community for newcomers, especially young adults.
Simona Lang moved to the area last summer and joined the Chabad House of Greater Hartford-Beth David Synagogue-Moishe House West Hartford team this year. “I joined because I love playing softball – I have been playing since I was in elementary school – and as a way to be involved in the community,” she says.
While Lang usually attends services at Emanuel Synagogue, she chose to bat for Moishe House, a meeting-place for Jewish young adults, where she leads Kabbalat Shabbat services, attends social and educational events, and volunteers. “It’s great to be a part of a Jewish community with other young people,” she says. “Playing softball together is a fulfilling team-building experience.”
From early June to the end-of-season tournament in late August, each team plays either eight or nine games (because of the odd number of teams).
There are a lot of special rules to allow a wide range of players, says Cetel. Each 10-player team must include a minimum of two women. There are no umpires. Each player gets three swings, with no balls or strikes. There are two home plates, one for the catcher and one for the runner, to avoid collisions. The big news this year was that the league added a bye, to give teams a week off to recuperate.
Cetel, who is also Beth El Temple captain, has headed the league for at least eight years – or maybe 10; he says that once you volunteer, it’s a permanent position.
“It’s been very hard to keep this thing alive,” says Alan Cetel, league commissioner and captain of the Beth El Temple team. “Getting people out to do anything athletic is tough.” The Emanuel, one of the largest synagogues in the area, nearly lost its team when the previous captain left the position because there was no one to corral the players. Beth Israel Synagogue of West Hartford rejoined the league this year after a long absence, brought back by assistant rabbi Dena Shaffer.
But every June, there are still enough teams to launch another season.
Jennifer Bronson of West Hartford first learned of the league through Moishe House email announcements and joined that team this year.
“I am new to Connecticut and thought it would be a good way to meet people and a good way to get outside and be active during the summer,” says the former resident of Ann Arbor, Mich. “It’s a chance to have fun and get to know new people in the young Jewish community. Through softball, I have been able to spend more time with people that I initially met at Moishe House and those friendships have grown over the course of the summer.”
Lang sees the league as a unique and enjoyable way to bring together the many synagogues and Jewish organizations of Greater Hartford.
“It allows people to meet other Jewish community members and to engage with their Jewish identity outside of the traditional spaces, which, I think, is really important for young adults,” she says. “I like being able to play a sport I enjoy in a casual, multi-generational environment. It’s a great way to be active and maintain a connection to my community. Plus, it always brings a smile to my face when I hear a coach say, ‘Rabbi, you’re on deck!’”
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