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Monday, August 31, 2015

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Shul softball league starts season in June

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MONTREAL — It’s the bottom of the seventh and the Shaare Zion Lions lead the Beth Zion Brews 2-1. The Brews are at bat with two out, and the tying and go-ahead runs are on second and third.

That’s just one of the scenarios that could realistically happen this summer as the city’s fledgling Synagogue Softball League gets set to begin its most ambitious season to date in June.

Now in its third year, the competitive-but-fun league comprises synagogue staffers and members from participating congregations.

In 2008 and 2009, only three synagogues were in the league – Shaare Zion Congregation, Congregation Beth Ora and Beth Zion Congregation.

This year, three more have stepped into the batter’s box: Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom and the Montreal Torah Centre (MTC).

It’s a denominational hodge-podge, acknowledged league commissioner Asher Tannenbaum, that can only serve to transcend differences in ritual observance in favour of Jewish brotherhood and camaraderie.

Tannenbaum, Beth Ora youth director Amiel Bender and Beth Zion program director Rhona Samsonovitch got the league rolling in 2008, but it was really no more than a Sunday morning series of pick-up games when it started.

Things got a bit more serious and structured last year, Tannenbaum said, with the same three teams competing and Shaare Zion winning the season.

While virtually all of the players – up to 18 per team – are men and the league isn’t considered co-ed, women are also allowed to play, Tannenbaum said. Samsonovitch was on the Beth Zion team last year, for example.

So what would happen, Tannenbaum was asked, if a member of the rigorously Orthodox MTC team has to tag a female player out, since it’s strictly not kosher for a man to touch a woman who isn’t his wife?

Tannenbaum, who is Shaare Zion’s chazzan sheini and ritual director, didn’t think it would pose an insurmountable problem, since not all who attend services at the MTC are so strictly observant that they would refuse to tag out a female base runner.

In fact, Tannenbaum said, he heard that the MTC’s Rabbi Moshe New wants to pitch in the league. “I think this could help to build more relationships between synagogues – maybe more programming, more sports like ball hockey,” Tannenbaum said.

Tannenbaum, who with wife, Heather, have an eight-year-old son, Benjamin, and a three-year-old daughter, Madelyn, noted that about 15 years ago, a synagogue softball league took shape locally, but apparently it “became too competitive.”

In the current shul league, while the emphasis is on fun, teams also try hard to win.

The Shaare Zion Lions, for example, are holding tryouts, and each team has to pay an up-front fee for uniforms and to cover the cost of hiring real umpires.

The style of pitching will be “medium-pitch,” Tannenbaum said, with each team playing eight Sunday games through mid-August and four of the six teams making the playoffs.

The teams are open to players of any age.

“Our pitcher last year, Michael Wilansky, was 70 years old, and he was very good,” Tannenbaum said. “He also has had cataract surgery and says he can now see the ball better than ever.”

All games will take place at Cote St. Luc’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park, and the season will culminate with a best-two-out-of-three series over the Labour Day weekend, followed by a trophy ceremony, probably during Sukkot, at Shaare Zion.

“Softball at the sukkah,” Tannenbaum laughed.

Inquiries about the league can be made by calling individual shuls, or by e-mailing Tannenbaum at reverand@shaarezion.org.

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