An Asterisk of a Different Kind
August 15, 2011 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Ralph Branca's story now manages to combine baseball, tragedy, genealogy, Judaism and the Nazis
posted by xowie (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I found that article profoundly uncomfortable to read. I think it was because the author seemed repeatedly to be telling Branca 'Poof! You're Jewish now, no choice about it.'

There's likely a very interesting story there about immigration and conversion and whatnot, but it's inaccessible to us, as it's Branca's mother's story, and I think recounting telling Branca about it is a poor substitute.
posted by hoyland at 8:54 AM on August 15, 2011

As Prager is a quasi-autobiographer of Branca, it's not surprising that's his focus, and he often professionally has focused on the concept of secrets^. He also does raise the question of what it must have been like for Branca's mother, but has little to go on to answer it. The entire question came from a reader, and Prager explored it with Branca's consent. And ultimately, this article was for the Sports section.

It was a bit odd, but genealogy tends to dig up these unresolvable questions. They can sometimes make you uncomfortable. I hope one day to discover whether my Quaker ancestors, who may have been close relatives of William Penn and lived near a Penn family plantation in Maryland, once owned slaves themselves; it's quite possible the documentary evidence does not exist.
posted by dhartung at 9:14 AM on August 15, 2011

how can someone be Jewish if they were brought up Catholic? Can someone explain to me how it came to be that this religion also doubles as a nationality?
posted by any major dude at 9:30 AM on August 15, 2011

Ralph Branca's story now manages to combine baseball,





Um... okay. Why not?

Judaism and the Nazis

Wait, what now?
posted by eoden at 10:08 AM on August 15, 2011

any major dude: "how can someone be Jewish if they were brought up Catholic? Can someone explain to me how it came to be that this religion also doubles as a nationality?"

Judaism is both a religion and a culture. Jews believe that people can be biologically Jewish. -- meaning that someone is Jewish if one of their parents is Jewish* -- regardless of what their religious observance (or lack thereof) is.

To Judaism, a person is 'once a Jew, always a Jew.'

So one can choose not to ever follow the Jewish religion and still be considered biologically Jewish. In fact, even if a person converts to another religion and renounces their Judaism, they are still considered Jewish by virtue of their genetic heritage.

* In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism descent is Matrilineal, so if a person's mother was biologically Jewish, then they are as well. In Reform Judaism, it doesn't matter which parent was Jewish. One Jewish parent means they think you're a Jew.
posted by zarq at 10:13 AM on August 15, 2011

Interestingly enough, this means that someone who is Jewish can actually convert to say, Catholicism, but if they then decide to come back to the fold later in life, they would not be asked to convert back. They're always considered Jewish.
posted by zarq at 10:21 AM on August 15, 2011

I always liked that about Judaism. When you're chosen, you're chosen. Go on and have your little flings with Scientology, Catholicism, FSM, whatever. When you're ready to come back, it'll be like you were never gone.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:28 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I met Mr. Branca and Mr. Thomson at the Mall of America a few years ago. My dad was named after Bobby and will be 60 this fall (born just a couple weeks before that shot heard 'round the world). I was excited to meet Mr. Thomson and knew nothing about Branca who showed a bit of playful disappointment that my father was named after Bobby but no one I knew was named after Ralph. He tried to convince me to name my first child "Ralph" after him. When I asked if it was a girl, he said "Randi" would suffice. :)
posted by jillithd at 10:52 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with Hoyland that the article was making me uncomfortable. Why the gotcha? There is even an insinuation that he had to know as most of his siblings (17 kids) knew. The author seems to be implying that because Branca has an amazing memory, he had to remember his mother or another relative telling him the story. BS. I just kept saying to myself to leave the poor man (Branca) alone with this. He grew up catholic and is quite satisfied with his faith. Why keep harping on his mother's decision when she was 17 years old to convert in order to marry her love? And, his mother asked for and got her parents permission to marry a catholic and raise her children in that religion.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:18 AM on August 15, 2011

It was a bit odd, but genealogy tends to dig up these unresolvable questions. They can sometimes make you uncomfortable.

I don't think this is an uncomfortable question; I found the way the author seemed to be pushing Judaism on Branca, who seemed to think it was an interesting, but not life-changing story, uncomfortable.

I have an 'obviously' Hungarian surname and no apparent Hungarian ancestors. They seem to have been German speakers living in what was sometimes Hungary and sometimes (and now) Austria. Ellis Island sometimes thought some of them were Jewish. But I'm reasonably confident they were German-speaking Catholics with a mysterious Hungarian surname and I'm never going to get more than that. It would sort of turn my perception of my dad's family upside down if they were to turn out to be, say, Hungarian Jews who turned into German-speaking Catholics in the 19th century, but it wouldn't be uncomfortable, it'd just reinforce the not knowing anything thing. (But maybe it would make the Hungarians who say to me 'But you must be Hungarian' happy.)
posted by hoyland at 11:56 AM on August 15, 2011

... I thought he was just a DeLillo character...

I kid, I kid. But DeLillo's depiction of that day, "Pafko at the Wall" was one of the best stories I've ever read and sparked an interest in baseball, something I'd never though twice about until then.

This story reminds of a similar but different one about a friend whose x-times great grandfather was a Rabbi in Eastern Europe, came to the US at the turn of the last century and after settling in Minnesota became a Baptist Preacher who worked a revival circuit. The biggest mystery to her was not that he became a 'Baptist Preacher', but that he settled in Minnesota. His family, wife & two daughters, settled in Western Massachusets. He kept in touch with them he rest of his life, stopped by every year when the tent came through town. Made an extra trip those years it didn't. Must have been a hell of a knock, coming to the new world.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:38 PM on August 15, 2011

I was under the impression that all stories about Jews have something to do with baseball, geneology and Nazis. But maybe that's my personal experience talking.
posted by alona at 2:42 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Branca had to find room for his Jewishness in his life story, and quite literally. His autobiography, “A Moment in Time,” was due out in September. He inserted two sentences.

This paragraph really bothered me as well. Guy is told a few weeks before the publication of his autobiography that his mother converted from Judaism when she was 17, years before he was born, how many lines is he supposed to put in the book?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2011

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