There is No Joy In Caracas

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

Mighty Casey would be jealous of Kevin Youkilis. The Boston Red Sox star came to bat in the top of the sixth inning of the World Baseball Classic game Sunday night between the United States and Venezuela.

In a memorable sequence, Youkilis fouled off pitch after pitch in his second plate appearance of the inning. Finally, on the 11th toss, he slammed a two-run homer to help propel a 15-6 rout of the Venezuelans.

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Youkilis’ patience and persistence reaped huge dividends in the lengthy battle against his Venezuelan opponent. That’s all well and good, but why is this significant fodder for a Jewish newspaper?

Well, for two good reasons: First, Youkilis, and two of his teammates on the national team, Ryan Braun and John Grabow, are Jewish (Braun also hit a homer in the game). Second, Hugo Chavez, the self-aggrandizing Venezuelan president, has been in the news recently for stoking anti-Semitic flames in his nation. During the recent conflict in Gaza, Chavez harshly castigated Israel for its military actions, calling its actions “genocidal.”

A few days later, 15 armed men severely vandalized the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in Caracas, and stole computers containing personal records of the Veneuzuelan Jewish community. To make matters worse, in late February, a hand grenade was thrown into the Beit Shmuel Synagogue, also in Caracas.

While Chavez denounced the initial synagogue attack as simply a tactic of his political opponents, the world Jewish community isn’t buying it. At a New York demonstration against the attacks, Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of the New York-based Amcha-the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, said: “We’re here because for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the buck stops at the top. When you compare the Israeli army to Nazis, when you use loaded phrases you create a climate which creates these attacks.”

Added Rabbi Weiss, the former spiritual leader of St. Louis’ Traditional Congregation, “After the anti-Jewish incitement which led to Kristallnacht, the Nazis disavowed responsibility and said it came from the grassroots. We see something similar now in Venezuela.”

This perception is echoed by a former member of the Chavez regime. In a National Public Radio report, Milos Alcalay, former Venezuelan Ambassador to Israel under Chavez, said: ” If you see the Venezuelan official press, if you see the Venezuelan television pushing people to go against the Zionism, against the Jewish people, you cannot be surprised that that kind of actions against the Jewish community are taken.”

Legislators in the U.S. are taking a stand. Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-FL, has introduced a measure calling on the governments of Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia to “take all necessary steps to ensure that anti-Semtism is not tolerated in South America and that the long-term safety of South America’s Jewish communities are secure.” He indicated that in the efforts to fight anti-Semitism in South America and Europe, “we are not yet winning.”

Yet on Sunday night, a well-known American Jew and World Series champ helped his team and nation win big. What’s more, he did so against a country headed by a ruler so enamored of himself that he just won an election asking his electorate to remove term limits so he could rule until at least 2021.

No one’s saying that Youkilis took any particular Jewish satisfaction on the field in defeating a nation headed by an incendiary fanatic. Nor is anyone asking the Red Sox star to carry the mantle for all Jews. He is free to make his own decisions of personal conscience. (In fact, Youkilis and his then-teammate Gabe Kapler took criticism from some in the Jewish community in 2004 for supporting their teammates by suiting up for a playoff game on Yom Kippur.)

But these considerations are really beside the point. The mere presence of Jewish athletes, in a leadership position on the field, participating, competing, and succeeding — and particularly in persevering through an emotionally inspiring at-bat as Youkilis did — sends a metaphoric message of the utmost important to the Hugo Chavezes of the world.

The message? We’re here. We’ll always be here. And no matter your heinous words and actions, we’ll just keep fouling off pitches, one at a time, no matter how long it takes.

And unlike Casey, we will never strike out.