Last week, September 9, marked 50 years since Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs, his fourth career no-hitter. On the Jewish calendar, next week’s observance of Yom Kippur marks the 50th anniversary since Koufax sat out Game 1 of the World Series in observance of the Jewish holy day. Koufax went on to lead the Dodgers to a seven-game Series victory over the Twins in which he was MVP.
I was not yet born in 1965, but Koufax has always been my hero for his excellence on the field and his historic decision to put his Jewish identity first at a critical moment. My admiration for Koufax was forever cemented when I was ten years old. Two of my great-aunts lived in the same San Mateo, CA, condominium as Evelyn Koufax, Sandy’s mother, and they were friendly with her. Imagine my joy when I opened a package from one of the aunts to find a baseball with the inscription: “To Eddy, Good luck and very best wishes. Sandy Koufax”! I forgive the Great One for not using the preferred spelling of my nickname, Eddie.
The story of this gift was profiled in 2007 in the Cleveland Jewish News JStyles magazine. I remain grateful for my piece of “Koufaxabilia.” It reminds me of my late aunts and the importance of family. It reminds me of the prowess of Sandy Koufax, and it reminds me of his heroic gesture on Yom Kippur, 1965, that continues to inspire Jewish Americans. Jewish and American values do not have to conflict. In fact, they complement each other. Making a choice as Koufax did is as authentically American as it is Jewish. His inspiring decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series is a gift that keeps on giving.