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Wiesenthal Center sponsors display in Rose Bowl parade

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 23 (JTA) — The Simon Wiesenthal Center has announced that it will enter a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. The New Year’s Day parade is expected to be seen worldwide by 450 million television viewers. The float, honoring baseball legend Jackie Robinson, is believed to be the first such entry by a Jewish institution in the 108-year history of the parade, according to Tournament of Roses official Steve Leland. Robinson broke the color barrier when in 1947 he was brought up from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team and became the first black player in the major leagues. The float, marking the 50th anniversary of that event, is titled “Breaking Barriers.” During his California time at Pasadena Junior High and UCLA, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was a quadruple threat; he played baseball, football, basketball and track. The float’s dimensions will match the spread of his athletic achievements. As conceived by professional designer Susie Garcia, the 35- foot-long float shows Robinson in a Dodgers uniform sliding to steal a base, flanked by a giant baseball inscribed with his name, a ribbon festooned with the names of his college and minor league teams, and the names of the sponsoring Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance. Robinson’s impact went beyond the playing field, fellow baseball greats Don Newcombe, Duke Snider and Lou Johnson said at the unveiling ceremony of the float’s design. As a barrier breaker, Robinson had to pay a heavy emotional price. “You have no idea of the shame heaped on Jackie, what people yelled at him, what they did to him, the hate mail and the death threats,” Newcombe told yeshiva and public school students at the ceremony. Robinson was an example and an inspiration to other black athletes and to African Americans in general, said Johnson. “Jackie gave us a chance to hold our heads high.” Snider was approached by fellow white Dodgers players to sign a petition binding them not to play on the same team with a “Negro.” Snider refused to sign and recalled that when the team was on the road, Robinson had to stay at a separate hotel for blacks. Shortly after Robinson was elected in 1962 to the Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first black to enter, he showed his mettle in another arena. When a Jewish businessman announced plans to open a steakhouse in Harlem, he was picketed by “black nationalists” shouting “Black man must stay, Jew must go,” according to a report in The New York Times. Robinson denounced the slogan and wrote in a newspaper, “All my life we have been fighting against this same thing as it applies to the Negro. It is a matter of principle. Black supremacy is just as bad as white supremacy.”