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Take Me out to the Ballgame for Israeli Music, Kosher Food

August 6, 1998
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The banner yet waved — the Israeli blue-and-white banner, that is.

Before Tuesday night’s baseball game at Shea Stadium between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants, a group of youngsters stood in center field, holding both the American and Israeli flags.

As the more than 30,000 fans looked on in rapt attention, and the players from both teams stood with their hats over their hearts, Israeli singer David “Dudu” Fisher sang “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, before he launched into an operatic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Many in the audience mouthed the words to both anthems.

This unlikely scene was just one of many that occurred at Jewish Night at Shea, home of the Mets. Fisher had already performed a 25-minute concert behind home plate, singing popular selections from “Fiddler on the Roof” and Israeli classics such as “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”).

Although it was called Jewish Night, it was really Israel Night — as per an arrangement between the Mets and the Israeli Consulate in New York. Pins commemorating Israel’s 50th anniversary were distributed to the first 25,000 fans, and Israel’s consul general in New York, Shmuel Sisso, threw out the ceremonial first ball. Between innings, the center-field telescreen played videos promoting tourism to Israel and Jewish trivia questions.

But for one fan at least, Israel has nothing on Shea.

“When I went to Israel, I didn’t get the feeling that I’m getting here,” said Howie Heller of Queens, who was wearing a Mets cap with the team’s name spelled out in Hebrew.

Jewish Night was part of International Week at Shea — at other games, the Mets commemorated African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and the Irish.

During the week, the heritage, or heritages, of the player at bat was displayed on the telescreen.

“It’s meant to be a celebration” of all of the cultures “that make New York great,” said Mark Bingham, senior vice president of marketing and broadcasting for the Mets.

The Jewish Night festivities brought Annette Prager of Bergenfield, N.J., to a Mets game for the first time in nearly 20 years. Mets management has instituted a few changes since then, such as a glatt kosher hot dog stand located on the ground-level concourse on the first-base side.

Lines at the stand, which opened in May, were long. Some fans had to wait several innings before they could head back up to their seats with their kosher hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches and falafel.

It was the best night ever for the stand, said David Senter, the head of Star Services, the concession company running the stand.

“We served about 3,000 people,” he said, a huge increase from the fewer than 1,000 people who normally wait in line.

Near the kosher stand, groups of men davened, fulfilling their daily prayer obligations.

“Jews stop to pray everywhere,” David Bruckner of Long Island said by way of explanation.

Indeed, between the davening and the dress of the people — men wearing yarmulkas, women in long skirts — the concourse near the stand had the feel of a Jewish summer camp reunion.

No one seemed to care that it was all a bit schmaltzy. No one seemed to care that Fisher tripped up on the Star-Spangled Banner, pronouncing the word “spangled” as “sprangled.” No one seemed to care that it was impossible to understand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s message on the telescreen because the picture and sound were not synchronized.

As Elliott Roth, a regular attendee at Met games, put it, “It’s nice to see some yarmulkas out here.”

By the way, the Mets squeaked by the Giants, winning 7-6 in 10 innings.

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