Only a mere handful came out on Aug. 29 to Citizens Bank Park to get a free Phillies dreidel, eat delicious kosher food and partake in the festivities.
It sure seems like Jewish Heritage Night at the Phillies isn’t what it used to be. Then again, to be fair, neither are the Phillies.
How much of a correlation one is to the other is hard to say. But on a perfect night for baseball, only a mere handful came out on Aug. 29 to Citizens Bank Park to get a free Phillies dreidel, eat delicious kosher food and partake in the festivities — assuming they could find them.
“We were here at 10 a.m., and were here yesterday,” said Mordy Siegel, owner and, on this rare occasion, mashgiach for Kosher Concessions, the Chicago-based operation that had nowhere near the lines it did for July’s Democratic National Convention. “Every stadium has its own cash register system, so I told Aramark, [which controls ballpark vending], ‘I need cashiers and disposables [plasticware, plates and napkins].’
“I told them, ‘I’ll bring all the food and do all the things to get ready,’ which isn’t easy. But we’re hoping to be able to make this more permanent here next season.”
By then, presumably the 244 who signed up for the evening and received a $4 ticket discount — 178 of whom redeemed the coupon — will have spun their new dreidels for months. Jewish Heritage Night is just one of many “theme nights” the Phillies hold, along with celebrations of Italian, Latino, Greek, Asian Pacific, Irish, African American, German and other heritages.
In fact, directly across from where the giveaways were being handed out — along with the option to purchase a Phillies mezuzah, kippah and a Phillies cap with the Hebrew letter “Peh” — they were giving out rainbow-colored T-shirts for Pride Night. And, if you came back two nights later, it was Zombie Night. All zombies were admitted at half price — only kidding.
“They help us draw some people to the ballpark who wouldn’t normally come,” said Aramark’s Dave Zirilli. “We have a different setup for each, but this is the biggest setup we do.
“Traditionally, Jewish Heritage Night brings the most people.”
But as Tevye the Dairyman would tell you, not all traditions last, though they did lift the Phillie Phanatic off his chair while the P.A. system played “To Life: L’Chaim” after the fifth inning. Earlier, the Penn Shabbatones sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with the Phillies standing at attention along the first-base line.
With the exception of Adath Emanu-El of Mount Laurel, N.J., bringing a busload of people — including Sam Uberman wearing an authentic Jason Marquis Cardinals jersey in tribute to the one-time Jewish All-Star pitcher — they were the exception to the rule.
Worse, they entered near right field, while Kosher Concessions and Klezmer with Class, the two-man group playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and other favorites, were located on ground level down the left-field line.
“Two years ago, we were on the field,” recalled Mark Sobol, who played the keyboard, while Rick Gazda was on the clarinet under a tent with a giant “P” on it that resembled a big red chuppah. “It was really cool playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” klezmer style.
“But this year we’re not doing that.”
The lack of proximity to Jewish clientele almost certainly made this a losing proposition for Kosher Concessions, which had a similar problem during the Sixers’ Jewish Heritage Night in March.
Postponed by a January blizzard until a Saturday in mid-March when Shabbat ended later than the original date, there was no way Siegel could open his stand until the game was well underway.
With that fresh in his mind, Sixers Senior Account Executive for Group Events Evan Ostrosky is working to make sure this season’s event more than makes up for it.
“We’re already talking to organizations to make this night more than it has been,” said Ostrosky, who’s zeroed in on 6 p.m., Dec. 18 versus the Brooklyn Nets. “Last year, we had around 200 to 300 people.
“There are some NBA teams that get around 700 to 800. We’re aiming for that. We’ll have a group discount and some sort of giveaway, plus we’re looking to get a national musical group. It’s close to Chanukah, so we might do something like light the menorah.
“We want to make it a memorable night.”
Undoubtedly so did the Phillies, only to have it foiled by logistics and a general disinterest. While those who did turn out seemed to have a good time, there seemed to be something missing.
They can only hope that it’s cyclical, meaning as the team improves, interest in Jewish Heritage Night will pick up, too.
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