By Yonatan Sredni
On August 29, 1977, in front of 6,236 fans at Municipal Stadium, Cleveland Indians infielder Duane Kuiper hit his first major league home run. He played eight more years in the majors and never hit another one. Just a few hours later, on that same night, some 2,500 miles away in San Francisco, California, Benjamin Seth Kuiper was born.
Ben Kuiper lived for Sunday mornings. What had started out as an informal weekly Torah portion class after Sunday morning services, had quickly turned into "Sundays with Kuip". Men, women, and teenagers all crowded around the long rectangular table in the synagogue's social hall to hear Ben Kuiper "do his thing". Some came for the bagels and cream cheese, some came for the Torah learning, but everyone came to hear "Kuip". Rabbi Stone, although he never attended the class and always left quickly after services on a Sunday, supported the class as it brought in a good crowd to Sunday services. In fact, since "Sundays with Kuip" started, the synagogue had never had a problem getting a minyan at 8am on a Sunday - and that was all thanks to Ben Kuiper.
"Ok," Ben said, pacing around the table deep in thought. "As you all know, this is my last class with you."
A collective groan rose from the group and Ben couldn't help but smile.
"So, as Yom Kippur begins tonight, I thought we'd put aside our regular discussion about the Torah portion of the week and talk about Yom Kippur."
Ben proceeded to launch into a lecture about the origins and significance of Yom Kippur as a day of atonement for sins. He quoted verses from the Bible and sources from the Talmud. He retold the story of Moses breaking the tablets in reaction to the Israelites worshipping of the Golden Calf and God forgiving the Israelites on the 10th of Tishrei, Yom Kippur. He reviewed all the laws of the holiest day of the year: no eating, no drinking, no bathing, no marital relations, and no wearing leather shoes.
When he could talk no more, he stopped and glanced at his wristwatch.
"Ok, we've got five more minutes. Any questions?"
Marty Goldfarb broke the silence.
"Ok, Kuip. I get what you're saying about Yom Kippur and the fasting and forgiveness and all that stuff. That's fine. But honestly, how can we turn around all our actions in one day? I mean, what difference does Yom Kippur make anyway? It's just another day of the year, right?"
Ben studied Marty. Then a faint smile broke across Ben Kuiper's face.
"Bob Brenly. Does anyone know who Bob Brenly is?"
"Yeah," Mark Grossman called out, "Wasn't he the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks the year they won the World Series - the year with Schilling and Johnson- when they beat the Yankees."
"Yes, 2001," Ben added. "But what else? What about before that?"
"Didn't he play for the Giants?" Jessica Snyder asked timidly. "I think he was their catcher in the 80's."
"Yes! Exactly!" Ben pointed at her. "He was their catcher. In fact he was an All-Star at catcher for the San Francisco Giants in 1984."
He paused for effect and scanned the table. There were puzzled faces all around. He had them now.
"On September 14th, 1986, for some reason the Giants needed someone to fill-in for their regular third baseman. So, they put Bob Brenly, a catcher, at third base in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. In the fourth inning, Bob Brenly tied a Major League record with four errors at third base, booting three grounders and throwing wildly once to allow four unearned runs. Four errors in an inning! And now your team is losing by four runs because of you! So, what did Bob Brenly do? Did he take himself out of the game? Did he crawl under a rock and hide in the dugout? No! In the fifth inning he hit a solo home run, and in the seventh he added a two-run single to tie the score at 6-6. And in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the count full, he homered to win the game. Someone was even quoted as saying that Bob Brenly, was "the Comeback Player of the Year in one game."
Ben paused for effect and addressed Mr. Goldfarb. "So, what do you say, Marty? Can we turn around our actions in one day?"
"You convinced me, Kuip. But you'll never catch me playing third base for the Giants," he said, patting his pot belly.
Everyone around the table laughed. Before they left, Ben passed around little business cards with his contact information in Israel.
"May I take one?" a deep voice said.
Rabbi Stone had somehow sneaked in while everyone else had snuck out. How did he do that?
"Sure," Ben handed him a card.
The Rabbi studied the card carefully. The card featured a baseball in mid-air flying out of a town labeled Mountain View and headed towards one labeled Har-Nof. Under the ball in big bold letters were the words, 'high, deep,
OUTTA HERE!" And at the bottom it said "Ben & Leah Kuiper" with their new address and contact information in Israel.
"I don't get it," Rabbi Stone said.
"Well as you know, we're moving from Mountain View, California to the Har-Nof neighborhood in Jerusaelem. 'Har-Nof' in Hebrew means 'Mountain View'."
"Yeah, I got that." Rabbi Stone said scratching his neatly trimmed white beard. "It's the other part, the 'high, deep, outta here' part I don't get. I know you are happy to be moving to Israel, but 'outta' here'? Isn't that a bit much? Didn't you enjoy you time here in our little community?"
"No, no Rabbi, you've got it all wrong." Ben explained. "That part is from Duane Kuiper's trademark home run call. You know, the Giant's announcer? Anytime a Giant hits a home run he says, 'He hits it high... hits it deep...OUTTA HERE!'"
"I see," the Rabbi said putting the card in his shirt pocket. "Ben, there's something I want to discuss with you. Do you have a couple of minutes?"
"Well actually, I have to get back to my apartment. I have a lot of stuff to do." He hoped that would get him out of a long schmooze with the Rabbi. Rabbi Stone was a schmoozer.
"I'll walk with you and we can talk over there. It's just across the street, right?"
Ben was trapped now. They walked across the street to the Vista View apartment complex. Many of the young synagogue members had moved in there recently, including many Israelis working in the Silicon Valley, hence the complex's nickname, "Little Tel Aviv".
'"So, when's your flight?" Rabbi Stone asked as he gingerly stepped around the suitcases lining the doorway to Ben's apartment.
"Right after Yom Kippur," Ben replied, moving a box off a chair so the Rabbi could sit. "San Francisco to New York to Tel Aviv."
"And how are Leah and the boys?"
"Oh they're great, just great. I just spoke to them early this morning. They arrived in Israel just fine and are staying with Leah's parents in Haifa till our apartment in Jerusalem is ready. Hopefully we can all move in just after I get there. "
"Yes, you did well sending your wife and kids ahead of you to her parents," the Rabbi concurred. "But are you managing all right here?" he asked looking around at the boxes marked "Kuiper" strewn about the apartment.
"I've got it all under control, Rabbi Stone. I'm shipping all these boxes later today and then it'll be easy."
The Rabbi didn't buy it, but said nothing. He wandered around the tiny apartment and into the tiny room Ben and Leah used as an office. The computer's wallpaper was a picture of Leah and Ben in matching baseball jerseys with the name 'Kuiper' stitched on the back. Papers were scattered everywhere. Organization was not Ben's strong suit. A baseball glove rested atop the computer monitor.
"You know, I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan growing up in New York", Rabbi Stone said with a sigh, examining the glove. "And then I followed them a little bit when they moved to LA, but I stopped watching the games years ago. There are no good, decent players left anymore- no mentches, if you know what I mean."
"What about Duane Kuiper?" Ben asked, pointing to the far wall of the office, his little shrine to the original 'Kuip'. It started as something fun when he was a kid, a clipping here, a picture there, just a baseball player with the same last name as his, but over the years it had turned into somewhat of an obsession.
Rabbi Stone glanced over at the Wall of Kuiper.
"How many home runs did he hit?
"Just one," Ben answered sheepishly. "But that's one more than you or I ever hit in the majors. He also hit it on the day I was born, 30 years ago. And - get this - he hit it off a Jewish pitcher named Stone, Steve Stone. So Kuiper and Stone are linked forever. Pretty cool, isn't it, Rabbi Stone?"
Rabbi Stone waved his hand in dismissal and shook his head. Ben was a good kid. It was too bad the community was losing him, but he'd be better off religiously in Israel anyway. Still, the Rabbi was intrigued by the "Kuiper Wall of Fame" and went over to inspect it more closely.
"I couldn't bare to take it down yet," Ben explained. "So I'm waiting till after Yom Kippur."
The Rabbi wasn't listening. He was reading Duane Kuiper's career stats off the wall.
Sensing the Rabbi's disapproval of Kuiper's career statistics, Ben threw some trivia at him.
"Did you know Daune Kuiper holds the distinction of being the only Major League player to hit two bases-loaded triples in a game? It was on July 27, 1978 at Yankee Stadium."
The Rabbi turned around and faced Ben. He was not impressed.
"So, this Kuiper of yours, is he Jewish?"
"Ach," the Rabbi waved him off again. "Sandy Koufax - now there's a great Jewish ball player, a real mentch. Did you know he didn't pitch the first game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur?"
"Sure, October 6th, 1965." Ben said proudly. "Koufax was supposed to start game 1 of the Series against the Minnesota Twins, but it fell on Yom Kippur, so he attended a synagogue in St. Paul instead."
"Yes," the rabbi nodded, "and, if memory serves, after being the losing pitcher the day after Yom Kippur, Koufax came back to pitch two complete games - games 5 and 7. And the Dodgers won both, winning the World Series that year."
"Rabbi, you know you're stuff." Ben was indeed impressed. "But there's more to the Koufax Yom Kippur story."
"Oh?", now the Rabbi was intrigued.
"You see, since Koufax was unavailable to start game 1 of the World Series due to Yom Kippur, the Dodger's manager started Don Drysdale in his place."
"And he lost."
"Oh, he lost all right. Drysdale gave up seven runs in less than three innings, so when his manager Walter Alston came out to pull him from the game, Drysdale cracked, 'I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too'."
Rabbi Stone laughed. He had not heard that quote before. He made a mental note to try and remember it.
After an uncomfortably long silence, Ben finally said, "So, Rabbi Stone, to what do I owe this visit? Or did you just come by on the day before Yom Kippur to talk baseball?"
"No, no" the Rabbi answered, getting very serious all of a sudden. "I need to ask you a favor."
"Anything. You name it, Rabbi Stone. Do you want me to get you something from Israel?"
The Rabbi paced around the room for a while circling, but never sitting in, the chair Ben had prepared for him.
The Rabbi was in the Kuiper Corner with his back towards Ben. Ben couldn't make out what the Rabbi was doing, it might have been some kind of meditation, but he could have sworn he saw him raise his arms and leg in a pitching type motion.
"Rabbi Stone?" Ben finally asked.
The Rabbi whipped around startled. He quickly lowered his right arm, caught in a forbidden reverie.
"Benjamin," he declared. "Do you know what a Taanit Dibur is?"
"A Taanit Dibur? You mean a 'speech fast'?"
"Yes Benjamin, a speech fast. In addition to physically fasting by not eating food on Yom Kippur I want to attempt a speech fast this year. I want to attempt to go through the whole Yom Kippur without speaking, except for prayer of course."
"But why?" Ben asked. "It's pretty difficult refraining from eating on Yom Kippur, why do you want to refrain from speaking too?"
The Rabbi sat and looked Ben straight in the eye. "You know what I don't like about Yom Kippur, Ben? It's all the talking. I mean, this is the holiest day of the year and we spend all day in synagogue fasting, but my spiritual day is always ruined when congregants come up to me after Kol Nidre or during the afternoon break and talk to me about such mundane things like the stock market, Israeli politics, or baseball. No offense."
"None taken," Ben assured him although he was a little uncomfortable when he mentioned baseball. "So, if you want to do a Taanit Dibur this Yom Kippur I am sure that's fine. The congregation will understand and I don't see any reason you shouldn't do it."
"I am so glad you feel that way, Ben," the Rabbi smiled broadly. "Because there is one thing I want to ask from you as favor in order to help me accomplish my Taanit Dibur."
"Sure, anything," Ben replied.
"Ben, let me put it to you in terms you can understand. I don't want to pitch on Yom Kippur."
"Huh? Pitch on Yom Kippur? I don't follow."
The Rabbi smiled at Ben. "Yes, I am a Rabbi, and a Rabbi is expected to give sermons to his congregants. It's like a pitcher whose job it is to pitch. And I don't want to pitch on Yom Kippur this year. I am like Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series and I want you to be Don Drysdale and pitch in my place."
Ben was confused, utterly confused.
"Ben, simply put, I want you deliver the Yom Kippur sermon this year in my place."
"I beg your pardon?" Ben stuttered.
"You see, although delivering a sermon on Torah issues is technically not a violation of my speech fast, as it is certainly appropriate, holy, speech, just like praying is. But I still fear that if I give the sermon I might lapse. Someone may approach me afterwards to discuss it and I might get off topic. I really want to limit my spoken words on Yom Kippur to prayer."
Ben nodded along, unaware he was doing so.
"So, I have decided not to give a sermon this Yom Kippur. It's up to you kid."
"Rabbi Stone," Ben protested. "You know I'm not a public speaker. Can't you get someone else? Perhaps a guest Rabbi? I could make some calls."
"No, Ben, I want you. Besides, you are leaving us right after Yom Kippur. This will be the congregation's last chance to hear from you. I'd like you to do it."
"No buts, Ben," the rabbi cut him off. "Why do you think I waited till the last moment to ask you? So you couldn't back out. I know you too well, Ben Kuiper."
He was right. Ben didn't have time to back out and he could never refuse a request from Rabbi Stone.
Rabbi Stone got up and turned to the door.
"I'm counting on you, Ben. I've heard how you wow them in class every Sunday. I'm sure you'll be great."
"Rabbi," Ben asked. "How do I know this isn't a trick to get me to give a speech in public?"
"Ben," the Rabbi gave him a stern look, which showed just a hint of devilish smile. "Would I trick you on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year?"
"I guess not," Ben said. "Any advice?"
The Rabbi grabbed the doorknob and turned back to Ben.
"I am sure you will come up with something. Search deep inside yourself and you'll find an answer. And as a personal favor to me, please make sure you sermon is Yom Kippur related - don't talk about baseball."
And before Ben could react, he let himself out the front door, leaving Ben alone with his boxes and his biggest fear public speaking.
It was so silly, Ben thought to himself. It was just a speech? How had he survived Jewish Day School, Yeshiva high school, and college? Somehow, every time there was a presentation in front of the class, he had gotten a classmate to do the speaking and he had done the research. One time in grade school he had to give an oral book report and he nearly passed out, so the teacher let him write a paper instead.
He had discussed it with Leah on several occasions in the past.
"But you can teach classes? What's the difference?" she'd say.
"That's teaching. I'm not giving a speech. Speeches are in front of crowds. And, I'm sorry, but reading from a piece of paper is not a speech. You're supposed to make eye contact."
"But you're a speech writer, Ben," Leah would counter. "You've written speeches for nearly every Israeli politician who has ever come through the Bay Area, and for every kid who ever had a Bar Mitzvah in this town. Heck, you just got a job writing speeches for the American Ambassador in Israel. That's one of the reasons why we're moving to Israel, remember?"
All his efforts to convince her that it was easier to write a speech than to deliver one fell on deaf ears. She never had that problem. Leah was Israeli born, a sabra. She could say anything to anyone anywhere, at anytime or anyplace. Ben was the opposite.
How he wished he could call Leah now, but it was already Yom Kippur in Israel. He thought about calling his brother in New York or his sister in Boston, but it was already Yom Kippur there too. It was the same story for his parents who were now somewhere in Europe.
He knew it was all psychological. Both his parents were pros at giving speeches. Dad lectured to businesses and mom to colleges. Even the greatest leader of them all Moses was "slow of speech and slow of tongue". So he had his brother Aaron speak for him. Ben's little brother was still in college, but he was on the debate team in high school and was destined to become a motivational speaker. So one Kuiper in the family wasn't a public speaker, big deal.
Still, he had to give that speech tonight after Kol Nidre. The place would be packed. What to do? Imagine the audience in their underwear? Old Mrs. Kohn in her panties? Mel Goldfarb in his boxer shorts? Yikes!
He couldn't give a class like he did each Sunday - this was Yom Kippur. People were expecting a sermon. Something inspirational, something uplifting, and something where the speaker looks at each one of them and gets to their soul. No, this wasn't a dozen people sitting around a table eating bagels, this was the big time. The Yom Kippur sermon was the Superbowl of sermons.
Ben laced up his non-leather Yom Kippur tennis shoes, straightened his tie and checked himself in the mirror. What was Jerry Sienfeld's famous bit? 'According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.'
Ben turned to his Duane Kuiper shrine, looked at the baseball card of #19, his bat ready to strike, and faintly whispered, "Help me Kuiper!"
The Mountain View Minyan (or MVM, as it was commonly known) was a small modern orthodox congregation. The seating was separate, the prayers were all in Hebrew, and only the men led the services and read from the Torah. However, it was considered pretty "modern" as the mechitza separating the sexes which ran right down the middle of the synagogue was "on the low" side. Rabbi Irving Stone was a retired Brooklyn Rabbi who had came to Northern California several years ago for some R&R. He became the "volunteer" Rabbi of the congregation around the same time Ben and Leah joined the community.
The Mountain View Minyan had its own tiny building which it used for services throughout the year except for Yom Kippur when the building simply couldn't accommodate the larger crowd. Fortunately, due to the large numbers of Jewish students and teachers in the Mountain View School District, Yom Kippur had recently been declared a "Local Holiday" and all public schools in the area were closed. So, the MVM used the auditorium of the local public school, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, for Yom Kippur services. Soon this became the norm and everyone knew that for YK, the MVM was at MLK.
Ben paused at the entrance of the school and gazed at the bronze statue. It was odd that the school was named after Martin Luther King Jr. because from what he could tell, from watching kids play at recess when he drove by the school during the week, the student body was predominately non-black. In fact, most of the students were not white, but either Latino or Asian.
As He walked down the hall towards the auditorium, Ben paused by the poster of Dr. King delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech. Now, there was a public speaker. He had a dream. Ben had nothing.
"Ben," Rabbi Stone called out to him from up on the stage. "Come sit up here with me. I've got the best seats in the house - box seats."
"No, no, Rabbi Stone. The stage is for the Rabbi and the shul president. I'll just find a seat down here."
"Please, Ben," the Rabbi jerked his head in the direction of synagogue President Larry Levine, who was fiddling with his white yarmulke, trying to clip it to his bald head with a bobby pin. "Don't make me sit up here by myself with him! I'll kill myself."
"Ok, ok," Ben smiled as he came up the stage stairs and took the empty seat next to the Rabbi. "I wouldn't want to be responsible for a rabbi's suicide on Yom Kippur."
"Are you ready for your sermon?" the Rabbi asked.
"I think so," Ben replied, his voice cracking. "But, Rabbi, I really don't know if I should do this. It's your job, Rabbi Stone. You should be the one giving the sermon."
The Rabbi looked at his watch.
"It is nearly sundown, Ben. Yom Kippur is starting. I am beginning my Taanit Dibur now. Don't worry, you'll be fine. We'll talk after the fast tomorrow night."
"But, Rabbi Stone," Ben pleaded.
"Oh, and remember, stick to Yom Kippur topics - no baseball in the sermon." And with that the Rabbi pulled the Tallit over his head and began his fast of silence.
President Larry got up to the podium and asked for quiet. The crowd hushed. The two men who had been honored with the taking of the Torah scrolls from the ark ascended to the stage. The chazzan, dressed in the tradition white kittel stood in front of the ark with his back to the congregation and each of the honorees flanked him with their Torah scrolls on either side. The congregation stood at attention.
The familiar tune of Kol Nidre filled the auditorium. It started softly, then got louder and louder as it continued. Once, twice, and then the third and final time- the chazan's voice booming.
Then the scrolls were quickly and quietly returned to the ark and the congregation sat.
President Larry adjusted his yamulkah again and approached the podium.
"Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova everyone! May you all be inscribed in the book of life for a good and sweet new year." He smiled broadly, the way he did in his life insurance commercials.
What an idiot, Ben thought.
"As many of you know, I sell insurance. Perhaps you've seen my commercials on channel 36?"
"Anyway," he continued. "It's interesting, but I always seem to sell the most life insurance policies just before Yom Kippur."
He paused, but nobody laughed.
Larry cleared his throat. He removed a piece of paper from his coat pocket and began reading.
"The Mountain View Minyan holds services every Friday night and Saturday morning. Friday night at ten minutes before sundown and Saturday Shabbat- mornings at 9am followed by a kiddush, with some good food to nosh on, in the social hall. We will not be having a kiddush tomorrow after services due to Yom Kippur."
The congregation laughed. Larry was startled. He hadn't realized he had said something funny.
"We also have a Sunday morning minyan at 8am followed by "Sundays with Kuip" at 9am."
A murmur went up from the crowd. It took Larry a moment to realize his error.
"Actually," Larry corrected himself, "Sundays with Kuip" is not continuing as our own Benjamin Kuiper is leaving us for Israel right after Yom Kippur. We wish him and his family well." He turned and smiled at Ben who just wished he could crawl under his chair.
"Now we will hear from Rabbi Sto
" he turned to Rabbi Stone, but just then remembered the change. Larry had forgotten to write it down beforehand.
"Excuse me, my mistake. We will now hear from Benjamin Kuiper. Ben?"
Larry stepped aside, shook Ben's hand and sat down. Ben stepped up to the podium and gripped the lectern on either side.
He looked out on the crowd. The place was packed. Every seat in the auditorium was filled. It was standing room only in the back.
"What's the matter with Kuip?" Jerry whispered from the third row.
"He's gonna choke." Marty whispered back.
"Shhh." Arnold Levine shushed them.
Ben tried again, "It says in um
"Come on, Kuip!" Jessica Snyder rooted from her seat in the ladies section.
" Ben coughed.
"I told ya' he was gonna' choke," Marty elbowed Jerry. Arnold Levine flashed him a dirty look.
Finally Larry and Rabbi Stone came over and they huddled for a moment. Then Rabbi Stone signaled to the chazzan Steve Steinman and he re-assumed his position.
"We will now continue with the evening service for Yom Kippur on page 84 of your machzors," Larry announced and immediately the chazzan launched into his repertoire.
Ben returned to his seat and kept his head in his machzor pretending to be immersed in his prayers, but he wasn't. He was so ashamed. He grabbed the back of his tallis and pulled it over his head. The Rabbi had done it to block out distractions and focus on his prayers, but for Ben it was a way to hide. He plotted his escape. As soon as the service was over he bolted out the back door and made it back to his apartment without being seen.
Damn it, Ben thought to himself. What an idiot he was. They were probably all standing outside the synagogue now laughing at him. He plopped himself down on his couch. How he wished he could have a beer to take the edge off, but it was Yom Kippur, so no beer, no food, no nothing. He needed a strategy. Ben checked his watch nearly 10:30. In a little more than 24 hours he would be on a plane. He couldn't face those people tomorrow, but what choice did he have. It was Yom Kippur. He couldn't not go to the synagogue. He'd just do what he did today. He'd get there really early, at the start of services before anyone else got there, and just be really focused on the prayers all day, not talk to anyone. Then before you know it, the fast would be over and he'd be out of Mountain View for good.
He tried sleeping, but it eluded him. He thought about Leah. How was he so lucky to end up with her? He thought back to freshman year at Stanford Political Science Professor Merker. He always sat near the back, always conscious of the knitted yarmulke on his head, although no one had ever said anything about it. Then one day a girl in a jeans skirt sat next to him in Merker's class and asked, 'Is there any place to get kosher food around here?', and the rest, as they say, is history.
He never imagined he would end up with a brunette. In high school he always thought he would end up with a Betty and not a Veronica. But this Veronica had some Betty in her. She was sweet, but very straightforward, very Israeli. Ben always thought of himself as the nerd, a Woody Allen type. In high school the kids teased him due to his Clark Kent glasses, but when he got contacts, that stopped thank God. Leah was the smart, popular girl, the type who never talked to guys like him. How in the world did a geek like him end up with Leah?
He went over to his tiny office/workroom in search of something to read. Unfortunately, all his books were packed away. The only thing to read was on The Wall of Kuiper. He liked the USA today article about Duane Kuiper and his brothers Jeff and Glen who all work in broadcasting. The headline read, "Work Ethic Makes for Good TV from Kuipers". To the left of the article there was a photo of the three smiling Kuiper brothers with the caption: 'The Brothers Kuiper: Glen, left, Jeff, back, and Duane are all involved in broadcasting major league games. Glen calls the Athletics games, Duane calls the Giants and Jeff produces Giants broadcasts.'
It was a nice artice about how the Kuiper brothers grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and how Duane played in the major leagues with the Indians and then the Giants. After he retired Duane started broadcasting Giants games. Then his brother Glen started broadcasting A's games across the bay, and Glen would produce them behind the scenes.
Ben had read the article dozens of times. 'TV play-by-play man Duane Kuiper tells the Giants audience the broadcast will cut away for a recap of the Oakland Athletics' game. From Cleveland, baby brother and A's play-by-play announcer Glen Kuiper describes how Eric Chavez's two-run homer helped Oakland defeat the Indians in another production shown by Fox Sports Net Bay Area. He then tosses it back to Duane in San Francisco. The exchange is coordinated by middle brother Jeff, who's producing the later game from a truck just outside San Francisco's AT&T Park.'
Ben thought how nice it must be for those Kuiper brothers to get to work together. He recalled how one time for a Giants-A's interleague game, Duane and Glen Kuiper broadcast the game together, with brother Jeff producing it. That must have been fun. Ben tried to think of the last time he had done something fun together with his brother. He couldn't come up with anything.
Ben continued to scan the wall. He read the factoids. Duane Kuiper was voted one of the top 100 Cleveland Indian players of all time. In 3,374 Major League plate appearances Duane Kuiper was only able to hit one single wind-blown 360 foot home run. For major leaguers with at least 3,000 plate appearances, this is the lowest total ever. He hit it off Steve Stone of the Baltimore Orioles. Duane's homer came after 1,381 ML at-bats without a home run, and in his remaining 1,997 plate appearances, Kuiper never managed to hit another one. The home run landed in the second row of the right field bleachers. Some say that if the right fielder hadn't been playing so shallow, he might have caught the ball Ben didn't believe that. After he retired, Kuiper was asked why he hit only one home run in his career and he quipped, "One is better than none, but any more than that and people start expecting them."
Yes, Kuiper was known for his defense and not his bat. Ben actually got to see him play in San Francisco his last year in the majors, but in those days the Giants were awful and it was not a good idea to show up at Candlestick Park with a #19 jersey and the word "Kuiper" stitched on the back. "You suck, Kuiper!" they'd shout -and those were the Giants fans. At one game years later, they gave out little barbeque sets and one guy in the bleachers held it up and said, "Who wants my crappy Duane Kuiper barbeque?" and everyone laughed. Apparently, everything associated with Duane Kuiper was crappy in those days.
But something changed when he became an announcer. Suddenly he was funny and insightful. He teamed with ex-teammate and former pitcher Mike Krukow (20 wins and an All Star in 1986) to form the popular Kruk & Kuip broadcasting team. Suddenly Kuip was Kruk's straight man. He laughed at himself and his career. And when the duo started winning Emmys for sports broadcasting, people took notice. Suddenly it was cool to be a Kuiper fan again.
Looking back, it was Kuiper's remarkable staying power that made Ben love him. Look, the guy couldn't hit, couldn't run, banged only one home run in his entire career, and yet, he was always out there, year after year. That's why Ben felt an affinity towards him. I mean, if this guy could go through all that and still play second base in the Major Leagues, then Ben knew he could too.
The next morning Ben assumed his seat up on the stage, but suffered through the entire day. He couldn't shake his non-speech from the night before. Sitting up there on the stage with the Rabbi and President Larry, he felt as though the whole world was watching him. He kept checking his watch, counting down the hours till he would be free of the MVM. The morning service went relatively quickly, but the Mussaf service seemed to drag on and on. Chazzan Steve had mixed in new tunes in with the traditional ones, which made it even more excruciating for Ben. Even during the hour and a half break in between the Mussaf and Mincha services, Ben stayed put. He found an unlocked, empty classroom and put his head on the teacher's desk and took a nap. He returned to the auditorium just in time, and prepared to focus on the afternoon prayers.
Larry came up to him after the break and handed him a card 'you have been honored with Maftir'. Ben knew he couldn't refuse. It was a high honor, his last as a member of the Mountain View Minyan. The reading was from the Book of Jonah. Ben suddenly remembered a bit from the Tonight Show where Jay Leno would ask people on the street questions. 'Jay-walking', he called it. One time he was asking people Bible questions and asked one college student, "In the Bible, who was swallowed by a whale?" Without hesitation the guy answered, "Pinocchio".
Ben had no trouble chanting the Maftir. He read it flawlessly then returned to his seat. When he thought about it, the story of Jonah wasn't really about Jonah getting swallowed by a whale or more correctly a really big fish, as the Hebrew text put it, but the reason why it happened. God wanted Jonah to go preach to the wicked people of Ninveh and make them repent, but Jonah didn't want to do it. He tried running away from God by getting on a ship. Then there was a storm. Then he was thrown overboard. Then he was swallowed by a fish. Then he was spit out after three days. And then he reluctantly did the job God wanted him to do. In fact, the reason Jews read this story on the afternoon of Yom Kippur was not for the fish story, but because of the end. Because after Jonah walked through the metropolis of Ninveh for three days shouting just one line "In 40 days Ninveh will be destroyed." Sure enough, all of the people, from the king on down, repented and disaster was averted. That was the Yom Kippur message. But Ben couldn't get over the beginning of the story. Why did God make Jonah do something he didn't want to do? Leave the guy alone. If he doesn't want to give the message, let someone else do it. Why him? Why me?
Finally, the chazzan reached the Neilah prayer, the concluding service of Yom Kippur. Neila means locking, as in the gates of heaven are locked up after this prayer. Ben just wanted to lock up his apartment and get on that damn plane.
Nearly an hour after he started Neila, the chazan said the final Kaddish. The entire congregation rose in unison in anticipation as Jake Lewis quickly ascended to the stage to blow the shofar signaling the end of Yom Kippur and the end of the most humiliating day of Ben Kuiper's life.
But just before Jake was about to reach for the Shofar, Rabbi Stone came over and pointed at his watched. Jake checked his own watch, nodded, and stepped back. President Larry came over and the three of them huddled together for a brief conference. When they emerged, Larry approached the podium.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems that our prayers have been extra speedy this year. Apparently we have about five minutes left until Yom Kippur is officially over and we can blow the shofar. So, if you'd please be seated."
The congregation sat.
"Perhaps we'll use this time to hear from...," Larry looked over at Rabbi Stone in hopes he would fill the time.
Rabbi Stone shook his head and turned to Ben and gave him "that" look. It was the look that said, 'You're up, rookie! Don't screw it up again!'
Ben didn't know what possessed him to get up out of his chair, but he did. Larry stood aside and Ben, sweating profusely, gripped the lectern once again.
"Here we go again," Jerry muttered from the fourth row.
"I bet you fifty bucks he chokes again," Marty whispered back.
"Come on, Kuip!" Jessica Snyder prayed.
." Ben couldn't get the words out.
"I told you so," Marty elbowed Jerry. "He's gonna blow it again."
Ben tried to focus. He saw faces but could not recognize them. Rabbi Stone's words from the night before echoed in his head - 'No baseball'.
Ben closed his eyes and tried to find his "happy place", a place to focus on. But the place he found was Cleveland. Municipal Stadium, August 29, 1977, the day he was born. There was #19 Duane Kuiper swinging away and driving a ball to deep right field. He could hear the announcer's call "Duane Kuiper has hit his first major league home run. Look at Duane run those bases - that's one happy ballplayer."
"Ben? Ben?" Larry was nudging him from behind. Ben turned around and gave him the thumbs up sign, and with a nervous grin, he began.
"In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers - Chapter 2, Mishna 15, Rabbi Eliezer said: "Repent one day before your death. His disciples asked him, 'But can one truly know which day one will die? He answered them. 'Then you must repent each and every day because you never know if it will be your last."
"That's depressing", Marty said.
Jerry shushed him.
"T'shuva means repentance. Literally, 'to return'. Why don't people do T'shuva? Why don't people repent? I have a theory."
Now Ben started to pace around the stage. His "Sundays with Kuip" regulars noticed something. He was getting into 'the zone'.
"I think the reason people don't repent is that they are afraid. We are afraid. We did something wrong, but we're afraid to admit we made a mistake. We're afraid to apologize. We're afraid to correct our mistakes. We're afraid to try new things. We're afraid of what people might say. We're just plain afraid."
Ben scanned the audience. He had their full attention.
He returned to the lectern.
"But we can change all that. We can overcome our fear. We can do it!" He pounded his fist on the lectern which startled most everyone including Ben himself.
"All it takes is one try."
Ben took a long pause.
Jessica thought he would cry. Jerry thought he would laugh. Marty thought he was going to choke again.
"Rabbi Eliezer said: 'Repent one day before your death!' So, you've got to repent every single day because you never know if you are going to get another shot." He looked out over the crowd, but they did not appear to be getting his message. He was not reaching them. He looked over at Rabbi Stone who remained expressionless. Ben was about to break the Rabbi's request, but so be it. "Let's say you're a baseball player."
Jessica smiled. She knew where he was going with it. Marty picked up on it a second later.
"Let's say God gives you the gift of being a professional major league baseball player, but you don't know how long your baseball career is going to last. You might get injured tomorrow. You might get sent back down to the minor leagues. So you've got to make each game, each at-bat, and each swing count!"
Out of the corner of his eye Ben could see Jake Lewis moving forward to come blow the shofar. His time was almost up.
"So remember this: A guy named Kuiper had more that 3000 at bats in the major leagues but only hit one home run. That home run came after 1,381 major league at-bats without a home run, and in his remaining 1,997 plate appearances, Kuiper never managed to hit another one. In about half a minute, Jake's going to come up here and blow the shofar and that will be it for this year. BUT, God is giving us all another 365 chances till next Yom Kippur another 365 at-bats - so it's up to us to try as hard as we can each and every day to swing for the fences - because you never know how many chances you are going to get in this lifetime. You never know if you're going to get another chance. You've got to make every day count!"
And with that, Ben Kuiper stepped back and closed his eyes. The congregation stood and Jake put the shofar to his lips and a long tekiah blast was heard. When Ben opened his eyes, the congregation erupted into the traditional singing of 'Leshanah Habaah Be'Yerushalayim' - Next Year in Jerusalem.
President Larry came over and patted him on the back.
"Nice job, Ben. For you it will be next week in Jerusalem."
Ben grinned and looked over at the Rabbi.
Rabbi Stone's reaction was hard to gauge as his serious expression never changed.
After the evening service had finished everyone went to the lobby and broke their fast on sponge cake and juice.
"I'm going to miss you Ben," Jessica Snyder said wiping her eyes with a tissue. "Sunday's just won't be the same without you."
"I feel the same way," Jerry joined in. "And you did a nice job up there, although it was kind of 'touch and go' there for a minute."
"I never doubted him for a second." Marty barged in with a smirk. "Just like good old Bob Brenly, you made up for your earlier mistakes. You were the Comeback Player of the Day. Have you ever considered a career in public speaking?"
Ben blushed and admitted to Marty that it was the first time he had every successfully delivered a speech.
"That was your first time? Not bad. When are you going to come back and give us another one?"
"Well," Ben mused, "I think my speech giving days are over. Or as Duane Kuiper once said, when asked why he only hit one homer, 'One is better than none, but any more than that and people start expecting them.'"
Suddenly Ben felt a hand on his shoulder. He whipped around and saw Mrs. Stone, the Rebbetzin.
"You did a nice job up there, Benjamin, very nice. Maybe even better than my Irving does."
"I'm not so sure. What did your husband say about it?"
"I don't know, boychick," she pinched his check. "I haven't spoken to him all Yom Kippur. He got this crazy idea into his head not to talk the whole Yom Kippur. I can't believe he managed to do it, but he did. I think he just gets tired of people constantly talking about silly things like the stock market, politics, and baseball."
"Yeah," Ben sighed.
"But you did good, Benny, you did good. You had a rocky start, but you did good." She turned away from him and was soon surrounded by Marlene Schwartz and Linda Baum.
Ben checked his watch. It was after 9. He had more packing to do and the taxi was coming at 11.
Ben was tapped on the shoulder just as he tried to sneak out the service door.
"Oh, hi Rabbi Stone. Look, I'm sorry I don't have time to chat about my speech, but I really have to go."
The Rabbi held up his hand and stroked his beard ever so slowly. Ben was dying. Why had he spoken about baseball when the Rabbi had specifically asked him not to?
The Rabbi held up three fingers indicating he had three things to tell Ben.
He motioned for Ben to come closer and Ben leaned in.
After 25 hour of just praying and not uttering a spoken word to another individual, Rabbi Stone was about to break his vow of silence.
The Rabbi gently leaned over and whispered in Ben's ear.
"High, deep, OUTTA HERE!"
The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University.
from the September 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine