What’s in a baseball cap?

The history of hats and their importance.

hat521 (photo credit: courtesy)
(photo credit: courtesy)
Not long ago we were walking down an unfamiliar street in Miami. “Stop,” I tell my husband as we pass an eatery where the aroma of lasagna is wafting onto the sidewalk. “Everyone inside is wearing a baseball cap. I bet they’re Jews.”
Indeed, all the men and women gathered around the checkered tablecloths were wearing headgear with rounded crowns and stiff extended brims. This wasn’t a sports bar, nor was it sunny inside. The only other option left was that this had to be a kosher restaurant.
Sure enough, closer inspection revealed a discreet kosher certificate.
Baseball caps have become de rigueur for traveling Jews who would be wearing kippot and black hats (the men) and scarves and wigs (the women) at home. This is so common, one might seek bearded baseball- cap-wearers in airports while attempting to make up a minyan.
Baseball hats were invented in Brooklyn, no less, and “Brooklyn style” hats became standard headgear for the American sport by 1900. In addition to their comfort and the popularity of the look, their design allows for maximum display of the team’s logo.
With this in mind, I read a bittersweet letter from Miriam Shear, a mother and religious seminary educator from Ma’aleh Adumim, about her son’s cap. A highschool yeshiva student, Moshe, 14, was about to travel to Europe. Naturally, he’d be wearing a baseball cap, but not for the usual reasons. He was going to play baseball.
A pitcher in the Israel Baseball Association’s junior team, he would be competing against teens in Europe. What bothered Shear was the new logo, customdesigned to make it look less Israeli.
Writes Shear, “The first thing I’m going to ask you to do, though, is take a look at the picture that I’ve attached.
This is a picture of my son’s baseball cap issued to him by the Israel Baseball Association.
“What’s wrong with the picture? Everything and nothing.
“Every other team in the world that is playing has its country’s name and flag emblazoned on the cap – every team except the Israeli team. Only Israel was advised to omit the name ‘Israel’ and its flag, and replace it with something else.
“The reason? Nobody wants to risk – even slightly – another Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes [at the 1972 Olympics]. Therefore, Israel needs to substitute a picture of a baseball player inside a Jewish star.
“Where’s the Jewish star? Oh, it’s there – just artistically distorted and mutilated so that it is not readily apparent to the viewer. For security reasons.
Because the anti-Semites still hate enough to harm and kill Jews, and especially Israelis. There is no need to aid and assist the Jew-haters by identifying one’s self and team with Jewish flags and words.”
When I called to follow up with Shear, I learned that she’d made aliya with her three children from Toronto five years earlier. Moshe – a kid who is happy as long as there is a ball or a puck nearby – played hockey in Canada.
He made an easy transition to baseball in Israel where the team is a congenial mix of baseball-loving immigrants and Sabras. He and his teammates left Israel on Independence Day to compete in Prague, in what’s called the Pony League.
Before they left, there was a briefing by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Moshe was busy in school, so his mother went in his place.
“The tone was matter-of-fact,” she said. “Keep voices down. Don’t bring attention to yourselves. Stay alert. No tzizit out. No Hebrew on your bags.
Lock your doors. Never open the door, even for your friend, unless you check through a peephole. The massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 could have been avoided if the players had looked through the peephole and refused to open up.
“And this, in one of the best European countries, one that voted against Palestinian statehood at the UN and that supplied arms to us in the War of Independence. I understand that security preempts everything else. But still, the caps make me sad.”
On the field, the players do wear “Israel” emblazoned on their shirts. On the street, they need to hide their identity.
Said Shear, “In Israel my son and his team proudly wear their uniforms with the name ‘Israel’ all over the place – on hats, shirts, jerseys, their bags.
They wear the Israeli flag and the Jewish star with pride and honor. But in the minutes before they leave this land, they must shed all Jewish identity and like the artist’s rendering of the Jewish star on their baseball caps, they must disguise themselves, their language, their origins, their identity. For a full week, these precious boys will have to ‘go underground’ as Jews to simply play a sport among the other nations of the world.”
I, too, feel sad that they have to learn this lesson of being an Israeli/Jew abroad so young. Indeed, danger has escalated.
The report issued on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress, reported a 30- percent rise in anti-Semitic violence last year: 686 attacks in 34 countries, ranging from physical violence to vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries.
According to the report, there’s little correlation between Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense against Gazan rockets in November and the increase of anti- Semitic attacks. “This shows that the desire to harm Jews is deeply rooted among extremist Muslims and right-wingers, regardless of events in the Middle East,” said Roni Stauber, the project’s chief researcher.
Not only right-wingers. A young friend performing in a European orchestra said she received a cold reception from her European peers when she told them she was an Israeli. “I made it clear that I wasn’t only a classical musician,” she said, “but that I’d served in the IDF.”
I’M SADDENED, too, that the junior players, all under 16, are getting such an early lesson on the dangers of being identified as Jews/Israelis abroad.
But still, these spunky young Israelis go ahead, playing and performing – as evidenced by the baseball players’ Facebook page. “Pony tournament semifinals: Israel’s Junior National Team was down 9:5 bottom of last inning with one out, but made an incredible comeback to win 10:9! Let’s go, Israel!” No, they didn’t return as international champions. They did come in No. 2 – not bad for a country where baseball is an outlander sport.
For the 1935 Maccabiah Games – only the second Maccabiah ever held, and the last one until 1950 – 1,350 young Jewish athletes from 28 countries arrived despite official opposition by the British Mandatory government.
The German delegation arrived despite Nazi Germany’s order for them not to come. All 350 members of the gutsy Bulgarian delegation and other European athletes sent home their equipment and stayed here, making aliya after the games.
On July 18, 9,000 athletes from 71 countries will open the 2013 Maccabiah Games at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. The best answer to the wave of anti-Jewish sentiment would be to make this a second “Aliya Maccabiah.”
As Shear says, “I felt bad that they have to go underground with their identities for a week. But at least it’s only a week. They will be welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport by the open arms, warm hearts and smiling faces of parents, family and friends, and excitedly speak their rapid-fire Hebrew as they kiss and hug.
“I will be there, too, with my son’s kippa in hand, in exchange for that baseball cap.” ■ The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
The views in her columns are her own.