I was already excited to go see my beloved Tampa Bay Rays in their last regular season series at Yankee Stadium this year. I was even more overjoyed to see that Sam Fuld was playing (and that the Rays won). Fuld had been injured most of the season, and this was his first New York appearance since being off the DL. He is an exciting player to watch, and even more exciting than that…he is Jewish!
Fuld addressed his Jewishness in a New Yorker article last year with a bit of insecurity. “I wasn’t bar-mitzvahed,” he explained. “I feel like I’m almost letting [my Jewish fans] down when I tell them, ‘Well, my mom’s Catholic, and I was kind of raised celebrating both.’ ”
Yet regardless of his own feelings of authenticity in terms of being a Jewish role model, any amount of Jewishness is enough to instill a sense of pride in identifying with Fuld as a fellow Jew. Jewish celebrities can have an extremely powerful impact on Jewish identity, particularly amongst young children. I recall winning over my 4th grade students in my first year of teaching religious school by telling them that I had seen Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox (at the time) at Yom Kippur services. Despite our heated arguments over the quality of the Red Sox, the knowledge that a professional athlete was Jewish made it infinitely cooler to be in religious school.