The Queens-based Jewish Community Little League has been filling a need for more than half a century offering baseball to members of the Jewish community whose strong religious beliefs prevent them from playing with other non-secular leagues.
The Jewish Community Little League ensures that all children have a place to play baseball, regardless of religious commitments. And play they do.
Founded more than 50 years ago by Sidney Abrams and Syd Frankel, the league did not always possess the Little League charter. It was referred to as the Jewish Community Baseball League. It is now officially chartered by Little League and competes within the borders of Queens District 27.
According to Butch Rubin, a one-time league player and current commissioner, 95 percent of the kids in todays league are Orthodox Jews.
Its basically a league for Sabbath observers, Rubin said. Thats why the league was founded. This is for kids who cant play in a regular Little League that has games on Saturdays.
The league is not subject to player drafts like most Little Leagues. Area synagogues compile teams to compete in the three divisions Preps, Little League, and Majors. Players range from age 8 in the Preps division to age 13 in the Majors.
Synagogues send multiple teams to participate in each division. Great Necks Young Israel compiles 10 teams to compete in the three age groups. With 40 teams spread throughout the divisions, only six make it to the elusive championship games.
This past Sunday the leagues best teams battled for the championships in exciting games. In the Preps Division, Avromi Steinberg, 10, threw a six-inning shutout for Ahavas Israel to defeat Great Neck, 1-0. Steinberg pitched in every game for his team this season.
In a fantastic finish, Young Israel Queens Valley defeated Young Israel Jamaica Estates, 10-9, on an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning. Queens Valley led 8-1 before Jamaica Estates scored eight unanswered runs. Queens Valley was not to be denied, however, and scored two runs in the last inning of the season to win the Little League division crown.
Scott Katz, 13, a star pitcher for Young Israel Hillcrest, was looking to win his third career championship game in the Majors finale. Katz had compiled a 7-1 record on the hill, while throwing a no-hitter and leading his team to the championship game. Hillcrest coach Lenny Okun said it meant a lot for Katz and the rest of the team to get to the championship.
Its a big accomplishment, Okun said. They were the best. Theyre proud of themselves.
Katz was unable to lead his team to victory this time, surrendering four runs as Jamaica Estates won the game, 4-2. Tani Cohens three RBIs and Eytan Mishkoffs complete game gem led Jamaica Estates.
With a schedule sensitive to the religious needs of its athletes, the Jewish Community Little League is lucky to play 10 games in a single season. Although the league is recognized by District 27, they do not select a team to compete in the annual district tournament, which serves as a preliminary qualifier for the Little League World Series held in Williamsport, Pa.
[District 27 commissioner] Harold Weisman would let us compete, Rubin said. There are two problems. The tournaments are usually Friday and Saturday, which is a conflict for most of the kids. They try and accommodate us, but the other problem is that we dont have the kids to play. They all go to camp for the summer.
Although the league does not field a team for the summer tournament, league President Marc Katz, an investment manager, said he believes that an all-star squad would do some damage against the other teams in the district.
We can do more than compete, Katz said. We have some really talented players.
Although playing baseball may not be the main priority for many of the leagues athletes, there is no reason these players cannot excel to a higher level of the sport. Steven Rusgo, who competed in the league in the early 1990s, went on to play for Queens College. Rusgos love of baseball was nurtured in the Jewish Community Little League and he now is an active participant in mens adult baseball leagues on Long Island.
The parents of many of the kids are thrilled that their children have the opportunity to play baseball an opportunity most of these adults were not afforded while growing up in an extremely religious atmosphere.
I grew up and never had the chance to play baseball, Meir Mishkoff said. Most of the parents never had the chance. Its a great opportunity for the kids to play organized baseball.
With such support from their parents and the community, the players in the Jewish Community Little League will be able to explore their dreams on the baseball field for many years to come.
Reach contributing writer Joshua Centor by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2002 Community News Group
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