The sound of the bat hitting a softball. The ball hitting the glove. Teammates shouting words of encouragement.
These are sounds I hear as I approach the Southampton softball field. It looks like any other fiercely competitive modified fastpitch softball game. The only thing that identifies the teams as Jewish-affiliated is the league logo, which features the Star of David with a player swinging a bat in the center.
It’s the fifth inning. Jeff Phillips’ team, Shir Ami, is up 5-4 against Ohev Shalom and on its way to eliminating the 2015 Delaware Valley Synagogue League champion from the playoffs.
“Come on! Time for a Jewish pep talk!” yells Phillips. His teammate Todd Leon then gives an encouraging pep talk to his Shir Ami teammates. He tells them to keep doing what they’re doing and they’ll win the game. “Six more outs and we’ve got this!” says Leon.
They did win, 5-4, but got knocked out of the double-elimination tournament the next night by Congregation Beth Or Blue, 7-3.
Ken Sherman, of Blue Bell, one of the Delaware Valley Synagogue League commissioners, explained that the league was started in 1988 by Goldstein Funeral Homes’ Julian Weinstein with seven or eight teams. The league has since grown to 19 teams (18 synagogues and one funeral home) with more than 300 players who take to the fields in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
The teams play on fields from Huntingdon Valley to Ambler and Southampton to Ogontz. The league’s goal, according to its web site, is “fostering fellowship and friendship among affiliated members of the community. Through competition and camaraderie, it is our wish that these games strengthen our bond to one another in order to make the Bucks, Philadelphia and Montgomery county Jewish communities a better place to live and grow.” Players range in ages from 17 through 71.
Sherman said the league starts, “Right after tax season.” And then jokingly added, “We’ve got a lot of accountants in the league.”
It ends usually in the second week of August with two champions crowned after a double-elimination playoff. It is a 14-game season, with a team earning 3 points for a win, 2 points for a tie, 1 point for a loss. The top eight finishers qualify for the Gold tournament and the next eight finishers qualify for the Silver tournament with two champions crowned. Games are only played Monday through Thursday and never on shabbat.
A team can have as many players as it likes on its roster, but that can run into trouble with players not getting on the field. The league is so popular among the Jewish community that some synagogues have split into two or even three teams. Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen has three teams. Beth Shalom in Elkins Park has two teams. Tiferet Bet Israel of Blue Bell has two teams.
Ken Finkelstein, of Southampton, a member of Keneseth Israel, has been in the league for almost 11 years, joining after his wife sent him an email about the league. He said his team, as well as others in the league, is multi-generational. His son Evan, 19, plays on the team with him and there is also a father and two sons and two brothers on his team.
To join a team in the league you have to have an affiliation with the Jewish community. You just need a tie to the Jewish community that is trying to foster relationships in that group. You don’t need to be Jewish to play as long as your spouse or fiancée is Jewish.
Harvey Harris of Shir Ami mentioned that for safety sake, the league uses only wooden bats and any play at home plate is a force out. He summed up the league by saying, “It’s a camaraderie league. You want to go out and beat your brother, and then shake hands after.”
New champions will be crowned Aug. 11.
For more information, go to delvalsoftball.org.