Zach Penprase grew up in Moorpark, CA, with very little Jewish identity, until he became an Olympic baseball player, representing the State of Israel.
Zach’s mother is Jewish, and his grandmother is from the island of Rhodes. After connecting with Zach, I invited him and his teammates to Sinai Temple. Last week, over 100 people gathered for Shabbat lunch and heard the unbelievable stories of how playing baseball for Israel in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics allowed him to understand he is not just representing a country, but representing the Jewish people around the world.
For the last month, Zach has begged me to introduce him to Sephardic Temple. Last night, he wrote me this message, “Both grandparents are from Rhodes, and my great-grandfather Reuben Israel is one of the founding fathers of the synagogue there! When I went on my honeymoon to Rhodes, I found out that 1600 Jews went to Auschwitz and only 200 returned. And now only about 20 of those descendants still live there.”
This morning, my friend and colleague Rabbi Tal Sessler wrote to us, “Dear Zach, Welcome to Sephardic Temple, home to the largest Rhodes Jewish community in Los Angeles.” It is not a coincidence that tomorrow, we read parshat Bo, where the Torah tells us, vhigadta lvincha bayom hahu leymor, “Tell your children on that day, saying….”
We must not only be part of a story, but we must tell our story. And if we do not know that story, we must discover that story.
We commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this past week. Who would have imagined 75 years later, a baseball player from Moorpark, CA, who know plays for Team Israel, would come to Wilshire Boulevard, connect with Sinai Temple and Sephardic Temple, rediscovering who he is, and who he wants to be.
This Olympian’s gold medal is already here!