Pointing out the Jewish identify of ballplayers has become a “game of sorts” over the years, and one player, Kevin Youkilis, is the game's current darling.
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And with his $12 million contract with the New York Yankees springing Youkilis – and his Jewish identity - back into the spotlight in December, the three-time All-Star has earned a new wave of attention.
Richard Sandomir explored the Cincinnati native's Hebrew heritage last month in his New York Times article, “Fascination With a New Yankee’s Jewish Roots.”
In light of Youkilis' string of success, Sandomir took a look into the 33-year-old’s Jewish history, starting off by answering the baffling question of where the Greek God of Walks’ non-Jewish-sounding name originated.
“There are so many stories in the family,” Mike Youkilis, Kevin’s father, told the New York Times. “But we’ve agreed on one.”
That story starts with an ancestor of Youkilis who lived in the 1800s in what is now Romania. Weiner was his surname and he fled to Greece out of fear of the Cossacks, who detested the Jews, as well as concern over being drafted to the army. When he returned to his home country a few years later, he knew that to avoid jail, he would have to change his name. So he took on the name Youkilis, which was apparently similar to the surname of a friend of his in Greece. He ended up getting married in Romania, Mike Youkilis tells, and the family kept the name.
Mike Youkilis’ father, along with his 10 siblings, eventually left Romania for the United States, Sandomir writes, traveling first through Canada. Mike married Carolyn, a West Virginian who was not Jewish but later converted, and they settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Kevin was raised.
Having two Jewish parents sets Kevin Youkilis apart from other Jewish ballplayers, notes Sandomir. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is not considered halakhically Jewish even though he was born in Israel to a Jewish father, because his mother is Catholic. The same goes for Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, whose father is Jewish but whose mother is not. And then there is Ralph Branca, writes Sandomir. The 85-year-old pitcher was raised a Catholic, but learned not long ago that his mother was actually Jewish, which, according to Jewish law, makes him Jewish, too.
Youkilis, however, was born and raised a practicing Jew, having his Bar Mitzvah in 1992 at a Conservative synagogue in Cincinnati, Sandomir writes.
Since being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 8th round of the 2001 amateur draft, the 6”1’ ballplayer has earned a lot of love among Jewish and non-Jewish fans alike. Let’s just hope his Red Sox fans won’t stop rooting for his success now that he has joined the team’s archrival.