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Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Review of Baseball, Nazis & Nedick's Hot Dogs

Baseball, Nazis & Nedick's Hot Dogs: Growing up Jewish in the 1930s in Newark
By Jerry Izenberg
The Sager Group, 2023.

Baseball, Nazis & Nedick's Hot Dogs is a memoir that covers the early life of legendary sports writer Jerry Izenberg from a graphic depiction of his bris until he leaves his family to join the military during the Korean War. The portion in between shows what it was like growing up in Newark during the Great Depression and World War II.

Jerry was a preconscious kid who sometimes caused mischief. His mother was a tough strict woman. Jerry connected with his father, a former minor league baseball player who often imparted wisdom, through their love of the Newark Bears and the New York Giants. As he reached adolescence, Jerry hustled to make money and took a sophomoric interest in girls' anatomy.

It's a very Jewish memoir. That aspect of Izenberg's identity defined him. A key underlying message of the book is that there isn't one way to be a Jew. A person who battles anti-Semitism on the ballfield is a Jew just as much as a famous rabbi overseeing a bar mitzvah. As Jews, we're all part of the same family regardless of our level of observance or our political ideology.

Though baseball is the most important sport in young Jerry's life, references to boxing make their way into the book. Jerry even tries his hand at boxing for a brief period. He shows heart, but let's just say Jerry Izenberg won't be profiled in The Jewish Boxing Blog for his pugilistic merits. George Kornfeld, who Izenberg describes as a middleweight, trains Jerry so he won't get beat up at school. Izenberg also mentions a bit of wisdom from the legendary train Ray Arcel, "Hard times make monkeys eat hot peppers."

In military school, Jerry played the clarinet and then the baritone horn in a band. In addition to his clever analogies, his musical timing contributes to his mastery as a writer. He notes, "The idea of rhythm, pace, and the joy of improvisation was the music I came to respect back then, and the concept stays with me today. I find those ingredients easily translate from one art form to another. Today, they are my silent partner in everything I write as a columnist and as an author (pg. 46)."

Baseball, Nazis & Nedick's Hot Dogs is a fascinating look into the formative years of a legendary Jewish sports writer.

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