It's the last Monday in February and 20 teenage boys are waiting in a gym in Deerfield. It could be any high school gym anywhere, except for the big silver mezuzah on the cinderblock doorway, an Israeli flag next to the American flag, and the banner reading "Rochelle Zell Jewish High School."
Paul Chanan gathers the boys in a circle and begins the traditional start-of-practice pep talk.
"Today represents the first day of what will be a real long journey to reach some very lofty goals," says Chanan, an options-trader-turned-teacher. "Coach Zouber and myself are incredibly proud to lead this team of great guys, of great competitors and of great community. This is going to be a joy for us, and we are honored to be your coaches. But we are going to ask a lot of you. ... We are going to ask that you give us everything that you have. ... We are going to absolutely 100 percent demand 100 percent from you, all the time. We are going to compete with great hustle. With maximum intensity. With aggressive style of play and with an unyielding passion for the game of baseball and for your team."
"Yes coach!" the boys reply.
Not realizing that Rochelle Zell is a new school — founded in 2001 — whose students range across the spectrum of faith, I went to practice expecting a scene out of Chaim Potok's The Chosen — earlocks and fringes flying as guys round the bases, outfielders punching their gloves and razzing the hitter in Yiddish.
In Potok's novel, baseball is pushed by teachers because "it was an unquestioned mark of one's Americanism and to be counted a loyal American had become increasingly important."
Rochelle Zell's team was started four years ago — not by teachers, but by a pair of freshmen, Jon Silvers and his best friend, Adam Gilman, both now 17 and co-captains.
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