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Did you know that Ralph Branca was Jewish? Until recently, neither did he

Aug 15, 2011, 11:33 AM EDT

Ralph Branca

This is only about baseball insofar as it involves a baseball player, but it’s a pretty interesting story anyway.

The New York Times’ Joshua Prager has a story about retired Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca’s family. Seems that even though Branca was baptized and raised Catholic to Catholic parents and remains Catholic to this day, his mother was Jewish and, unbeknownst to Branca until very recently, most of his mother’s family remained in Europe after she emigrated and they were killed in the Holocaust.

It’s neat on the surface for the “hey, he didn’t know it” perspective, but I find it pretty interesting from the “what makes us who we are; how does one define one’s identity” point of view.  I come from a hodgepodge of a background with all manner of wackiness in the branches of my family tree, so it’s the kind of thing I think about often.

Does it matter where we came from?  I often think not, because absent a trust fund or a congenital disease, life is what me make it.  But the fact that we spend so much time thinking about it makes me think that there’s more to it than I typically care to admit.

  1. halladaysbiceps - Aug 15, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    Very interesting. I know of a reverse angle to this. I have a friend who was adopted as an infant, raised Jewish, and found out in his adult years that he was Irish Catholic by way of his biological parents. So what does he do? He starts researching his Irish Catholic heritage, gets into Irish music and eventually converts to Catholism. We hit an Irish pub every now and again. Go figure.

  2. frankvzappa - Aug 15, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    I remember the day I found out I had Jewish blood in my veins. I told my parents that I expected Hannukah presents as well as Christmas presents from that day forward, but to no avail. Also it comes in handy as a good excuse to stuff my face with corned beef and pastrami on rye as often as I possibly can.

    • dohpey28 - Aug 15, 2011 at 1:28 PM

      Judaism is a religion. It is not a race, or a nationality.

      Nobody has Jewish, or Catholic, or Muslim blood running through their veins.

      • Reflex - Aug 15, 2011 at 5:33 PM

        Its either/and. You can be a converted Jew, in which case its by faith. You can be a born Jew who’s family was a member of one of the Jewish tribes thousands of years ago. There is both a racial and religious classification, and one can belong to one but not the other, or both.

  3. tuftsb - Aug 15, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    Most people only know Branca for the ill-fated appearance in the 1951 playoffs. They should know him for what happened after.

    How you handle your first “mistake” in life is the mark of your true character and measure as a person.

    I do not see the self-reflection that Branca possesses in current athletes, entertainers, politicians, Wall Street honchos and recent college graduates. Without that core, they are doomed to really screw up when they face true adveristy and compound the error of their first “f### up”, often with terrible consequences.

    The real value of sports is not to win state titles, be on a travel team or collect trophies. It is to fail in a controlled environment, realize that life goes on and that you have to learn how to deal with it.

    I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ralph for years. The life that he has led after a public “failure” that became part of popular culture is admirable and to be emulated.

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