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A crisis of conscience as pope's visit falls on Yom Kippur

A crisis of conscience as pope's visit falls on Yom Kippur
Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax in March. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

To a 9-year-old mind, it seemed nearly as important as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai — Sandy Koufax giving up the pitcher's mound.

That's how central the story was in Sunday school lore — the day, now 50 years ago, when Koufax declined to pitch the first game of the World Series for the Dodgers to honor his heritage on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur.

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The message was simple: Every Jew, including the best pitcher in the game, had a supreme obligation, even if it meant setting himself apart from the mainstream.

The Dodgers, less than a decade removed from departing Brooklyn for Los Angeles, lost Game 1 and Game 2, Koufax's first start, but went on to take the series in Game 7, with a complete game shutout from Koufax.

So I'm feeling more than a little conflicted this year. I'll be spending Yom Kippur with Pope Francis, of all people, the first time in two decades as a professional reporter that I can recall working on that day.

I didn't exactly plan it this way.

I volunteered to help cover his historic visit months ago. And only after I applied for the coveted press credential did I realize his main Mass in Washington, D.C., where I work, would take place on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.

I wrestled with it privately for a few weeks but ultimately chose to be with His Holiness on the Holy Day.

It's complicated. Like most Americans, I'm excited by the opportunity to see Francis, a man whose message of encountering the world and finding our better selves transcends religion. That, along with the imperative to seek and grant forgiveness, fits well with Yom Kippur.

Moments of spirituality will be inevitable, even among thousands of people watching the Mass from large screens outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

And did I mention that he'll probably be wearing a yarmulke?

I'll attend services Tuesday when Yom Kippur begins at sundown with the chanting of Kol Nidre. Perhaps I'll attend the next morning too, if I can make the logistics work.

I may try to fast, another Yom Kippur tradition that reminds me of my commitment to make myself a better person. (Note to editors: My account of events may look a bit loopy on Wednesday afternoon if I write it before food is served at sundown.)

I know, these are all rationalizations. There is already plenty of guilt — we share that with the Catholics too.

I'm reluctant to talk about it with my children, 5 and 7 years old, who are just learning about their combined Protestant and Jewish heritage. I made a point of taking them out of public school for Rosh Hashana to attend services.

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They seemed to have gotten the message. When the kindergarten teacher asked my daughter whether she was sick on Monday, she replied, "No, I was Jewish."

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