Kevin Youkilis never sought the spotlight.
The three-time All-Star won two World Series during his 10-year MLB career, but he’s always tried to be a team player.
“I’m not an attention guy,” he told the Herald. “I think most people know that I don’t seek it. Like, I do the (Red Sox) broadcast because I love baseball, but I don’t really crave the attention or all that stuff.”
But over the past two, he’s stepped into the spotlight he never sought to support Israel and condemn anti-Semitism. On Oct. 7, terrorist organization Hamas invaded Israel. They entered towns, Kibbutzim (egalitarian communes, often agriculture-focused), and a desert music festival near Gaza, the territory they’ve governed ever since 2006, assaulting and slaughtering over 1,300 civilians, mostly Israelis, but also citizens from over a dozen countries. Hamas also took over 200 hostages.
For the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur War – the 50th anniversary marked just the day before – Israel declared an official state of war.
“(My) Initial response was pure anger and sadness,” Youkilis said.
He posted a photo of himself coaching Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, writing “I stand with Israel.”
Another text-only Instagram post stated, “Antisemitism is on display for the world to see. Many have had their eyes opened while others turn a blind eye because they don’t want to believe it. It goes against the ideological beliefs of their peers. I’ve never been more proud to be Jewish than now.
“Be proud and never let hate and evil make you hide your Jewish heritage.”
According to Baseball Reference, 23,115 men can say that they played at least one Major League game. Youkilis is in a much smaller subsection, the list of Jewish players only recently crossed the 200-player threshold, or approximately 0.86-percent of MLB’s all-time population. It’s only a slightly larger percentage than that of the global population; at just over 16 million, Jewish people currently account for just 0.2-percent of the world’s 8 billion people.
“I think it’s a special fraternity,” Youkilis said. But, he said, he also wanted hard work and results to be the reason people admired him as an athlete.
“I think people around me know how proud I am of my Judaism, my heritage, my people,” he said. “But I’ve never really handled being a public figure very well because I don’t see myself as any label… I just don’t want to be the central focal point of anything, I’d rather be a part of the group.”
On one occasion during his nine years with the Red Sox, he attended high holiday services at a local synagogue, and tried in vain to blend in. “Next thing you know, everyone’s coming up to me, and I’m like, oh my God, I don’t think you’re allowed to do this on the High Holidays, you’re supposed to be praying!”
He credits his involvement with Team Israel for making him realize how meaningful representation is to Jewish people.
“Team Israel opened my eyes to that,” he explained. “It just never hit me until Team Israel how special that is. Sandy Koufax before us, and Hank Greenberg. Many of the Jewish baseball players that come through, there’s someone that a young Jewish ballplayer is connecting with currently and striving to become them some day.
“Just one of you being in the major leagues and having success is a huge deal, for not just the baseball players, but the whole Jewish population.”
Outside the group is another story. Many people have never met a Jewish person. Fewer still can relate to the unique experience of being born into a people that has been persecuted, forcibly converted, exiled, and massacred over and over throughout history.
“The hard part of our lives is trying to explain our heritage, explain our religion, the variations within the Jewish religion, to other people,” Youkilis said. “I’ve always stood for my heritage, for the people, my friends, family, the State of Israel, and that’s based on my ancestors, people before me that have died, were put in horrible situations, forced to move because of who they were.”
In 1941, British prime minister Winston Churchill described the ongoing catastrophe that would later be known as the Holocaust as, “A crime without a name.” It would be none other than a Jewish person who gave it one. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, who’d fled Nazi-occupied Poland that same year, also sought to find a word that described the atrocities committed against his fellow Jewish people and by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians during the first World War. Finding none that sufficiently conveyed the horror, he combined the Greek “genos” (race or tribe) and Latin suffix “cide” (killing) in 1944, and defined it as “the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group.”
Oct. 7, 2023 is the largest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust. In the subsequent weeks, antisemitic incidents and attacks have increased exponentially. Great Britain reported more than a 1,350-percent increase. Last week, homes in Germany were marked with the Star of David to identify Jewish inhabitants. A Berlin synagogue was firebombed, and one in Tunisia burnt to the ground. Across the United States, synagogues are crowd-funding to raise money for additional security. There’s been a shocking amount of Holocaust denial at protests and rallies worldwide, as well as use of Nazi swastikas and pro-Hitler sentiments and slogans voiced and displayed on signage.
“We’re a minority,” Youkilis said, “And I’m just very confused. People say they are for the minorities and fight for minorities, but then they are so anti-Jewish.”
“It’s evil versus good, and I think the hardship is, people don’t see it as that,” he added. “A lot of people say something is simple when it’s actually really complex, and then people use, ‘It’s really complex’ when something’s very simple. When this happened, I felt it was very simple, that this is an atrocity, but people like to say it’s complex, and it’s wrong.”
Many Jews feel helpless, trying in vain to get the world to care.
“We are 0.2-percent of the entire population,” he said when asked what message he’d want to send to non-Jews around the globe. “Jewish people aren’t trying to run the world, they’re just trying to keep their family and heritage alive.
“And I think to the Jewish people, it’s that we need to be united. Be there for each other, protect each other mentally and physically. Figure out, mentally, how to get through the day and physically, how to keep yourself protected and out of harm’s way.”
Youkilis and close friends from the fraternity put out a request to fellow active and former Jewish Major Leaguers: help us humanize this.
Last week, they posted the video to Instagram.
“My name is,” Alex Bregman, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, Garrett Stubbs, Ty Kelly, Brad Ausmus, Shawn Green, and several others each stated their names in homemade videos spliced together, “And I am a Jew.” Together, one of baseball’s smallest minorities asked fans to stand up for one of the world’s smallest minorities, to be against anti-Semitism and support Israel.
“What I’ve learned was, my voice is actually bigger than I would ever think my voice would be within the Jewish baseball community,” Youkilis said. He knows it won’t fix everything, but silence won’t fix anything.
“I’ve never really been very vocal, but I felt this was the time to be very vocal.”
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