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Great Jews in Sports the Focus of New Exhibit

Free film screening scheduled at Berman Center next week followed by tour of new Jewish Sports Memorabilia Collection.

Jewish sports fans in the United States have passed down the stories and career highlights of Jewish superstar athletes like folklore to children for few generations.

One die hard Detroit sports fan and memorabilia collector, Robert Matthews, of Farmington Hills, has put his collection regarding Jewish athletes on exhibit at the , in order to encourage a sense of history and pride in local children.

"Owning the collection is one thing," said Matthews, an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit's school of dentistry, "sharing it and talking to people with a common interest is totally different."

Matthews will guide a tour of the collection July 25, as the JCC's will host a free, family-friendly film screening, Jews in Baseball: An American Love Story .

The film, narrated by actor Dustin Hoffman and starring baseball stars Sandy Koufax, Kevin Youkilis, Shawn Green and Yogi Berra, was an Audience Choice Award winner at the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival.

JCC Development Director Heidi Budaj shared that growing up in a Jewish household of sports fans, she is well-familiar with certain narratives in Major League Baseball despite not particularly caring for the game herself.

"Someone like Koufax, who stood up for his Jewish beliefs and publicly refused to play on Yom Kippur (in 1965) even though it was the World Series, has created so much pride in the Jewish community and we're happy to share it," she said.

Indeed, Hall of Famers Koufax and Hank Greenberg, who played the majority of his career with the Detroit Tigers, are well-represented in Matthews' collection.

Matthews, 77, holds a copy of a 1999 Sports Illustrated magazine with Koufax on the cover which he had personally autographed by the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher in particular esteem.

However, even those well-versed in baseball history are sure to appreciate memorabilia from lesser-known Jewish baseball players. Matthews displays with pride a canceled check written by Moe Berg, a journeyman catcher in the majors from 1923-39 who was better known for his reputation as a genius and second career as a spy for the United States than his athletic prowess.

Matthews said he has kept an interest in baseball since boyhood and he's just as passionate about the game today as he was the last time the Tigers won a World Series championship. That's why he's still collecting memorabilia, including that from current Jewish baseball players such as Ryan Braun.

"It's not just about the name on the back of the jersey, it's more," he said. "I like to see kids getting involved with baseball and I hope they learn the rich heritage that Jews added to it."

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