A Final Thought: Cleveland’s Calling


By Mitch Allen

My wife and I met in 1982 while attending Columbus College in our hometown of Columbus, Georgia. The school is now called Columbus State University, but back then we called it UCLA—the University of Columbus ’Longside the Airport.

One of my wife’s college friends was a Jewish girl named Rosie who impressed me because she was so self-determined. She wanted to be a rabbi and—despite the fact there were hardly any female rabbis in the world—she set herself on that path.

After graduation, my wife and I found local jobs, got married, and started a family. I was too busy and self-absorbed to wonder what happened to Rosie and was delighted when in 1987 we received a wedding invitation from her. She was to be married in Cleveland and a year later would be ordained in Cincinnati then join the Temple-Tifereth in a place called Beachwood, Ohio.

I had heard of this “Cleveland” but only in the NFL context, the same reason I had heard of Buffalo and Pittsburg; they had football teams. My wife RSVP’d in the affirmative and flew to Cleveland to attend the wedding of Rosette Haim and Marshall Barron while I stayed home with our two daughters.

A few months later as we were playing a game of Trivial Pursuit, my wife drew the question: “How many people were killed in the May 4, 1970, protests at Kent State University?” I had never heard of Kent State, but my wife started singing a line from “Ohio,” the CSNY song: “Four dead in O-hi-o.” She got the answer correct.

Of course, I was also unfamiliar with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. That music was for hippies and communists. I preferred Southern-fried rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Little did I know sitting at the kitchen table playing Trivial Pursuit that a few years later I would be working at a newspaper in Akron, Ohio, and my wife would be the associate vice-president of marketing at the same Kent State University during the 25th anniversary of May 4.

In hindsight, there were so many coincidences it was as if Cleveland were calling me, and I have written many times about the cultural shock I experienced moving here. Growing up in the other UCLA—the Upper Corner of Lower Alabama—I thought everything north of Atlanta was Manhattan. Here I had to learn to drive in the snow and dress for the bitter cold. I had to buy salt by the pound and grasp concepts like sun glare and polar vortexes. I had to learn to pronounce “pierogi” and “gyro” and “Carnegie.”

I also came to embrace the third Saturday in October—Sweetest Day—a holiday few people outside our region are aware of. I was so confounded by its mysterious origins that I spent months researching it, including many hours in the Cuyahoga County Library spinning microfiche wheels before the Plain Dealer archives became a searchable online database. People had told me the holiday was invented by the greeting card industry and referred to it as a “Hallmark holiday.” That’s not true, by the way. (I don’t have space to go into it here, but if you want to know more about the actual origins of Sweetest Day, check out this YouTube video I made a few years ago when my beard was a bit darker. Just know you’ll have to sacrifice eight minutes of your life you will never get back.)

One thing I could not embrace, however, was the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo. I grew up in the South surrounded by racist caricatures and Chief Wahoo gave me the creeps. Such an image wouldn’t fly in the South. In fact, the Atlanta Braves had several years before abandoned mascots Chief Noc-a-homa and the “Screaming Indian.”

I was not sorry to see Chief Wahoo go.

Of course, growing up I didn’t know much about baseball…or basketball or hockey. I was raised inside a parallelogram made up of four colleges —Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida State—so football was the only sport I knew, at least until 1982 when I worked as an intern in the sports department at CNN in Atlanta. Unfortunately, it was winter quarter, so I spent all my time watching basketball and hockey games, noting at what times in the video recording something important happened. CNN had an open studio, so every night the back of my head was on national television as I watched the monitors and took notes.

Unlike me, Rabbi Rosie’s husband Marshall knows a lot about sports, especially baseball, including things like the infield fly rule and the designated hitter debate. If I ever put together a trivia team for big money, Marshall will be my first-round draft pick.

By the way, Rabbi Rosie left Temple-Tifereth back in 2018 and launched a venture called “Celebrating Jewish Life.” It’s a wildly popular subscription series featuring six festive holiday experiences that engage adults in ways that revitalize the Jewish spirit and reconnect them to the Jewish community—all in cool venues around Cleveland.

Sweetest Day, much to my dismay, is not among the six holidays.


Categories: Smart Living