Five years ago when Michael Raff found his perfect mark. And over 70 years of history at the B’Nai Brith bowling league

Five years ago when Michael Raff found his perfect mark. And over 70 years of history at the B’Nai Brith bowling league

Michael Raff’s ball, 12 – 12 – 10

Every life has its eclipsing moment.

Your bris. Your first kiss (not until college if you are a nice Jewish boy). Your graduation from Optometry School. Your marriage (pending approval from her parents).

Or bowling a perfect game — 300 — at the B’Nai Brith Sunday bowling league at Clover Lanes in Brighton. Mike, who accomplished the feat on December 12th, 2010, says, give him a minute, he’s thinking!

That memorable day, Mike Raff achieved own kind of miklal (Hebrew, מִכְלַל, completeness, perfection). At the time, the first perfecto in the league since the 60’s.

On Sunday, Mike and his loyal fans commemorated the blessed event with an (unstaged) recreation, five years later almost to the day. First, Talker  was able to obtain rare, unpublished footage indisputably capturing the original moment. 

For reasons unknown, the footage cannot be displayed. It does exist and used to work. I’ve asked Raff to find the original.

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The approach. As if time stood still. 12/13/15

In the spirit of authenticity, in our re-creation we chose to replicate the same grainy, unfocused quality of the original.  Just like five years ago, the crowd watched, breathless, expectant, hopeful.  Strike!

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מִכְלַל 12/13/15

For half  a minute, Mike Raff was once again on par with that legendary Jewish bowler, Marc Roth. Then as now, the crowd mobbing M.R. in celebration.

And how did the re-lived glory compare to the bris, kiss, etc.  Give M.R. a minute, he’s thinking!

Actually, Mike’s feat was not just glorious but redemptive. Three years before, he looked down the lane on the 10th frame needing one strike for perfection. Admitting his legs were shaking,  Mike knew his fate when the ball left his hand. 299 not 300.  But being there once made the difference.  In 2010, he was pure zen and his mark true. 

Matched a few years ago by Andrew Becker, Mike’s feat is one of many in the long history of the league. Part of the International B’Nai Brith Bowling Association, the Rochester league has been going since the 1940s.

As told by Jerry Kalnitz, the longest tenured member at 37 years, the heyday of the league was in the 70s and 80s. Back then, on most Sundays every lane was taken. Often, players could only find opening at Clover Lanes on East Avenue (where Mike bowled his only Dutch 200 game, alternating strikes and spares).  While overall turnout has decreased over the years, it’s hardly Bowling Alone. The future looks secure

As for the past, luckily, the league has its own unofficial archivist Dan Saltzman (he says archivist by default).  Recently, Dan was sorting through some of the records he has collected over the years.  What is most immediately striking (pardon the pun) is that the league began during World War II and has been active ever since.

Unfortunately, as Dan explained, the oldest photos and other memorabilia have been lost — like so much of all social history in the pre-digital era.  Nonetheless, the league still has a strong oral history tradition. On the day I was there and asking about the past, even if people didn’t remember exact dates and names, league lore is still passed down from generation to generation:

Dan’s narrative:

International B’nai B’rith Bowling Association (IBBBA) started in 1937.  IBBBA started in Rochester in 1943 at the Genesee Bowling Hall (couldn’t find an address), and in 1944 moved to Webbers Bowling Hall on Plymouth Ave.  In 1957, the league moved to Brighton Bowl on East Ave, and we have been at Clover Lanes on Monroe Ave since 1981.  Currently the only person still bowling that remembers league bowling at Brighton Bowl is Jerry Kalnitz, who has held every office on the bowling board.  Most recently, he just received retired as secretary and “historian” in 2014.  I have taken up this responsibility since.  And I started in the league in 1990.

The league has bowlers that range from 200 average bowlers, down to 100 average bowlers.  We start bowling at

The “historical documents” from 1943 through the 1960’s have mainly been lost, but Jerry Kalnitz kept detailed records, plus records that the past secretaries, Dr. Harry Weider and Willard (Bill) Lisson kept.
In 1958 there were 32 teams, 166 bowlers in the league. At its height, there were 32 teams, and 188 bowlers.  Unfortunately, by 1976 it was down to 8 teams, 48 bowlers.  However, we are pleased to report a resurgence over the past number of years that now has our number at 14 teams, 56 bowlers.

Mike Raff joined the league in 1987 and had a 166 average. His average rose to 179 in 1989, and 191 in 1991.  In the 2007-2008 season, Mike rolled a 299 game. Mike Raff isn’t the only bowlers to bowl 300 games.  In the 2012/2013 season, Andrew Becker also bowled a 300 game. Andrew’s father, Gary Becker also rolled a 299 in the 1999/2000 season.The only other 300 game that I found in the records was bowled by Bernard Michaels in the 1966-1967 season. It is always exciting when someone goes into the 10th frame with all strikes.  Everyone else wants to watch, but the also don’t want to make the person fell overly nervous, so people try not to disturb them.

Also, for an interesting history of Rochester bowling alleys, see Allan Morrell’s Whatever Happened To … bowling halls/

During the summer you’ll find many of the same bowlers/players at the Brighton Pick Up Softball Game at Twelve Corners Middle School.

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY and Lake Affect Magazine.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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