The leaves are turning brown, swimming pools are closing down and we’re thinking about the Yankees and another pennant run. But hold it…. there’s more to current baseball talk than the Major Leagues and it’s coming from overseas, namely Italy, where Israel’s national baseball team, (believe that!) just defeated South Africa this past Sunday at the Olympics’ Europe/Africa Baseball Qualifier tournament. And this means a bunch of Jewish baseball players have earned the ticket to compete in the 2020 Olympics representing Israel in the games. At this point, Israel has become the only team besides the usual powerhouse, Japan, to qualify for next summer’s event. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
Baseball will be featured as an Olympic sport for the first time since 2008, when it was last played in that venue. There will only be six contenders in its baseball series and Israel will be one of them. Excuse us for kvelling (taking joy.) The team is now packed with Jewish-American college players and a few pros, who must be citizens of the country they represent and since Israel only has about 1,000 guys playing baseball, that represented a problem. So, as usual, the Israelis found the solution. During the past year, over a dozen young, talented in baseball, Jewish-American professional ballplayers made “aliyah,” and obtained citizenship under the nation’s Law of Return which gives Jews automatic rights regarding Israeli citizenship. Many athletes, in order to qualify to represent nations in which they do not live, utilize a practice known as “passport swapping,” which is looked down upon by their home nations and their competitors.
Pitcher, Joey Wagman, said it so well: “It might not be the country we were born in, but it represents so much. We’re representing the entire Jewish people.” Blake Gailen, a Triple A outfielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, barely thought of himself as Jewish, despite his family’s ties. Nevertheless, he was so inspired by his experience playing for Team Israel two years ago, that he traveled to Tel Aviv last October to finalize his citizenship. Peter Kurz, the president of the Israel Association of Baseball, was proud of these American young men wearing Israeli uniforms: Playing for us was the impetus for this (action) and they all feel something different, doing something more.” And so do we reach out to these young men who have found something. They have discovered their Jewish roots and for the rest of their lives they will remember standing on the baseline in the huge stadium before the opening of each game, side by side with their team-mates, wearing their yarmulkes and singing along with the band playing Hatikvah, for all the world to see. Sorry, but we have to kvell a bit more.