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Baseball

How baseball brought the USA and Israel together in pursuit of an Olympic medal

Baseball knits the Jewish diaspora of the USA closer

Israel Baseball Team
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Israel Baseball Team

By

Utsha Roy

Updated: 2021-07-19T15:30:28+05:30

Given the turn that the conflict in Gaza has taken, with scores of Palestinians being attacked by the Israeli military under the pretext of flushing Hamas members out into the open, it is hard to expect inspiring news from the region.

Any association between the Americans and the Israeli government is viewed with suspicion. The Americans have been accused of being too accommodating to the Israelis, turning a blind eye to their atrocities.

But how many times have sports turned the tables and brought forth stories that change our perspective and inspires us! The story of the Israeli baseball team dreaming of bagging a medal in their debut attempt at the Tokyo Olympics is one such story.

What the Israeli Team is made of:

The team comprises Jewish primarily immigrants who have lived in America for generations and have only taken Israeli nationality to represent Israel in the Olympics. Of the 24 men making up the squad, only four were born in Israel.

The rest are all American Jews who mostly play minor league baseball in America. The Jewish National Fund- USA's Project Baseball initiative has funded the Israeli national team and has also been building a field complex in Beit Shemesh, hoping to host winter games soon. However, most people realize that winning a medal in the Olympics will considerably boost the sport's popularity in the nation.

Thus, Israel Baseball Association President, Peter Kurz, scouted candidates in America with at least one Jewish parent who will be willing to represent the team and work towards popularizing the sport in the nation.

Israel Baseball Team

Ian Kinsler, a former major league All-star, is probably the kingpin to fulfillment of this dream. The Detroit Jewish News reports that it is his "main goal" in playing for the team. Kinsler, now 39, was pro baseball's second-best batsman and had finished just one shy of the 2,000 mark club and one of the main reasons that the team believes that they can win a medal this time around.

Faith brings them closer:

The camp held in Arizona has given the Jewish players of America a common platform to interact on and has brought the community closer allowing them to discover an interest over their shared ancestry.

Kinsler had grown up with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and had no particular interest in either his Jewish or his catholic traditions, but then he found out more about his grandfather, who had immigrated from Germany in the 1930s and his interest grew in his Jewish heritage.

In an interview with the Detroit Jewish News, he stated that it was a "surreal" experience for him to share the field with all Jewish players. In the bus of an All-Star Game, he was once approached by the Jewish slugger Ryan Braun and asked he were Jewish, but he had never experienced something on this scale where the entire Jewish diaspora of America had been drawn together.

He believes the camaraderie between the team has prospered because of that.

Ty Kelly, coming from a similar background where his mother was Jewish, and his father Catholic, had a similar experience as Kinsler. He had never been to Israel before this whole citizenship acquiring process and had little personal perspective regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This camp in Arizona let him interact with people who had real stakes in the conflict. Having talked to his teammates he felt closer to his roots and gained more perspective.

"It is nice to hear that there are multiple sides, even from Israelis, and that it's not, you know, always just that whatever Israelis do is perfect and they can do no wrong. But obviously, it also doesn't mean that liberal outlets are covering everything that is truthful, or whatever. So I think it was really good for everyone to hear", he said to the Detroit Jewish News.

Depending on this bond, they hope to win a medal this time, and the odds seem to be in their favour.

With only six teams, their chances have exponentially increased, and the fact that the major leagues in the respective countries have disallowed many players from the USA and the Dominican Republic players from taking part in the Olympics only aids them further.

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