In these difficult times, it sometimes seems as if it’s all doom and gloom for Jews. Threats of annihilation and never-ending terrorism against Israel, Jews besieged throughout Europe, anti-Semitic politicians unafraid to show their true colours in England and America, a hostile United Nations, Germany being Germany; plenty to trouble Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur.
But something happened a couple of weeks ago that should bring joy to every Jewish heart and that was Israel’s baseball team winning a tournament in Italy to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Even for those Jews who have no interest in baseball, this is a very big deal. The Olympics are viewed by billions of people and they will see an Israeli team walk into the stadium during the opening ceremonies with 30 or so players and coaches swelling what is usually a very small Israeli contingent. And when the Games begin, spectators and TV viewers will see 20 Jewish athletes proudly sporting the colours of Israel and reminding everyone that Jews are not just world-leading scientists and doctors and artists; these ballplayers symbolize Jewish diversity (and yes, physical abilities), thereby shattering some lingering stereotypes.
This is the first time Israel has qualified for any team sport at the Summer Olympics, and the group of players who have been part of Team Israel are great athletes and superb ambassadors for Israel, but if the team is to have a serious chance at winning a medal, they will probably need some help. That’s why I’m hoping current Jewish Major League players consider playing for Team Israel. Just imagine a team bolstered by the addition of stars such as Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Alex Bregman, Kevin Pillar, Scott Feldman and Max Fried. A very good team would instantly become a tournament favorite.
Yes, professional baseball will be in the middle of its season when the Olympics take place, but this tournament offers these players a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honor their Jewish heritage and it will give them a chance to be part of a potentially history-making event in Jewish and Israeli history. Surely that matters more than missing a 3-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (no insult meant to Milwaukee fans).
On July 24, 2020, I will be in front of my TV (maybe I could invoke ‘Jewish Pride’ to convince my wife we need an even bigger flat-screen?) and I will probably shed a tear or two when the Israeli athletes walk into the stadium. And when Team Israel takes to the diamond, I’ll be screaming myself hoarse, even if those Major Leaguers can’t find their way to Tokyo. But imagine the emotional explosion Jews throughout the world would experience if those professionals could help Team Israel win a medal.
I’ll be saying a silent prayer for Team Israel’s success at the Olympics on each Shabbat leading to the Games and I trust that G-d won’t dismiss my pleas as being too parochial or trivial. Israeli success in any form on an international stage matters, so here’s hoping G-d is a baseball fan. We know He’s already a big fan of Jews and Israel, right?