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Israel’s baseball team swings for gold at Tokyo Olympics

CM 29/07/2021


Background
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The Israeli Olympic baseball team competing in Tokyo carries with it a nine-year history of top-level international tournament play, but beyond that experience, its members are bound together by deeper ties.
It began at the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Jupiter, Florida, in 2012, which they lost in extra innings; continued through the 2016 WBC qualifier in Brooklyn, which Israel won; the WBC tournament in South Korea and Japan in 2017, when Israel came in ranked last – by far – among the 16 best teams in the world but surprised the baseball community by finishing sixth; and culminated in July and September of 2019, when the team won 17 out of 21 games in four tournaments in four countries to qualify for the Olympics.
Team Israel comprises 20 American veterans and rookies, professionals, semiprofessionals, college players, retirees, past-their-prime former Major Leaguers, and four native-born Israelis: Assaf Lowengart and Tal Erel, who play college ball in the US, Alon Leichman, pitching coach for Double A Seattle, and 42-year-old Shlomo Lipetz, the 32-year grand veteran and legend of Israeli baseball.
For a dozen of the players, these Olympics are likely the last professional games they will ever play – a final romantic fling with the sport they’ve been playing seriously since they were five years old – before retiring for good.
Four of the 24 players on this roster have been a part of all the competitions since 2012: Josh Zeid, Nick Rickles, Lipetz and Leichman. Seven were on the Brooklyn team in 2016, 12 on one of the 2017 teams, and 16 on the 2019 teams.

Like every Olympic athlete, the players had to overcome the corona year. Some got in shape within the formal structure of baseball. Others worked out by themselves – lifting weights, hitting against pitching machines at personal batting cages, and pitching and catching with current and former playing buddies. They stuck to corona protocols and navigated the pro/con divide: two of the players won’t get vaccinated.
Sometimes the players had to improvise: stuck at home during lockdown with no gym, Zach Penprase did his weight exercises by throwing his two-year-old daughter in the air. When she reached 25 pounds (11 kg.), he switched to throwing her 10-month-old sister.
As professionals, baseball players are used to shuffling from one franchise to another, making friends and then moving on. They have done it throughout their careers. But Team Israel is a permanent home. No one is traded or released: if you can still compete, you will keep playing, and if you retire, you will remain part of the family. In the world of professional baseball, that’s a very small family. They understand why this is pretty special.
Watch the dugout during the games. This is a team that leans in against the fence every inning, every game, fully invested in the cause: representing Israel, representing Jews, representing themselves, and promoting the game in Israel.
Each of the 20 Jewish Americans had to demonstrate his commitment by becoming a passport-carrying Israeli citizen, as per Olympic rules, which require all participants to be citizens of the countries for which they are playing.
Throughout their careers, the common denominator with teammates was level of play. Here the common denominator is being Jewish and being Israeli, the team making for a mixed bag of baseball experience – and Jewish experience.
The American-born players on the team reflect American Jewry: some players have two Jewish parents, extensive participation in Jewish holidays, regular synagogue attendance, and are involved in the Jewish community. Others have one Jewish parent and a tenuous connection to their Judaism and Jewish roots. But however much each player identifies as a Jew, however Jewish they each are – full Jews, half-Jews, barely Jews – all have bought in, getting in touch with their inner Jew and embracing that identity openly and eagerly as members of a team representing the nation-state of the Jewish people.
It was the Jewish element in their individual backgrounds, however slight for most, that helped forge Team Israel’s brotherhood, beyond just being baseball teammates over the last nine years. For the Americans, becoming Israeli amplified their Jewish identity.
The four Israel-born players reflect a different perspective on Judaism, but since joining this team, each player has gotten more in touch with his Jewish connection – even those who don’t believe in God.
It is in that spirit that the 11 players below speak not about baseball, but instead reflect on what God and being Jewish and representing Israel means to them.
Finally, the question on every fan’s mind is: can this team medal? The odds are against it. Indeed, when one betting line for the baseball competition came out two weeks before the Olympic Games began, Israel wasn’t included. That’s understandable – on paper. The tournament’s five other teams are world-ranked first (Japan), third (Korea), fourth (USA), fifth (Mexico), and seventh (Dominican Republic). Israel is ranked 24th, and on one betting site is given a 3.2% probability of winning the Gold Medal.
Before leaving for Tokyo, the team played a whirlwind series of US exhibition games: nine games in 10 days in eight cities in four states. It was strictly exhibition, the games sometimes featuring 10-man lineups, batters hitting out of turn, free substitution, and innings suddenly called because the score got out of hand and it was getting late.
Israel “won” seven and lost two, but it was about getting reacquainted with turning the double play – and even getting acquainted: batterymates and fellow Yale alumni Ben Wanger (class of 2019) and Ryan Lavarnway (class of 2009) met for the very first time only four days before flying to Tokyo.
Players who participated on the barnstorming tour but did not make the cut to go to Japan, either due to injury or lack of space: Dean Pelman, Eric Brodkowitz, Gabe Cramer, Jake Rosenberg, Jared Lakind, Jeremy Wolf, Matt Soren and Simon Rosenbaum, a collective Ralph Cox, the famous last player cut from the 1980 US Men’s Olympic Hockey Team..
The final roster – which ranges in age from 23 to 42 – includes eight players who have spent varying degrees of playing time in the major leagues, from 14 years to one pitcher who faced four batters in one appearance. That’s an awful lot of experience, and talent. These are all top-level competitors.
All bets aside, remember who this team is and what it has done: across nine years of top-level competition, Israel went 9-3 overall in the WBC and 17-4 in the Olympic-qualifying summer. A 26-7 record in worldwide clashes entering the Olympics can only breed confidence: Team Israel has been there, they’ve done that. They will not be overwhelmed by the spectacle.
Godspeed, gentlemen.

THE FOUR NATIVE-BORN ISRAELIS

ALON LEICHMAN [May 29, 1989. Pitcher. Bats R/Throws R] Kibbutz Gezer. Parents Jewish. Served in the Israel Defense Forces 2007-10. Cypress College, UC San Diego. Pitching coach for Double A Seattle. One of four players who participated on the 2012, 2016 and 2017 WBC teams, and the 2019 Olympic-qualifying teams.
I LOVE MY NUMBER: Alon Leichman wears #29 as a wink to his family – it’s his laundry tag number at their kibbutz. (Elli Wohlgelernter) (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)I LOVE MY NUMBER: Alon Leichman wears #29 as a wink to his family – it’s his laundry tag number at their kibbutz. (Elli Wohlgelernter) (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)
Leichman was born and has lived on Kibbutz Gezer his entire life. He is the youngest child of two American Zionist idealists who moved to the kibbutz in the 1970s. His famous ice cream confectioner father, David, built a regulation-sized baseball field in the southwest corner of the kibbutz in 1983, the first such field in the country.
No surprise, then, that Leichman began playing on Gezer Field from the age of four and was representing Israel in international tournaments by age 10 – and paying for it by working extra hours picking olives or milking cows on the kibbutz.
Leichman was the second-youngest player in the one-season Israel Baseball League in 2007, with the champion Beit Shemesh Blue Sox. In his first appearance at Cypress College, Leichman was tossing 2 1/3 shutout innings in relief with three strikeouts when his elbow blew out. Two Tommy John surgeries ended his professional-track career, but Leichman has continued to represent Israel in international tournaments in 15 countries over the past 20 years.
A black belt in jiujitsu, Leichman wears uniform No. 29 in a wink to his family – it’s his laundry tag number at the kibbutz. His baseball hero growing up was Shlomo Lipetz.
What’s your relationship with God?
I don’t believe in God. I grew up in a very secular environment. My mom is actually a Reform rabbi, but that was not something that I related to at all. That was her job on the kibbutz; that’s what she did. It was never something that was forced on me or anything like that, but she would say she’s Reform, and I would say I’m just a secular Jew/Israeli.
I did go to the kibbutz synagogue, because my mom was the rabbi and she asked me sometimes to go, and I would go for 15 minutes, but not because I wanted to go.
I do feel Jewish, because I’m Israeli; I was born into this culture. I’m proud of being Jewish. I just don’t believe in the religious part of it. That’s also a big reason why I want to just be in Israel, eventually be in Israel, so my kids don’t need to try to be Jewish. They’re just here. They don’t need to believe in anything; they can do whatever they want; it’s just all around them.
What’s the difference between this being Team Israel and so-called Team Jew?
I think there’s a misconception by the American Jews who made aliyah who think this is the Jewish team.
It’s not. We can have Arabs on this team, we can have Muslims and Christians on this team. Again, it’s not their fault, but when they call it the Jew Crew, I don’t like that. It’s not Team Jews. They’re on the team because they’re Jewish, yes, and they have the right to get Israeli citizenship. But this is not Team Jewish; it’s not Team Jews; it’s Team Israel. And if we had an Arab Muslim from Ramle who maybe grew up 10 minutes from Gezer and liked baseball and was good enough, he would be on this team.
You look at Team Israel in soccer – Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze. That’s Team Israel. This Team Israel is Jews; there are only Jews on this team, but they don’t have to be Jewish.
What was it like putting on the Israeli uniform for the first time?
Really cool. It was the first time representing Israel abroad – it was in Holland [1989]. A sense of pride. That’s the first time I think I felt like, “You’re not just Alon, you’re not just representing the kibbutz anymore – you’re representing a whole country.”
I knew back then that Israel is not on the best terms in the world. So, it was something that I was aware of, that part of our job of playing baseball is also making sure that these guys get to know Israelis other than what they hear on the news, and show them that, you know, we’re good people.
And you felt this at 10 years old?
How would you feel if you, as a public representative of Israel, were accused of being a baby killer?
I would feel that that guy doesn’t get it. I’m not a baby killer, and I don’t think my country is one, either. It’s way more complex than people think it is. But if he wanted to talk about it, I would talk about it, because it’s not true. At least I don’t feel it’s true. It would bother me a little bit in the moment, because a lot of people who don’t know, maybe think that way. Personally, I wouldn’t think twice about it.
ASSAF LOWENGART [March 1, 1998. Of. R/R] Timorim. Parents Jewish. Delta College, SUNY Sullivan C.C, Mansfield University. Served in the IDF 2016-2019. Participated on the 2019 Olympic-qualifying team.
I’M THE ROOKIE: Outfielder Assaf Lowengart is the latest generation of Israeli-bred baseball players. (photographer: Courtesy)I’M THE ROOKIE: Outfielder Assaf Lowengart is the latest generation of Israeli-bred baseball players. (photographer: Courtesy)
The youngest Olympian on Team Israel at 23, Lowengart grew up learning the game in Israel’s baseball league. He later coached the Under 12 and Under 14 Israel National Team, as well as the Israel Baseball Academy.
Lowengart now plays shortstop for the Mansfield Mountaineers in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. This season he batted .290/.394/.645/1.039 with 22 runs, 11 home runs (fifth in the conference) and 26 RBIs in 107 at bats. He won one game with a bases-loaded, walk-off, suicide squeeze. He hopes to be drafted after finishing college.
Lowengart looked up to Tal Erel when he started playing baseball.
What’s your relationship with God?
I’ve talked to Penprase about it, and he said that most people, when you talk about God, they close off. If you tell them “change God, the word ‘God,’ to universe”? They’re open to it. So, you want to call it universe, you want to call it God? I don’t really mind.
I still say “b’ezrat Hashem” (with God’s help) and stuff like that, because that’s what I’m used to saying. But there is God, there isn’t God? I’ll be happy if there is. But I’m not sure.
How would you describe your own Judaism?
Dati lefi da’ati (religious according to me, an internal rhyme). Judaism is the culture… it’s everything, just everything. So, you can be the most religious person and do all the stuff, but you’re a Jew the same as me. I don’t pray every day, I don’t keep kosher that much, but me and you are Jews.
Yom Kippur. My sense of it is, my understanding what it’s about – my body doesn’t need to suffer, it’s my soul. So, I don’t go to school on that day, don’t watch TV or anything. Maybe I read a book, but again, reading a book is good for my soul because it’s interesting.
My mother, for example: she reads a book and she eats, but she’s alone, quiet. My dad fasts, sleeps all day, so I could say, “Why do you sleep all day? You’re not really thinking about it.” But, again, each person does it differently. So, what I do is, I just try to think about how I can get better as a person. Maybe I really did something bad and didn’t say sorry after that. I always try to understand how I can be better.
 Illustrative photo of a baseball. (photographer: Courtesy) Illustrative photo of a baseball. (photographer: Courtesy)
What is it like being the youngest on the team?
I’m the only guy from Israel that wasn’t on Team Israel ever. Tal [Erel], Alon [Leichman] and Shlomo [Lipetz] had all gone to the WBC. So, I’m the new guy – everything here for me is new. I’m always like, ‘guys, my name is Assaf, and I do this and this.’
I like being the young one, because it’s like a chip on my shoulder. And that’s what motivates me most of the time – I’ve always played with guys older than I, and that’s what pushes me.
SHLOMO LIPETZ [February 11, 1979. P. R/R] Tel Aviv. Parents Jewish. UC San Diego. Served in the IDF 1997-2000. One of four players who participated on the 2012, 2016, and 2017 WBC teams, and the 2019 Olympic-qualifying teams.
I REMEMBER ABNER DOUBLEDAY: The grand old man of Israeli baseball, pitcher Shlomo Lipetz. (photographer: Courtesy)I REMEMBER ABNER DOUBLEDAY: The grand old man of Israeli baseball, pitcher Shlomo Lipetz. (photographer: Courtesy)
Lipetz is the saba on this team, the grandfather, the zeidee, the old man and living legend at the center of the intersect that is everything baseball, Jews and Israel in the 21st century.
He started playing as a 10-year-old, when baseball was first starting in Israel, and was on the first team to play in an international tournament: the European Little League qualifiers at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, where the players wore flat sneakers, sweatpants and T-shirts with hand-drawn numbers on the back – the tournament now famous in Israeli baseball lore after blue and white lost to Saudi Arabia 51-0.
Lipetz played in the one-season Israel Baseball League in 2007, where he had a 3-1 record, a 0.98 ERA, and an impressive 30-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 27.2 innings.
The oldest Olympian on Team Israel at 42, Lipetz hopes to become the second-oldest to ever play baseball in the Olympics.
The self-confessed “sidearmer, late movement guy” is vice president of programming and music director hipster at City Winery in New York City, but what he really likes to do is cook. He’s knowledgeable about music, world affairs – “from Left to Left,” he laughs – and considers himself an animal person.
Lipetz, whose mom was born in the United States, had no baseball hero growing up, because there was no one to watch. He could follow baseball only by watching a delayed broadcast feed on Lebanon TV – if the tin foil held on the antenna.
What is your relationship with God?
I believe in energy and cosmos and bigger powers. I don’t believe in God. I understand why people grasp for God. I don’t relate ever. I like to feel that I have control over my destiny, and if things happen, it’s not because God decided; it’s because of a certain situation in a certain place in a certain time, and coincidence together with luck wins, together with a bunch of other things.
I’m definitely not saying I have control over everything, because you’re a fool if you think you have control over everything. If people could separate religion to what it does to people, I think it would be better. Instead, they’re practicing religion the way people who have it wrong have taught it.
What is your Jewish background?
I went to synagogue maybe three times as a kid – my bar mitzvah and two other friends’ bar mitzvahs. I grew up in a very secular family, although my uncle from my mom’s side is a rabbi, and every Tuesday I went to Jerusalem and studied for my bar mitzvah with him.
On Yom Kippur I took my bike and hung out with friends or went to the beach – what every other kid does on Yom Kippur.
I’m a Jew by birth and by entity, and I identify myself as a Jew. I’m definitely not embarrassed of being Jewish; it’s part of who I am. But that doesn’t motivate me – for example, playing Germany in Germany – to play better, to beat them more. I fully understand why it motivates other players; I can relate to it; it’s just not me.
After 30 years playing for and representing Israel in baseball tournaments around the world, what was it like qualifying for the Olympics?
There was just kind of this complete disbelief and relief, and I remember holding my head and just saying, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. The Olympics. I can’t believe it. Olympics.” Just over and over again.
TAL EREL [June 16, 1996. C. S/R] Givatayim. Parents Jewish. Attends Lynn University. Served in the IDF 2014-17. Participated on the 2016 and 2017 WBC teams and the 2019 Olympic-qualifying team.
MAN BEHIND THE MASK: Catcher Tal Erel is a modest one: ‘I don’t call pitches. I advise pitches.’ (photographer: Courtesy)MAN BEHIND THE MASK: Catcher Tal Erel is a modest one: ‘I don’t call pitches. I advise pitches.’ (photographer: Courtesy)
Erel didn’t know what baseball was until his family moved to Florida when he was six. But he learned the game, as well as English, and continued to play when he moved back to Israel four years later. By age 10 he was on the National Team, and has been on every age-level national team since.
The third-youngest member of the Olympic team, Erel says he never tells the pitcher what to throw: “I don’t call pitches – it’s wrong to say I call the pitches. I advise the pitches.”
Erel is nuts about aviation – he tracks flights for the fun of it, is well-read on planes of all kinds, and knows exactly where to get the best deals on any flight anywhere. He’s also into geography, and can recognize the flags of most countries in the world. His baseball hero growing up was Alon Leichman.
Who in Jewish history would you like to meet?
Bar-Kochba. He was kind of like our team, you know? People never gave us a shot. Of course, we did have a long route to get to the Olympics, but no one gave us a shot from the first day, not even in the B Pool. So, I think the team is very similar to him: he didn’t have fear, he faced whoever it was, and that’s him. That’s what he’s known for. And I hope our team will be known for that as well.
What was your favorite Jewish holiday?
I would say it’s Hanukkah. As a kid, I was actually looking forward to the chocolate coins. I wouldn’t say it’s Passover, I wouldn’t say it’s Rosh Hashanah, but I do like Hanukkah; it has something different than a regular holiday. Each family does the blessings of different holidays differently, a different melody. But Hanukkah everyone does the same – no matter what stream of Judaism. Hanukkah is pretty much universal.
Ever feel conflicted over the politics of Israel?
I was in the military; I do know what actually goes on. What’s on the news in my opinion is not really accurate on what goes on in Gaza. I know, as a former Israeli soldier, that we try as much as possible to minimize the damage of civilians and people who are not involved in this whole conflict.
But if someone will criticize and say, “Hey, you guys are baby killers” – you know, I do understand that pain; it does happen. We don’t like it, but it does happen.
In the operation in Gaza in 2014, one of my baseball teammates, Sean Mondschein, got killed. He was on my U16 baseball team.
If you could bring your teammates to only three places in Israel so they could feel the meaning of what makes Israel tick, what three places would you bring them to?
I’d bring them to Sportek, because that’s where I grew up playing baseball. I would say Jerusalem, just having them see the connection to Israel and Judaism itself. And I’d bring them to my house.

SEVEN AMERICAN-BORN ISRAELIS

ALEX KATZ [October 12, 1994; P. L/L]. New Hyde Park, New York. Parents Jewish. St. John’s University. Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Participated on the 2016 and 2017 WBC teams, and was on the roster but did not play during the 2019 Olympic-qualifying tournament, because of injury.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF THAT: An early betting line had the prospects for Japan, United States, Mexico, South Korea and Dominican Republic – but not Israel. (photographer: screenshot)WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF THAT: An early betting line had the prospects for Japan, United States, Mexico, South Korea and Dominican Republic – but not Israel. (photographer: screenshot)
Katz has played in the Pioneer League, the Rookie Arizona League, the South Atlantic League and the Carolina League, and now hopes to move up in the Cubs organization.
As is everyone on the team, Katz is smart – book smart and creative. After graduating from St. John’s in 2015 with a 3.6 GPA, Katz launched the explosively successful Stadium Custom Kicks shoe company, which designs creative artwork for players’ athletic shoes.
One of Katz’s talents is that he knows how to put things together: “Most of the time when I open a box, I don’t read the instructions. I kind of just look at it and figure out right away how everything goes with everything.”
How do you feel about God?
I always questioned myself whether he exists or not, just scientifically and then religiously. Obviously, I’m Jewish, and I was always taught to believe in him. But sometimes I question what I’ve learned. Not me doubting that there is one, but just thinking like, imagine there is none, and all these different religions make a big deal out of nothing, really. So, I wonder sometimes if there actually is a God.
What Is your Jewish background?
I had a bar mitzvah at Temple Emanuel in New Hyde Park, a Reform temple. Went to Sunday school, Hebrew school, from an early age, probably six or seven, up until my bar mitzvah. I was forever going to Sunday school in my baseball uniform, and everyone would look at me kind of weird. We probably celebrated one or two holidays a year – as a kid, we did almost everything.
After 13 I took baseball very seriously, so that kind of took me away from religion a little bit; I wasn’t really involved. Since then, I’ve been a pretty bad Jew; I haven’t really gone to temple and those sorts of things.
How do you feel as a role model for Jewish fans?
I believe I’m a good role model to Jewish fans because I feel like I do things the right way. It’s one of the first things I learned when I was drafted by the White Sox: only say stuff or do things that your grandma or your mother would be proud of.
That’s something I was taught when we have social media meetings, because social media is huge. Once you put something out on the Internet, it’s there forever, even if you delete it. So, I take that role with me in daily life, too, not just when it comes to the Internet.
I fool around with my friends, but it’s nothing too crazy, it’s not damaging or hurting other people’s feelings. But definitely in public, I keep an eye in the back of my head and make sure I do the right thing.
Ever encounter antisemitism?
Some of the teams I’ve played on, there’s definitely been teammates of mine who are antisemitic, who had never met a Jew before. Obviously, in professional baseball there are guys from all over the world, all different backgrounds. There were a few teammates of mine that are from very rural areas in the US, never met any Jews, so they’ve only heard bad things about them.
One teammate of mine, I was good friends with him – we would talk and hang out, and eat together. And I guess somehow, he found out I was Jewish, and he just started acting very, very – pretty mean to me. Totally changed his view of me, or his perception of me.
Ever feel conflicted over the politics of Israel?
I think athletes are good at separating politics and sports. I think when it comes to Team Israel, I don’t think any of the players really worry about the politics, whether things are going good or things are going bad. I think they’re just focused on playing the game the right way, competing, and representing the Jewish people, no matter what goes on politically, because we have nothing to do with it.
I don’t think it’s really fair to combine politics and sports. We have nothing to do with the politics – we don’t make any decisions. Most guys probably have no idea what’s even going on politically.
BEN WANGER [April 7, 1997. P. L/R] Newton, Massachusetts. Parents Jewish. Yale University, USC, U of Miami. Participated in Germany and Italy on the 2019 Olympic-qualifying team.
I’M OUTTA HERE: Pitcher Ben Wanger gives a pre-game interview in the dugout in Central Islip, New York, on July 20, a day before flying to Tokyo. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)I’M OUTTA HERE: Pitcher Ben Wanger gives a pre-game interview in the dugout in Central Islip, New York, on July 20, a day before flying to Tokyo. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)
The two-way player – the Shohei Otani of Team Israel – had three hits, scored four runs and drove in three at the qualifying games in Germany and Italy, while also throwing 4.1 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and one walk, while striking out five batters.
Wanger helped the Yale Bulldogs win Ivy League titles in 2017 and 2018, setting the school record for wins with 34 on that 2017 team.
A star at Belmont Hill High School, Wanger pitched the first perfect game in school history. And he plays a mean trumpet.
What is your Jewish background?
I can read Hebrew. I can’t understand it, but I can read it. I went to Hebrew school from as long as I can remember, probably from preschool until probably a year after my bar mitzvah. Just on Sunday – Sunday school. I learned how to read Hebrew, didn’t really get anything else out of Hebrew school.
 A DOZEN BDS demonstrators protest against Israel’s Olympic team at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, New York, on July 12. The game was not disrupted. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER) A DOZEN BDS demonstrators protest against Israel’s Olympic team at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, New York, on July 12. The game was not disrupted. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)
I never considered myself religious; I still don’t. I just never really saw the meaning behind it. I remember thinking when I was doing my bar mitzvah [that] I was just memorizing words in Hebrew and just saying them. I had no idea what they meant until I read the English translation, so the language of Hebrew didn’t really mean anything to me. I read from the Torah, but that didn’t mean anything; it wasn’t special to me.
Even though I had a bar mitzvah, I’d never really felt very religious about it. I never felt a strong connection to God. I don’t really believe in God as a being. I’ve always believed more in science than anything. I think the biggest mysteries in the world – this is gonna get very nerdy, very quickly – my original God is the unknowable, like the black hole. That’s something that can never be explained, no matter what, with any type of science. So, that’s what I consider some higher level of something. I wouldn’t call it God, I would just call it science and the unknowable. I don’t really like the word “God.”
How does Israel, Judaism and baseball manifest itself with this team?
It’s become another family for me. I’ve never played on a team like the one that qualified. It was so different than every other team I’ve played on, because nobody cared about themselves.
 I GOT MY KICKS: Wanger’s personalized Olympic shoes (his name on the right, Am Yisrael Chai on the left), custom-made by teammate Alex Katz. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER) I GOT MY KICKS: Wanger’s personalized Olympic shoes (his name on the right, Am Yisrael Chai on the left), custom-made by teammate Alex Katz. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)
You play baseball, you care about stats – Jews are nerdy, they care about stats, they’re looking at stats all the time – but [for] this team, there was one goal, and it was to win the game, to win every game, and nobody cared about how we did that. And that’s the first team that I played on that was like that.
People are always selfish; they care about their own personal game, they care about how they do. But I think for Team Israel that we were collectively selfish, in that we wanted to advance, to make it as far as possible, and that the only way to achieve our goals was by winning. Nothing else mattered. There were several times when guys asked to be pulled out of games, because they knew it was best for the team.
All the players talk about the 2019 game against Germany in Bonn. What did it mean to you?
My grandmother on my mother’s side escaped the Shoah when she was three; her babysitter saved her. When I caught the last out of the Germany game at first base – it was a double play – I gave her the ball.
 SAAAAAY, BULLDOG: Yale alumni Ryan Lavarnway, class of 2009 (l), and Wanger, class of 2019, get better acquainted at batting practice on the third day of their friendship. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER) SAAAAAY, BULLDOG: Yale alumni Ryan Lavarnway, class of 2009 (l), and Wanger, class of 2019, get better acquainted at batting practice on the third day of their friendship. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)
At first, she didn’t really understand what it was all about. I didn’t give it to her in person, because I wasn’t at home, I was FaceTiming them from the dugout at USC. My parents gave it to her, and she kind of was just looking at it; she was kind of confused, really didn’t know what it was until my parents explained it to her. But she read the little note I wrote on it for her: “Israel beats Germany in extra innings in Bonn, Germany. Go Israel. This is for you, Grandma Sarah. Love, Benny.” And she was very happy about that.
I kind of had it planned out – I intentionally saved the ball from that game; I kept it in my glove and just put the glove in my bag, so I knew it was the ball.
JONATHAN De MARTE [April 29, 1993. RP. R/R] Yorktown Heights, New York. Mother Jewish. University of Richmond. Three seasons in independent ball. Participated on the 2019 Olympic-qualifying teams.
 WEARING HIS HEART ON HIS SLEEVE: Pitcher Jonathan de Marte reveals his tattoo showing his dedication to Team Israel. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER) WEARING HIS HEART ON HIS SLEEVE: Pitcher Jonathan de Marte reveals his tattoo showing his dedication to Team Israel. (photographer: ELLI WOHLGELERNTER)
De Marte was the 2010 and 2011 Gatorade New York State High School Player of the Year and a star at Lakeland High School, where his stats included a 1.22 ERA with 59 strikeouts and five walks in 40 innings. He also hit .492 with 20 runs batted in.
De Marte has played in the Frontier League, the Atlantic League, the Canadian-American Association and the Australian Baseball League, but multiple injuries and five surgeries for arm, elbow, rotator cuff, and a double hernia limited the relief pitcher’s playing time over the years. 
De Marte has a black belt in tae kwon do, was at David Cone’s perfect game, and his favorite athlete growing up was Kobe Bryant. “I’ve never cried for someone passing away that I don’t know besides Kobe.” And he has triplets for siblings, a sister and two brothers.
What is your Jewish background?
I went to Hebrew school as early as I could start, probably first grade or second grade, through bar mitzvah. We wouldn’t do Shabbat, but always Hanukkah, always Passover, follow all the traditions – I always remember hiding the afikomen.
Now looking back, in all honesty, I played so much baseball in my life – and I love it, you can never convince a 12-year-old me to go to temple or go to Hebrew school over baseball – but I wish that it was taken a little bit more seriously, because there are definitely pieces of the culture, the tradition, the religion, that I missed out on in Hebrew school, because your mind is elsewhere. And now, as you mature and get older a little bit, it’s like I’m trying to re-piece it together myself, just through reading more, through understanding, trying to be more involved, and it’s very difficult to backtrack.
I always identified. I just wish that there was more effort put in on my end, more effort to understanding why I’m in Hebrew school, and what it means to me, instead of waiting till you’re 25 years old to shape that meaning for yourself.
What was your favorite Jewish holiday?
I think Rosh Hashanah – instead of the New Year that everybody celebrates in the same repetitive bullshit in the United States. It’s a special New Year for us, a very small group of people throughout the world, a celebratory day that only Jewish people can really be a part of.
The day that I used to like going to temple the most for Friday night services was when we would have as a guest speaker a Holocaust survivor, because just hearing their account about something that you don’t really learn enough about in school, I think that’s something that was very unique to be able to sit there and listen to someone who was lucky enough to live throughout that. It was so far removed from me, because we’re so much younger, but it’s such an important piece of history that I think has to be taught more and remembered, so it doesn’t happen again.
Who in Jewish history would you like to meet?
Sandy Koufax, because I don’t know how you could ever sit out a World Series game for a holiday. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it; I have no idea what I would feel like in that situation. I’m so far from that. But if you’re fortunate enough to pitch in the World Series, and to just choose to sit out – that’s got to be the hardest thing to do. And I think with today’s media, in this day and age, you would just get absolutely destroyed if you did that. So yeah, I would like to know what it was like to be in that situation.
Ever experience antisemitism?
I think there’s definitely times where things have been said that crossed the line. And there shouldn’t be a line, because I think we should all be respectful and understanding of each other, and you don’t know what truthfully bothers someone or how that’s going to impact them. But I think it’s definitely carried on too far at times, where you feel uncomfortable to say something, because you’re usually by yourself as a Jewish person in any setting that you’re in.
I can’t really give some specific examples, but I can definitely think about people who have pushed the limit a little bit, and take it too far, who are definitely antisemitic. And because they like me, they’re not going to say [anything] directly to me, but they definitely crossed the line and, like, it’s bothered me.
What was it like putting on the Israeli uniform for the first time, at the Olympic qualifiers?
So cool. Amazing. I was so happy to take a picture for the first time in my Israeli uniform, and see myself playing baseball with that logo on me, because, yeah, I haven’t made it to the major leagues. Every time you play in a new place and get to wear a new uniform, it’s a pretty cool feeling. But to have something that I already had a previous connection to, that I can put on my chest, was, yeah, a really, really cool feeling. 
The coolest national anthem I’ve ever heard is “Hatikvah,” so to be on the [foul] line for that… I knew some words of it, but then you hear it every single day in Germany and Italy, so you learn a lot more of it. Having guys sing in unison on the line while you hear your anthem – it’s one of the coolest feelings ever.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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