Israel is the lowest ranked team at the World Baseball Classic, 200-1 underdogs! They have been compared to the Jamaican Bobsled Team. And, as I am typing, they are in the ninth inning at 8:19 AM, Sunday morning (Israel time) and are about to defeat baseball powerhouse, Cuba. This is after going undefeated in their first round against third-ranked Korea, fourth-ranked Taiwan and ninth-ranked Holland.
This is nothing short of a miracle…well, just short of a miracle. After all, we are talking baseball, not Red Sea partitions.
Yawning, not Fawning
Now you would expect that the nation is just overwhelmed with excitement and pride. The truth is, most Israelis could not explain the rules of baseball and are unaware of our success at the #WBC. When our Sports Minister was asked if she was going to South Korea, (where Israel is playing), she was clueless that the event was even taking place.
Nevertheless, to see sluggers wearing the kippah and singing (or at least listening) the Israeli national anthem is moving. In addition, according to Jewish tradition, the players read from the book of Esther (known as the Megillah) from the dugout.
“The Finger of God!”
So, why isn’t the nation more excited? Let’s go back to 2004. When Maccabi Tel Aviv scored six quick points, they were still trailing by three with two seconds left in the Euroleague basketball game that would decide if they made the playoffs or not. They fouled the other team’s best shooter. He hadn’t missed a foul shot in his last 18 Euroleague games! He missed them both. Tel Aviv got the rebound and Gur Shelif quickly passed the ball to Derek Sharpe, who swished a three-pointer, as time ran out. We won in overtime!
The headline read the next morning, “The Finger of God!”
“Maccabi’s coach, Pini Gershon, declared the shot a Passover miracle. “You have witnessed a miracle. I am a believer. And if this is not a miracle, I don’t know what a miracle is.”
As a new immigrant, I watched the ending on a beach in Eilat with about 500 people. It was truly the greatest comeback I’d ever seen. We went on to win the Euroleague Championship that year.
You see, being the people of the book, rebirthed after 2,000 years of wandering around nationless, we view every victory as God-inspired. When Israel won just two medals—a bronze and silver—in last summer’s Olympics, the bronze medal winner, Or Sasson said, “We did something amazing. Israel is a judo empire.”
Well, not quite. But we overcame a lot to get those medals. First, a Saudi opponent forfeited her match to avoid going up against an Israeli. Then, the Lebanese Judo team would not let the Israeli team on the bus they were supposed to ride together. Finally, after the aforementioned Sasson, defeated his Egyptian opponent, the Egyptian refused to shake his hands. So, with the world against us, we tend to see the finger of God, not only in theology and war, but also in sports.
Why not Baseball?
And yet, when I just told my very Israeli wife of Israel’s heroics in the World Baseball Classic, she had no idea what I was talking about. Let me explain why.
- First, Israelis don’t play baseball. We play soccer and basketball. In schools, there are no baseball teams.
- Secondly, Israelis don’t watch baseball. Your average Israeli could not tell you what a bunt is. A sacrificed fly might be mistaken for doves being sacrificed at the Temple, before connecting it to baseball.
- And, thirdly, our “Israeli” team doesn’t have many Israelis—two, to be exact—and my guess is they immigrated.
“Support has also suffered because the team is, well, not very Israeli. Thanks to the WBC’s “heritage rule,” its players are almost all Americans with major or minor league experiences and varying degrees of ties to Judaism and Israel.”
So the only way for Israelis to truly get excited about this “Purim Miracle” is for our team to keep winning.
Mensch on the Bench
A mensch is a Yiddish word for “stand-up guy” and some are crediting Israel’s miraculous success with their mascot, who actually can’t stand up. The Mensch on the Bench, as he is known, resembles a rabbinic Jew; he is 5ft tall and was the idea of infielder Cody Decker.
“[The Mensch has been a] big hit in South Korea and with pictures of him wearing a t-shirt making the rounds on social media, he’s also been involved with generating the hashtag #JewCrew.”
Is Baseball the new Judo?
After Israel’s Olympic success in judo, it became all the rage for younger Israelis. However, the problem with baseball is that you need 18 people, a field and equipment. Nevertheless, if the Israeli team continues on this tear, the larger population will rally behind our sort-of-Israeli team. The good news is that it slowly catching on. After today’s win, I noticed that it was on the front page of, not just our English news sites here in Israel, but our most popular Hebrew site had a story about it as well.
If Israel somehow reaches the finals in Dodger Stadium, they will arrive too soon for us to connect it to Passover, and Purim is just now ending. We might just have to event another Jewish holiday. Maybe this one will be celebrated with hotdogs, peanuts and crackerjacks.