He built it. And they came.
I’m speaking of my Israeli cousin, Peter Kurz, a transplanted Manhattanite who has been managing baseball in the Holy Land for more than a decade now.
Peter has been running the Israel Association of Baseball, which now has more than 1,000 players rounding the bases in a land more comfortable with guns and bayonets than bats and balls.
The past two weeks — 50 years after the Six Day War — we have witnessed a minor miracle take place in the Far East at the World Baseball Championships in Korea and Japan. Once again, tiny Israel has defeated four big countries in less than a week. Should we now call it the Six Day Sweep?
Like David in the biblical David vs. Goliath battle, the 41st ranked Israeli baseball team has beaten up on the big boys: third-ranked South Korea, fourth-ranked Taiwan, fifth-ranked Cuba, and ninth-ranked the Netherlands have all been felled by the mighty slingshots from the Israeli side.
When I visited cousin Peter in Israel five years ago we were traveling to Jerusalem in his car to see the holiest of the holies when his cellphone rang and on the other end was his Israeli co-commissioner Haim. They were in search of American Major League Baseball players who have some Jewish roots to add to the Israeli national team.
“What about Ian Goldstein (not the real name)?” asked Shlomo.
“No, no, no,” Peter replied. “I think his dad was a Jew for Jesus, so he cannot get citizenship.”
And so they played the fun game of “Who’s a Jew?” the next few years until they put together a team of minor leaguers, former major leaguers (like former Met Ike Davis) and other wandering members of the tribe who were willing to put their talents on the diamond to work for the Motherland.
Last September, in the qualifying round for the world championships in Coney Island’s MCU Park, Israel upset the team from Great Britain on its way to the round of 16 in South Korea.
I went to the stadium with some childhood friends to cheer on Peter and his ragtag bunch of Goldstein’s and Shapiro’s.
It was fun to watch my exuberant cousin revel in the fruits of his seemingly futile labor — he had taken a sport to a country that is at best indifferent to America’s favorite pastime and made it compete with the same ferocity and fervor that has turned a tiny desert country into a world military superpower.
Peter’s mother and my mother, Hungarian sisters who survived the Holocaust and the slaughter of many from their family, came to America in the 1950s to seek a safe harbor and a place to raise children without fear of persecution and discrimination.
Instead of their unimaginable teenage worries about world war and the rise of the Nazis, Peter and I spent our teens in New York cheering on the New York Mets. Our biggest worry seemed to be whether our team could break out of the shadow of the hated Bombers from the Bronx.
What a difference a generation makes.
And now, with a new generation of Jews cheering on the Israeli baseball team in its not-so quixotic quest for world domination, I realize that the world really is flat.
Wouldn’t it be great if there could be a baseball league of teams in the Middle East and instead of war and stockpiling weapons, they duked it out on the ballfield? Where teams from Saudi Arabia and Iran and Yemen and Syria and Israel could compete for wins and losses and the Semitic Baseball Championship?
If America could heal from the Civil War in the 1860s and less than a century later have southern teams compete against northern teams in the major leagues, then maybe there is hope for the healing power of baseball.
Go team Israel! Go Peter!
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallo
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