Baseball is not politics, so what better way is there to bring together two sides of a divide than through a sport where the greatest conflict is over a bad call by an umpire.
On March 5 and 6 at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah, the IAB in partnership with the Play Global non-profit organization fulfilled a dream as the two organizations launched Baseball for All (Baseball Le’Kulam), the first ever program to teach Jewish and Arab Israeli children to play baseball. The kids, 28 sixth graders from Modiin and Ramle, were all as new to the sport as most of them were new to each other. So slowly, as they learned about baseball they also learned about one another. Once they had started learning the basics of the sport, and saw the need to work together as a team, concerns about each other quickly disappeared. Instead, they put their hearts and souls into baseball – into hitting the ball, catching it, and making sure that the right person on the team received the ball no matter where they came from.
“This was a really great way to take a completely a-political setting – baseball – and use it to help break many stereotypes and preconceived ideas,” said Nate Fish, IAB National Director, who conceived of the idea along with Tom Gillespie, head of the nonprofit organization Play Global, who traveled to Israel from Germany to launch this pilot program. Play Global is based in the U.S. and works internationally, running programs in developing countries and conflict areas, with the goal of helping kids learn skills for success, respect and teamwork through baseball. “This program gave these kids an opportunity to build an understanding of each other while also learning baseball and having a great time,” added Play Global’s Tom Gilllespie.
“This is the first time that the IAB has run a program specifically aimed at bringing Arab and Jewish kids together,” Nate commented. “We gathered a great group of people including baseball coaches from Play Global and the IAB, and educators from the Jewish Israeli and Arab Israeli communities to teach the kids baseball, and to encourage them to form lasting friendships."
Amal Abu-Sif is an educator who works with both Arab and Jewish students, and was one of the initiators of the program. “The most important thing in Baseball for All is to know the ‘other’ as not your enemy but rather as a human being like you and to know how much we are all the same,” she said. “This is what this program is all about and why we launched it.”
For the kids, it was mainly about having fun, learning a new sport and meeting new friends. Adam, 12, from Ramle, and Sagi, 12, from Modiin, ended the program by making plans and becoming Facebook friends: “He’s my best friend,” said Adam with a very broad smile and an arm around Sagi’s shoulders. Both are also committed to continue playing baseball.
Some of the kids were able to understand the process in greater depth. Lian, 12, from Ramle said that she loved learning how to play baseball, but that she also “learned not to judge anyone by how they look and rather to live together in co-existence and have fun together.”
Baseball for All will continue in June and in October.