George and Jeremy BleichYom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is a time when people in Israel come together not only to mourn the memories of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, but also to pay tribute to the survivors and the legacies they built when they resurrected their lives after the war. Team Israel pitcher Jeremy Bleich shared the story of his grandparents, Yolanda and George Bleich, who were both survivors.

George, who was from Poland, was taken to the concentration camps when he was 25 years old and survived thanks to his skills as a leatherman who could make and repair soldier’s boots. Yolanda was from an area of Czechoslovakia that is now Ukraine. She was taken away at age 17 and spent time at several different camps, including Auschwitz, and was put to work stuffing gun powder into Nazi bombs. From a large family, she had at least seven siblings who were killed in the Holocaust. After the war, they each spent time in DP camps in south Germany deciding where to go next. They were ultimately sponsored to emigrate to the United States, where they met, married and raised a family.

Jeremy's earliest memories of hearing about the Holocaust are from his parents watching the movie Schindler's Listand telling him to leave the room at certain parts. "I was always curious, but was afraid to ask," he explained. "I would get tidbits just from conversations and I would figure things out."

His grandfather passed away before Jeremy was old enough to ask about war. In his late teens, Jeremy summoned up the courage to talk to his grandmother about her experiences: "I felt like she was getting older and we had never really spoken about it. The grandkids weren’t really exposed to it. And I remember asking, kind of probing her to get more information. I asked her if anyone ever acted out. She said people tried to just say nothing, do what they were told and stay quiet.

“Just hearing her say that, my little grandmother, the grittiness, the toughness, the at-times desensitized approach that allowed her to get through life – she lived in the same building in Brooklyn for 60-odd years, never wanted to move out. That was all a product of the experiences she had as a teenager."

Over time, Jeremy has come to understand the different ways his grandparents' experiences affected his father and, in turn, himself. He feels that the importance of family, his protectiveness of those he is close to and his desire to bring people together come from that.

Yolanda and Jeremy BleichLast summer Jeremy went to Germany for the first time to play for Israel at the European championships and met a shopkeeper who asked him what he was doing there. Upon learning that Jeremy was representing Israel and thus Jewish, there was a long pause, after which the owner simply said, "I’m so sorry," and walked away. That experience, which he described as "surreal," stayed with Jeremy.

"[The Holocaust] really wasn’t that long ago when you think about it. That scares me," Jeremy said. “I think it still hits home as I get older and start to learn about the family. My father passed away five years ago and I was kind of forced to grow up at that moment. I look at some of his personality traits and why he acted certain ways. He was most definitely a product of a first-generation Holocaust survivor and I think as time goes on, as I get older, I start to put the pieces together and understand the big picture. There’s a lot of good literature out there about what happened and its effect on people and I think we as a Jewish community need to continue to learn about, to understand and to hold close to our hearts."

Being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors is at the core of who Jeremy is. It’s something he carries with him at all times and that inspires him when times are tough.

“Sometimes when you have to dig a little deep and you have to figure out who you are, you have to take control against someone or something that makes you uncomfortable, think about what the people did before you. I know what the people did before me and it’s a very strengthening feeling."

The Jewish roots that Yolanda and George Bleich planted after the war continue to bear fruit in many ways. For Jeremy, being Jewish - and playing for Team Israel - is simply who he is.

“One of the many reasons that I was raised Jewish, I want my kids to be raised Jewish, I want a Jewish family, the culture and community feel is because my grandparents sacrificed what they did and if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be here," he summed up. “That’s something that words don't do justice. That's the reason that I am who I am."

Margo   International Womens Day

Margo International womens day

Margo Sugarman is the Secretary General of the Israel Association of Baseball and in honor of International Women's Day, we decided to learn more about her history and contributions to baseball in Israel. Sugarman, a mother of three from Tel Mond, immigrated to Israel from her native South Africa in 1989. Her involvement in Israel Baseball began when her son, Hadar, started playing. She has since become certified as an umpire, started coaching, became Tel Mond's Regional Director, a member of the IAB Board of Directors and since 2013 the organization’s Secretary General.

She said that “seeing young kids progress through the system" is a major highlight for her. "Kids who started playing with me at 9-10 years old and have gone on to play for national teams, playing in the academy, becoming coaches… That’s a huge thing that I am very proud of."

Of course, that is one of many highlights, which also include seeing her son's team win the national championship in the Junior division with what she called a "Bad News Bears" type of team, serving as the manager of the Under-18 Team that won the European Championship Qualifier in Sweden with a lot of guys who started playing in Tel Mond, Israel's run at the 2017 World Baseball Championships and qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Sugarman explained that for her, being a woman in baseball has allowed her to forge a different bond with players than many of her male counterparts. “They are much more affectionate to me than with a man."

She told the story of how players on one of the junior teams she traveled with began calling her the team’s mom. When she challenged that they would not interact the same way with a man, the countered: "If you were a man, we wouldn't love you as much."

In closing and in honor of International Women's Day, Sugarman issued a challenge to other women in Israel who like baseball. "I think it would be nice if women took a more active role in the IAB as coaches and umpires,” she said. "I think it would be a positive thing."

Yaniv Rosenfeld

Meet Yaniv Rosenfeld, who recently took on the role of the Israel Association of Baseball’s Operations Manager.

Age: 35

Hometown: Misgav in northern Israel. His parents made Aliyah in 1982 from Baltimore

Position: Short stop, 2B

What is your baseball history?

I started playing from the age of  8 on Moshav Shorashim where there was an American garin. I played on my first baseball national team at 11. I traveled to Prague with the team in 1995, to one of the first tournaments in Czech Republic after the fall of the Soviet Union and communism. I played in junior world softball championships in Australia and played in three Maccabi Games for Israel Softball, as well as two junior European Championships and four adult European Championships. I established the Misgav Baseball club in 2013. 

Your Baseball Highlights 

Getting a Misgav team into the Premier League of the IAB. Another major highlight was building a field in Misgav, which was a huge achievement.

The biggest challenge

Our biggest challenge is that we’re the lowest on the Israel sports totem pole with the least amount of political power. Being in the Olympics is a great way to get us on the map. We need to increase our numbers, and we have to work on setting up more and better quality programs throughout the country.

The Misgav Baseball Program

The baseball program in Misgav started in 2013 when we started our own non-profit. We became part of the Misgav sports system, where we were a top to bottom program but wanted to become a bottom up program – we had started with an adult team but now we are working from minors upward. We now have over 200 registered members in Misgav. We have 20 baseball and softball teams, with 130 players in baseball and 70 in softball. Our oldest player is 77 and the youngest is six-years-old. Our players have to be brave and respect the sport because they have to work hard to be players here – my players take 1.5 hours to get from Misgav to games in the Baptist Village and 2.5 hours to get to Gezer.

What is unique to Israeli baseball?

The players appreciate the simplicity of baseball in Israel. There are no fancy fields or fancy uniforms. They play in spite of not have major facilities, sponsors, equipment, etc., and have no winter facilities.

Your vision for Israel Baseball

My medium-term goals are to have 3 leagues for every age group in the north, south and national, from U12s till adults. Our national teams should be in the A Pools in Europe from U15 to adults. In the long term, I’d like to see a baseball club in every city in Israel with a baseball field in every club.

Favorite MLB team and player

The Boston Red Sox; my favorite player is Justin Pedroia because he reminds me of myself. For me, it’s all about baseball in Israel. The MLB is something to look up to. But baseball is one of the best educational sports out there, and I try to put a big emphasis on baseball and education more than baseball and professional sports.

Ophir Katz 2015

Ophir Katz took on the role of Head National Team Coach at the start of the baseball year. A few facts about Ophir...

Age: 32

Home town: Tel Aviv

Position: Catcher

What is your baseball history?
I started playing at the age of 10 in Tel Aviv. At 12, I was selected for the U12 national team. When I was in the army I was a Sportsman (Sportai) and when I was released from the army I traveled to California to study and play for Cyprus Community College. In 2006, I joined the Senior National Team for the first time, and I played on that team until 2019. Over the years I have coached various teams in various countries.

What have been your baseball highlights?
Almost every summer, to travel to some hole in the wall town in Europe (because for some reason European baseball fields don’t seem to be located in large cities), and to spend a week there as if nothing else exists in the world besides the next game and the people around me.

What are the main challenges facing baseball in Israel?
I think that the biggest difficulty we have is to make baseball accessible to the local population, in order to grow significantly. In order to achieve this, we have to adapt the game to the environment of soccer fields and basketball courts.

What is your vision for Israel baseball?
I would like to see major growth among the 6-10 age group and have them play8ing on a weekly basis throughout Israel. We would like to have local leagues in every town and regional leagues on a higher level. The growth of younger players will lead to the creation of a higher quality program for the older players. And I believe that our national teams will be able to place in the middle of the European rankings.

Your favorite MLB team?
The Pittsburgh Pirates

PeterKurz 2016

The Israel Association Baseball (IAB) has announced that effective immediately, Peter Kurz will step down from his role as President of the Board of Directors of the IAB in order to focus fully on his role as General Manager of Team Israel ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Jordy Alter, who is Vice President of the IAB replaces Kurz until the next elections for office holders is held in 2021.

Kurz elected to step down because of the intense demands facing him as Team Israel General Manager in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Team Israel secured a place in the 2020 Olympic Games when the team won the Europe/Africa Qualifier in Italy in September.

“Peter dedicated himself to making the vision of sending a baseball team from Israel to the Olympic Games in 2020 a reality, and achieved what most would not believe possible,” says Alter, the incoming IAB President. “The task of Team Israel General Manager in the coming months will be immense and we respect the decision that Peter has made to place his full focus on this crucial role, and hopefully bring home the gold. His contributions to Israel Baseball over the past years have been innumerable, and he will continue to play a major role in his new position.”

“It has been my honor to have served over the past six years as President of the IAB,” says Kurz. “As president, I was able to expand Israel Baseball into the global arena, reaching number six in the world at the World Baseball Classic in 2017 and now, earning a place at the 2020 Olympic Games, which have been great accomplishments. I now look forward to fully investing my time and energy in ensuring that Israel is represented at the Tokyo Olympics by the best and most well-prepared baseball team possible.”Jordy Alter 2

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