Arab-Jewish Baseball Youth Program Proves Successful in First Year

Program bringing Israeli Arab and Jewish youth together set to continue in 2016.

Margo Sugarman

Nine months ago, the Israel Association of Baseball conjured up a dream to bring Israeli Arab and Jewish kids together at a two-day sleep-away minicamp to learn how to play baseball, and in the process break some barriers.

At the third and final session of Baseball for All (Baseball Le’Kulam) held last Thursday and Friday at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah, it was clear this dream had morphed into a successful reality. The final session, attended by 25 seventh-graders from Modi’in and Ramle, as well as a staff of 10, marked the end of the pilot year of this unique program. The Israel Association of Baseball runs the program in partnership with the Play Global non-profit organization, which teaches baseball to coaches and youth in developing countries and areas of conflict.

In addition to the three sessions at the Baptist Village in March, June and December, there were also two Family Nights held between the sessions – one at Kibbutz Gezer and one in Ramle – where the families of the participants gathered to meet one another and try their hands at a bit of baseball, too.

Organizers say they plan to continue the program in 2016 based on the experience of the past year.

“The participants were excited to come back to each session,” said Nate Fish, head coach of Israel’s national baseball team and one of the program founders. “Our aim was to get them to meet kids from other cultures simply by playing the sport of baseball together, and this is what they did and what they’ve been enjoying.”

While IAB officials praise the players for seeing only teammates – not Arabs or Jews – on the field, they say the impact of Baseball for All is most meaningful off the diamond. Seeing a group of participants gather after dinner in one bedroom to have fun and make some noise underscores the real success of the program, they say.

“What’s great about it,” notes Fish, “is that it comes naturally – we do not force this interaction, and this is why it’s so meaningful.”

Most of the participants have chosen to continue playing baseball outside of the program, with the kids from Modi’in joining the local league there and the players from Ramle starting a team that will be practicing weekly and will be part of the Israel national baseball league.

“With this program we have taken the first step on our way to expanding baseball to all areas of Israel, to expose kids who would normally not come into contact with the sport and to create a fun environment in which they can meet new friends who they would normally not have the opportunity to spend time with,” said Peter Kurz, IAB president. “This is the IAB’s modest but genuine contribution to coexistence in Israel.”