In Friday’s unseasonal March sunshine, a group of sixth graders played baseball on the field at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva. The sounds were no different than in any other game, with fielders on base shouting for the ball and batters excited at a solid hit. What was different was that out of the 28 kids on the field, 13 were Jewish kids from Modi’in and 15 were Arab kids from Ramle, participating in the Baseball for All (Baseball Le’Kulam) pilot program sponsored by the Israel Association of Baseball and Play Global.
While initially a little wary of each other, by the end of the two-day program, which aimed to bring together the group of non-baseball players and teach them how to play, new friendships were formed and more than a few stereotypes were broken.
“We wanted to unite kids from two different cultures, and give them a chance to build an understanding of each other while having fun and learning baseball,” says 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 United States 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.
All the participants were new to the game, and over the two days learned not only the fundamentals of the game, but also how to work and play together. “This is the first program the IAB has run that aims specifically to bring Arab and Jewish kids together,” notes Fish. “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.”
“The most important thing in Baseball for All is to know the ‘other’ not as your enemy but rather a human being like you and to know how much we are all the same,” says Amal Abu-Sif, an educator who works with Arab and Jewish students, and one of the program’s developers.
Once the kids started getting the hang of baseball, they also started getting the hang of each other and friendships began to develop. “Jewish and Muslims together is more fun,” Giora, 11, from Modi’in, pronounced. Adam, 12, from Ramle, was enthusiastic about two things – the game of baseball and his new friend Sagi from Modi’in: “Sagi is now my best friend,” he enthused, giving the Modi’in 12-year-old a boyish hug.
For Lian, 12, from Ramle, the experience was eye-opening: “I 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.