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danielmw / Uncategorized / Summing Up the First Week of the Maccbiah Games

Summing Up the First Week of the Maccbiah Games

18 July, 200918 July, 2009 1 comments Uncategorized Uncategorized

People and Sports in Israel

Dear Travelujah members and readers,

I am excited to share with you my first post of my blog – “People and Sports in Israel”. In my blog I will discuss some interesting experiences that I have had with playing baseball and softball from a very young age, and will attempt to raise the complexities involved in trying to play baseball/softball while observing some of the laws of Judaism. Furthermore, I will provide an insight into the 18th Maccabiah games, the third largest sporting event in the world, which brings together thousands of Jewish athletes from around the world.
 Before I begin sharing some of my unique experiences in playing sports in the Holy Land, I would like to briefly introduce myself and my passion to baseball. I was born in Israel in 1986 and grew up in Ra’anana (a small city 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv). My parents are American (my mother grew up in Brooklyn and my father in Syracuse) and after falling in love with Israel after visiting it a few times, they decided to move in 1979. My father is a huge baseball fan, and when I was 8 years old he heard about a local baseball team and decided to take me to a practice. I quickly joined the team, and my father became very involved in coaching teams and looking for ways to improve the sport in Israel.   I have since played on several national teams, and have competed in more than 10 tournaments in the United States and Europe. Upon reaching the age of 18, every Israeli citizen has to serve a mandatory 3-year army service. Due to my love for the game, and my ambition to become a better player, I received a special status as an “outstanding athlete” and served a regular 3-year service, but was able to come home every day and continue training. After finishing my service a year and a half ago, I enrolled into Haverford College in Pennsylvania and am on the varsity baseball team there. I just finished my freshmen year, and came back to spend my summer in Israel, and am playing in the 18th Maccabiah games in softball.
The 18th Maccabiah games attracted over 7,000 Jewish athletes from around the world, and the first week of the games just ended. The softball portion of the games have 12 teams playing in three different divisions – Men, Women, and Masters (35 and up). I play for Team Israel, and we played 4 games this week – against Canada (6-0 loss), the United States (11-4 loss), Venezuela (10-8 win) and Mexico (3-2 loss). Important to mention, the sport of baseball and softball is underfunded in Israel, and there are only 4 regulation size fields in the country (2 of them are at the Baptist Village near Petach Tikva). However, the sport has improved over the last few years, the highlight of the improvement being the creation of the Israeli Baseball League, a professional summer league that took place in 2007. However, similar to many issues in Israel, the league had good intentions, but failed financially, and is attempting to re-open it, but so far it hasn’t been able to do so. In the meantime, the IAB and the Israeli Softball Association run amateur leagues and continue to field national teams to compete in tournaments.
The first week of the games featured many highlights, along with a few (too many)embarrassing moments. On Monday, the opening ceremony was held at the Ramat-Gan stadium, with over 35,000 fans cheering on the 7,000 marching athletes. The ceremony was well-planned, and featured emotional events such as a reading of prayer (Yizkor) by an Australian athlete whose father was killed in the collapsing of a bridge in the 15th Maccabiah games, and speeches by the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who urged all athletes to “move to Israel”. The torch was lit by Jason Lezak, an American gold-medalist swimmer who made a huge comeback against the French swimmer Bernard in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The ceremony was held in three languages- Hebrew, English, and Spanish. However, despite the long preparation of the organizers and the wonderful artistic performances by some of the top Israeli artists, the announcer made a terrible mistake, when she called Lezak “Michael”, referring to Michael Phelps, who is of course not Jewish and not present at the events. I enjoyed marching in the ceremony, and made some new friends from other delegations.
And then the games began. We were overmatched by the powerful Canadians, and then came our game against Mexico. After falling to a 3-0 deficit in the top of the first, I came up to the plate with 2 outs and a runner in scoring position. Suddenly, the commissioner of the tournament (who happens to be one of my coaches in the local softball league) came to talk to the umpires and coaches, and before I knew it, the players were told to leave the field. Apparently, the police had called the tournament organizers and threatened to close the field, since the field did not have a business permit. Within minutes, two policemen showed up and issued the closing order. The players and fans were shocked, after preparing for almost four years for the games. After 36 stressful hours, the organizers finally met the police standards and were issued the permit. The games were resumed on Thursday, and in order to make up for the cancelled games, every team has a very tight schedule, including games on Saturday night (only 90 minutes after the Sabbath ends). Along with the good intention to make up all the lost games, the organizers forgot to tell the Argentina Women’s team that they were scheduled to play on Thursday night and their game against Israel wasn’t played.
Apart from the organizers’ embarrassing mistakes, there have also been some interesting cultural and religious affairs. One of those happened In the middle of our game yesterday against Mexico. Having started at 4 p.m. , the game was delayed a bit in the 6th inning (due to an injury), and the time was approaching 6 p.m. Although there are only 3 religious players on our team, one of them lives in Jerusalem (an hour away from the field) and had to leave the game, in order to make it home on time for the Sabbath. Although the game was important, our coach allowed him to leave when he needed. Although having grown up as a secular Jew, I have played on teams that consisted of many religious players, and there have been many conflicts in the past, regarding the possibility of playing on the Sabbath, or supplying Kosher food in abroad tournaments. However, despite being exposed to such issues, I was surprised when our player had to leave the game, but was happy that our coaches allowed him to practice his religious habits.
As I prepare for my next game tonight against Mexico, I hope you enjoyed my first post, and stay tuned for more updates in the upcoming days.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend,
Daniel Maddy-Weitzman


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This blog will raise some of the issues involved in playing baseball and softball in Israel, and provide insight into the 18th Maccabiah games.


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