The best and brightest minds in Israel struggle to solve the mystery regarding how to win the public relations war. Both the Foreign Ministry and Tourism Ministry routinely try to improve Israel’s image throughout the world. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy established a special web site and focuses much of its attention on this issue. While high ranking government officials grapple with this problem, a group of 14- and 15- year-old boys are putting on a clinic regarding how to improve Israel’s image – just be nice.

I am in Oneonta, New York, watching my son play on the Israel national little league team in the Cooperstown Baseball World Classic. The Israeli team is playing remarkably well on the field, having lost their first game 3-2 against the best team in the tournament and winning their second game 7-2. However, their success on the field does not match their accomplishments off the field. Non-Jewish players and coaches from Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Rhode Island, and New York cannot stop talking about how “the boys from Israel are so nice.”

The coaches of the Colorado team had to physically pull their players away from the field to go to do their training in the batting cages because they were so excited to be cheering for the Israeli team. I asked the players why they were cheering for Israel. They explained, “They are such great guys. They are so friendly to us and we love being around them. We want to cheer for them so they win – except, of course,when they play us.”

The coaches agreed. “Your boys have been the best part of this tournament. We did not know what to expect when we saw that Israeli boys were coming.
But they are answering all of our questions with a smile and are even teaching our boys Hebrew!” And there they were. Non-Jewish boys from Colorado screaming out, “Let’s go Yoav!” “Knock him in Yotam!” “Way to steal second, Yakir!” Being nice. It is really that simple. What an opportunity we have with our Jewish state. Tourists come to visit by the millions and Israeli citizens are well known for their touring adventures around the world. If we, as citizens, would make the effort to be the nicest, most friendly people both in Israel and abroad, it would do wonders for our image.

Of course, there will always be those who seek to find the negative and focus on our flaws. But, through a national commitment to focusing on simply acting nicely, we, as a country, would be projecting the purest of Jewish values – treating others with respect.

“Chapters of our Fathers,” the 2,000-year-old Jewish ethical work, teaches us to “greet everyone with a friendly face.” The Talmud records that Rabbi Yochanan made sure to say “hello” to everyone in the marketplace before they could greet him and the Talmud goes out of its way to emphasize that he did so to Jew and gentile alike. This attitude makes perfect sense in the context of one of the very first teachings in the beginning of Genesis, where we are taught that all humans are created “in God’s image.”

I would venture to say that, on the whole, we as a Jewish people and as citizens of Israel have veered from this core value. I don’t see Israelis greeting each other with a friendly smile as they pass each other on the street and I know that tourists don’t receive better treatment. And this, no doubt, hurts our image throughout the world.

But the children of the Israeli national little league baseball team are teaching us that it can be done.

What makes this effort even more meaningful is the blend of observant and non-observant boys on the team. While they are not the same in terms of their level of religious practice, they have clearly united around this core Jewish value of acting with respect and friendliness towards others.

The team is playing well and may even be competitive for the tournament championship. But, regardless of how they do in the wins and losses column, they have already proven to be champions for Israel and our image among many youth and adults who likely bought into the negative image of Israel and Israelis prior to this experience, through simply being nice. Israel would be far better off if all its adults – both observant and non-observant – united together to follow their example.

The author is an ordained rabbi, educator, author and political activist. www.rabbilipman.com

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