Jewish and Arab youth playing baseball together .
(photo credit: MARGO SUGARMAN)
In baseball, hitting a home run usually means hitting the ball over the fence.
But last Thursday and Friday, the Israel Association of Baseball in partnership with the Play Global non-profit organization hit a very special home run. The two organizations launched Baseball for All (Baseball Le’Kulam), the first ever baseball program for Jewish and Arab Israeli children, and they hit it out of the park.
The sixth graders, 13 from Modi’in and 15 from Ramle, none of whom had played baseball before, took their time to warm to each other like most new friends, but once they had started learning the basics of baseball, and saw the need to work together as a team, any concerns quickly disappeared.
Instead, they threw the ball to each other, fielding it to whoever was on base and cheered for teammates who were scoring runs. It didn’t matter who was from Modi’in and who was from Ramle.
“This was a really great way to take a completely apolitical setting – baseball – and use it to help break many stereotypes and preconceived ideas,” said Nate Fish, Israeli Association of Baseball National Director, who created the pilot program along with Tom Gillespie, head of the non-profit organization Play Global.
Play Global is based in the US and works internationally, running programs in developing countries and conflict areas, helping kids learn skills for success, respect and teamwork through baseball.
“This program gave these kids an opportunity to build an understanding of each other while also learning baseball,” added Gillespie.
“This is the first time that the Israeli Association of Baseball has run a program specifically aimed at bringing Arab and Jewish kids together,” Fish commented. “We hope to teach the kids baseball, and to also encourage them to form lasting friendships.
Amal Abu-Sif is an educator who works with both Arab and Jewish students, and was one of the initiators of the program.
“The most important thing in Baseball for All is to know the ‘other’ as not your enemy but rather as a human being like you and to know how much we are all the same,” she said.
For the kids, it was mainly about having fun, learning a new sport and meeting new friends.
Most of them are ready to play baseball on a regular basis. Some were able to understand the process in greater depth: “I learned not to judge anyone by how they look and rather to live together in co-existence and have fun together,” Lian, 12, from Ramle concluded.
Baseball for All will continue in June and in October.