Israel Swings For Gold

Baseball is not exactly a popular sport in Israel, and few Israelis have embraced it. But when the Israeli baseball team qualified for the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, some Israelis tuned in and cheered on its players, most of whom were Americans with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

Their quest for a medal — gold, silver or bronze — unfolds in Israel Swings for Gold, a well-crafted documentary by Seth Kramer, Daniel Miller and Jeremy Newberger which opens in theatres in Florida on May 5.¬†Interestingly enough, much of the footage was shot by the players themselves because the media was not allowed into the Olympic Village during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The film is a sequel to Heading Home, which documented the exploits of Israel’s baseball squad at the 2017 World Baseball Classic in Seoul, South Korea.

At the Olympics, Israel, the lowest-ranking team, faced five opponents — the United States, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. “We were the Jamaican bobsled team of baseball,” says one of the Israelis ruefully but realistically.

They faced political hostility at their training games in the United States. Palestinian women chanted, “Free, free Palestine” and “Long live Palestine.” Anti-Zionist haredim held aloft anti-Israel placards. One protester likened Israel to an apartheid state.

Security was tight at the Olympic Village, but the team had no compunction in displaying the blue-and-white Israeli flag on the balcony of its living quarters.

At the opening ceremony, a moment of silence was observed for the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and the players from Israel were clearly touched by this gesture.

Yet they encountered animosity. Some received death threats. Still others were rebuffed when they sought to exchange athletic pins with some athletes from certain nations.

The Israelis win a game

The film focuses on the games in which the Israelis appeared. Much to their disappointment, they won only one game. “When you lose, that’s tough,” says one of the players. But at least they moved into the elimination round, which was no small achievement, and enjoyed the privilege of participating in the Olympics.

Unfortunately, they will not get a second chance to prove themselves on the field. Baseball has been eliminated from the 2024 Olympics, having been replaced by breakdancing.