The Israeli and Dominican Republic baseball teams will face off on the field at Miami’s LoanDepot Park this evening as part of the World Baseball Classic. But the two teams had a very different sort of encounter this morning.
Rather than competing on the diamond, players and coaches from both teams joined diplomats from the two countries, as well as the baseball team from David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla., to discuss and strategize about antisemitism and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU.
The origin of the group, which gathered at the Dominican Republic’s consulate and a downtown Miami park, dates back several years to when the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to Israel asked Israeli counterparts if the two nations’ baseball teams might begin to communicate, Jordy Alter, president of Israel Baseball, told JNS.
Independently, a Christian Zionist group in the Dominican Republic—part of the Philos Project—also contacted Alter about bringing a Christian group to Israel, he told JNS.
A relationship was already blooming. A delegation of Dominican players offered a clinic for Israelis at Ezra Schwartz Field in Ra’anana, and six Israeli players went to the Dominican Republic to train.
“At the end of the day, we hope that through baseball and nonviolent means, we can expose antisemitism, bring it out into the open and bring an awareness to help defeat it. I think baseball is a good way,” Alter told JNS on the field on March 13, prior to Israel’s loss to Puerto Rico in a near-perfect game.
On the morning of March 14, the Israeli and Dominican Republic baseball teams signed an MoU at the Dominican consulate.
Alter was enthusiastic about the development when he spoke to JNS at the event. “It was crazy,” he said. “It says the Dominican Republic will help Israel with baseball.”
‘We share the same dream’
Jesse Rojo, director of Philos Latino at the Philos Project, told JNS that members of his organization love Israel and also hope to expand relations with Israel’s baseball organization.
“This is an opportunity to come together to promote friendship between the Latino and the Jewish communities,” he said.
Amid a rise in antisemitism, Rojo said it felt like a “good time to step up and promote friendship.”
Jews and Latinos have lived in the same communities for hundreds of years, both in the Dominican Republic and the United States, said Rojo. He cited a long history of Jewish and Dominican neighbors living together in Washington Heights, the neighborhood in the northernmost part of Manhattan where he grew up, also home to Yeshiva University. Of course, it wasn’t without some tensions; it’s something to note and move forward with, Rojo alluded to in his comments.
“Let’s just get along and promote understanding for all human beings,” he said. “We share the same dream. This is what baseball does. It brings people together.”
Rojo brought three Dominican baseball players to Israel last November. “It is the birthplace of Christianity and the more Christians come to Israel, the better,” he said. “I fell in love with Israel.”
He expected 25 people to turn out for the baseball clinic in Ra’anana. “There were 300!” he reported.
At the event at the park, Alter welcomed attendees and introduced players, coaches and elected officials. Israeli team manager Ian Kinsler was on hand, as were Israel’s bullpen coach Nate Fish and players Dean Kremer and Assaf Lowengart. Nelson Cruz, general manager of the Dominican Republic team, was present, as was Frank Valdez, the team’s assistant hitting coach.
Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, consul general of Israel in Miami, and representatives from the Miami City Council were also present.
Everyone at the event received a white rose.
Alter told those assembled that “the White Rose was a German anti-Nazi group founded by non-Jewish medical students,” most of whom were killed during World War II. He called on everyone to “internalize the message and create our own non-violent responses” to antisemitism and hate.
At the event, Kinsler said that visiting Israel brought him closer to his Jewish identity and to the country. He also spoke of his long-standing friendship with Cruz, a seven-time Major League Baseball all-star.
“We are here for connections between neighbors,” he said.
Cruz told those assembled that it is important to love one another and be on the same page. Prior to the event, he told several journalists: “There is no difference between races. We try to bring that awareness to kids.”
“Hopefully, what starts today will grow all over the world,” Cruz said at the event.
The local Jewish day school’s baseball team had the chance to pose questions to players and coaches—like “How do you know when a curve ball is coming?” and “How do I recover after a long game pitching?”—before posing for photos and singing the Dominican Republic, Israeli and U.S. national anthems.
Even after the event ended, players, coaches and students lingered for a while, chatting informally. That kind of continuing communication seems to be just what the organizers had in mind.