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Holyland Hardball: How To Take Root

I just screened the fantastic film from Brett Rapkin and Eric Kesten, Holyland Hardball, and I am certainly glad I did. The film itself does a great job focusing on the small details required to start a baseball league while … Read More

By / October 13, 2009

I just screened the fantastic film from Brett Rapkin and Eric Kesten, Holyland Hardball, and I am certainly glad I did. The film itself does a great job focusing on the small details required to start a baseball league while telling compelling personal stories.

But there’s a subtext throughout, not only one of sadness- for as I knew when watching, this 2007 season is, as of now, and orphan in Israeli baseball history- but one that is a question: how does anything take root?

It is a question repeatedly hinted at in the film- after all, there is no history of baseball in Israel- but more to the point, of Israel itself.

The parallels are striking. Israel’s birth in 1948 was the projection of a new country on this very same land. Yes, there is a monumental difference in tradition. But the question of where a Jewish homeland should be was an open one- and to many, the question of whether one was even necessary was open as well.

So I was struck by the number of Israelis who didn’t believe something new, something vital could take root in the Israeli soil.

This is not to say introducing a new sport is easy. Take the reverse attempts of people around the world to introduce soccer to the United States. The current version, the MLS, often struggles to build crowds or find the attention of even American soccer fans. Many of them simply watch the world-class action on television to be found in England or Spain.

What has helped soccer is the large number of immigrants in the United States from soccer-loving countries. 

Is it possible that Israel will have trouble integrating baseball into its culture as long as the Jewish homeland remains a distant second choice for residence to the overwhelming majority of American Jews?

That’s what Israel is to so many of us, of course. Across the political and religious spectrum, we support Israel, we support the idea of Israel. But live in Israel? Who among us says "Next year in Jerusalem" at the seder and means it?

The Israeli state, meanwhile, still prospers more than 60 years after its creation. Unlike the IBL, the state was able to weather bad times, troubles in leadership, even attacks beyond anything a baseball league could suffer.

And the MLS enjoys a position in the United States, if not of prominence, certainly of stability.

As the film progressed, and so many of the principals involved seemed to lose heart, it struck me that taking root is beside the point. Survuval is really about staying in place, with a long-term plan of how to do so.

Even this, too, is well-presented in the film. A subtitle could be "How Not to Succeed in Business Despite Really Trying."

This time around, the IBL failed, as did the North American Soccer League, the MLS’s predecessor, here in the United States. But I didn’t come away from the film with the idea that Israeli baseball is impossible. It just didn’t work this time.

(For more information, or to purchase a DVD of the film, go to www.holylandhardball.com.)

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