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In mid-July the eighteen children who make up the Israeli National Baseball team flew to the Czech Republic to compete in the European Baseball Championships. After arriving at the airport at 3 am and yawning through a two-hour bus ride, the 10-12 year-olds took on the Slovakian team and won, 3- 0.
"We forced them to play our game," said the team's proud manager, Zaq Harrison. "There were no errors. No mistakes. It was just amazing."
To prepare for the championships, the team participated in The Camp of the Giants, a two week baseball festival located in the Yarkon Sports Complex and on Kibbutz Gezer. The camp's staff included two ex-major league American baseball players, Elliot Maddox and Bob Tufts.
"If we make the finals we won't play them," Harrison said two days into the championships, "because they're on Shabbat, and we're representatives of our country. We teach the kids to be respectful. We tell them, if you want to play for your country, you're an ambassador for your country all over the world."
And although Harrison does not know how many of his players come from religious families, it does not matter to him: "We don't want to set the example that only some kids can participate."
In order to represent Israel, not only do kids have to be the best of the best ball players in the country. It is also essential that they are socially active and have strong morals.
"This is such a special group of kids," Harrison said. "If one of them gets hurt, they all rush to help."
The team recently learned about the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered during the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympics. They decided to take action when they realized that Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia that is constantly being edited by its readers, only included biographies of the two most famous victims.
They took on the responsibility of updating the encyclopedia themselves to ensure that the other athletes were not forgotten. Each child was assigned one of the athletes as a role. They used the information that they had collected about their heroes to add biographies of the other nine players to the website.
"The Israeli Olympics Committee was so blown away," Harrison said, "that they approached us about participating in this year's memorial ceremony, in order to acknowledge the importance of keeping their memories alive. They were very touched."
Baseball? In Israel?
Baseball is not a traditionally popular sport in Israel, but Harrison says that its rise in recent years has significantly helped young North American immigrants to adjust to life in Israel. About half of the players on The Israeli National Baseball Team are immigrants.
"Anyone who makes an aliyah from North America is doing it because of beliefs and philosophies," Harrison said, "but when you ask a ten year old, they don't care about beliefs and philosophies because they're ten. They're making tremendous sacrifices.
"But if you give them a sport that they're familiar with and you give them the opportunity to make friends with Sabras, it gives them something to latch on to."