Steven Schauder, the executive director of the Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg, called the Israeli National Baseball Team qualifying for the upcoming Summer Olympics “a modern miracle.” Maybe not on par with the creation of the Jewish state itself, but it’s still a huge deal, according to Schauder.
So to celebrate the accomplishment, and to send the team off to the Olympics in style, Schauder and other influential Harrisburg residents are hosting the Israeli team at their local stadium, FNB Field, on July 16 at 10 a.m.
Team Israel, one of six baseball participants in the Tokyo games, will play the Cal Ripken All-Stars, a group of semiprofessional players, in an exhibition game. After the game, the Israeli players will hold a meet-and-greet and luncheon with fans, according to Dan Schwab, a co-owner of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals that calls FNB Field home.
“It’s a great opportunity to rally around Israel, baseball and Jewish heritage,” said Schwab, who is Jewish.
The baseball team is the first representative from the Jewish state to make the Olympics since 1976. The team is predominantly a collection of American Jews, including several former Major League Baseball players like second baseman Ian Kinsler, third baseman Danny Valencia and utility man Ty Kelly, among others. They are eligible to play for Team Israel because they secured Israeli citizenship. Most of the players are looking to continue their careers, honor their heritage and help establish baseball in the Jewish state, Schwab said.
Lower Merion native and former Harriton High School baseball star Jake Rosenberg made the Olympic squad as an outfielder. The son of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Chief Operating Officer Steve Rosenberg, Jake was a second team all-state player in Pennsylvania during his sophomore year, and spent the first two years of his collegiate career at Alvernia University before transferring to Ithaca College. He moved to Israel in 2018.
Israel qualified for the Olympics by finishing in the top five in the 2019 European Baseball Championship, advancing to the Africa/Europe 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournament, which they won.
“They’ll be on the world stage and wearing the Jewish flag,” Schwab said. “It’s great to be associated with an important part of Jewish sports heritage.”
Schwab added that Jewish baseball heritage runs deep. He mentioned Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Hank Greenberg, the Hall of Fame slugger for the Detroit Tigers. He also referenced modern all-stars like former Dodgers’ outfielder Shawn Green and Kinsler, who made four All-Star teams in a career that lasted from 2006 to 2019.
“It’s really Americana,” Schwab said. “Baseball was the primary sport during the melting pot period when Jews were assimilated into the population.”
The Harrisburg businessman believes this pride will draw a crowd on July 16.
The Israeli team reached out because it loved FNB Field, and thought it was centrally located for northeastern Jews, according to Jordan Klein, the Jewish Family Service board member who met with the team to organize the event. Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Allentown and Maryland all have sizable Jewish populations that might be interested in coming to the game.
A portion of the proceeds will go to the team, according to Schwab. But most will go to the Jewish Family Service, which helps people with mental health counseling, emergency financial services and senior services.
“It supports our ability to give back to people in need,” Schauder said.
Game tickets are $15 for the upper bowl and $19 for the lower bowl, according to Schauder. For lunch with the players, fans will have to pay $180 for two tickets. Visit jfsofhbg.org to order.
For anyone unable to make the game in Harrisburg, the team will face off against the Susquehanna Valley Stars the following day (7/17) at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster at 12 p.m.
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