By Simon Griver
Baseball is bringing Yokneam-Megiddo and the Jewish communities of Saint Louis and Atlanta closer together. More than 35 children aged 8-14 in Yokneam-Megiddo are participating in the training sessions of the fast growing local baseball/softball club.
In a recent softball tournament, the Yokneam Cardinals Red team finished in second place, losing the championship game in the six-team competition by just one run. The Yokneam Braves Blue team playing their first ever tournament came in a creditable fifth.
Yokneam-Megiddo is partnered with St. Louis and Atlanta through the Jewish Federation of Saint Louis and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta within the framework of the Jewish Agency’s Partner2Gether (P2G) program (formerly partnership 2000), which brings together Diaspora and Israeli Jews. The two baseball teams are named as a tribute to the respective partnership teams in Atlanta and Saint Louis.
Arkady Hasidovich, Regional Coordinator for P2G Yokneam-Megiddo said, “Sport is a great way of bringing people together and we plan using baseball and sport in general in our kesher (people-to-people) projects through athlete exchanges, volunteer and tikkun olam programs and more.
Yosef Ross who immigrated to Israel in 2008 from Knoxville, Tennessee is the head coach of the Yokneam Braves and Cardinals. He said, “There is no better way of bringing people together than sport. Last week we had a Birthright group here from Atlanta and we played softball with them. It breaks barriers very quickly.”
He added, “This summer we are hoping to take a baseball team from Yokneam-Megiddo to the US Maccabi games in Houston and Memphis, and in the summer of 2013, we are looking for volunteer players to come over here from Atlanta and Saint Louis and play with and help coach the team.”
“The group of players we have is growing all the time,” Ross continued, “The kids love to play and I think baseball has the potential to expand greatly not only in Yokneam-Megiddo but throughout Israel.”
Savion Liron, the mother of eleven-year old Amir who plays from the Yokneam Braves Blue team shares her son’s enthusiasm for the sport. She said, “It is great for him socially and for his health. These days the kids seem to spend most of their time in front of the computer screen. But now for four hours a week he is out training and running around with good company. Being in the team has also given him a lot of confidence.”
Jordan Siegel, 11, is one of the Yokneam Cardinals Red team players. He said, “I’ve been playing baseball for many years now and it is great fun. We’re doing lots of exercises and weight training and the hours I spend training and playing are for me one of the highlights of the week.”
Sheryl Blechner, a member of Atlanta’s JFed Israel Outcomes Committee explains that a new program has been launched to donate equipment to the Yokneam-Megiddo baseball teams.
She said, “Youth for Yokneam: A League of Their Own” was born out of Temple Beth Tikvah’s goal to teach our 11th and 12th grade students responsibility for Israel and for their local community. Hoping to create a model for future youth projects in the Atlanta metro area, the students came up with the name “Youth for Yokneam”. This year’s project is called “A League of Their Own” honoring the baseball program. These young adults are not only collecting funds to send to Yokneam to buy the needed baseball equipment but also collecting used baseball equipment to give to a local youth baseball program with the same needs as Yokneam.”
She added, “The students have created a Facebook page, Youth for Yokneam: A League of Their Own. At some point during this project they hope to connect to the youth in Yokneam via Skype. Using these social media we hope to create a very real link between the youths of Yokneam-Megiddo and Atlanta.”
Judy Yuda, the Jewish Agency’s Yokneam-Megiddo P2G Regional Manager said, “Everyone loves sport and there is no more effective way to nurture Jewish solidarity between the US and Israel than through sport. We plan building on this potential so that future generations from Yokneam-Megiddo, Atlanta and Saint Louis can get to know each other.”