Special to the JTA Ethiopian Jews in Israel Star in Israel-american Little League

Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but it certainly is getting a lot of attention in Israel these days–especially from some young Ethiopians who play for a team called the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) All-Stars. Even though these children had never seen a baseball or bat in their lives, they have shown an amazing aptitude for hitting and throwing. Their secret? Besides enthusiasm, they played a homemade stick and ball game in their grass hut villages in Ethiopia. And, they’re all masters of the slingshot–the weapon used against marauders at home.

The AAEJ All-Stars Team is part of the Little League network being set up in Israel by Randy Kahn, a Little League baseball coach from Houston who visited his sister in Israel in 1985 and became determined to bring the sport to the enthusiastic children there. While softball is played in Israel, baseball is a new sport in the country.

When Kahn returned to Houston, he collected used baseball equipment from synagogues, churches and recreation departments and then brought the gear back to Israel, where he began teaching the youngsters the rudiments of the game.

Meanwhile, Kahn’s father, attorney Leonard Kahn, also of Houston, created the Israel-American Baseball Corporation, a non-profit organization that raises money for the League in Israel.

UPSET VICTORY FOR ETHIOPIAN TEAM

The games are played on soccer pitches and open grass fields where diamonds are marked out for the 10 teams in the league. In one game this summer, the AAEJ All-Stars faced a mixed squad called the All-Stars from Ramat Hakovesh and Tira, a team consisting of Jews from Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh and Arabs from Tira. It proved to be an upset victory for the Ethiopian team, 5-2, and one that was captured by an NBC-TV crew filming the Operation Moses story.

Included on the AAEJ All-Stars are immigrants from Ethiopia who live at the Ben Yehuda Absorption Center in Netanya, an immigrant from the USSR and several kibbutz youngsters.

Rabbi Yosef Miller, coordinator of the AAEJ’s office in Israel, is excited about Israel-American baseball because of the brotherhood it fosters.

“Not only do you have interesting ethnic combinations on the teams themselves, but the healthy, honest competition between the teams helps to strengthen ties that can be hard for some of these kids to form after the hardships they’ve been through with immigration and separation from their families left behind in Ethiopia,” Miller said.

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