MIAMI (JTA) — Hours before Israel and the Dominican Republic were to take the field as competitors in the World Baseball Classic, players and management gathered at a local park to promote friendship between the two countries and to raise awareness for the common fight against hatred and antisemitism.
Hosted by the Israel Association of Baseball and the Philos Project — a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes Christian relations with Israel — the ceremony brought together players and coaches representing both countries, along with a group of local teen baseball players, including from the nearby David Posnack Jewish Day School.
Earlier in the day, Israel and the Dominican Republic also signed a memorandum of understanding to emphasize the friendship between the two countries.
The event was a follow-up to an Israel trip a number of Dominican players took last fall, with the Philos Project. And later this year, there will be a charity softball game in the Dominican Republic between Dominican and Jewish-American players.
“We are unfortunately living in a time when antisemitism and racism are still in vogue, perhaps more popular now than ever in the U.S.,” IAB president Jordy Alter said in his remarks. “It is imperative that young individuals such as yourselves internalize the message you hear today and create your own nonviolent resistance against all forms of hate and racism.”
Alter said the gathering was inspired by the White Rose Holocaust resistance movement, a group of non-Jewish German medical students who spoke out against the Nazi regime. The leaders were eventually executed by the Nazis. Organizers of Tuesday’s event handed out white roses.
The crowd heard from Alter, Philos’ director of Hispanic affairs Jesse Rojo, as well as Israel manager Ian Kinsler, Israel player Dean Kremer, the Dominican team’s general manager, MLB star Nelson Cruz and Dominican player Jeimer Candelario.
Rojo, who grew up in New York’s Washington Heights, spoke about the historic relationship between the Jewish and Dominican communities, from his neighborhood in Manhattan all the way back to 1938, when the Dominican Republic was the only country to welcome in Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.
“Today more than ever, we need to bring that back,” Rojo told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “When there’s so much hate, so much polarization. Where we already have the historical heritage, and take that from our ancestors and take it to the next generation.”
For Kremer, the first Israeli player drafted into Major League Baseball, the event was a sign of baseball’s power as a platform for unity.
“It represents a lot for both sides, between the peace and the growing of the game, and antisemitism and all of it together,” Kremer told JTA. “It means a lot having another ally. That, I think, is the biggest thing, in not only growing the game but also making friends with countries that may not know about our history.”
Cruz, an 18-year MLB veteran with almost 500 career home runs, spoke about the importance of spreading love.
“Right now, what’s connecting us is baseball, and a love of baseball,” he said, addressing the teens. “God created us all equal, it doesn’t matter what color, what gender you’re coming from. We should all stay together.”
Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, Israel’s consul general in Miami, has been supporting Team Israel throughout the WBC, and was also at this morning’s ceremony.
“Israel is a leading country in technology and agriculture and security, but now to learn from [the Dominican Republic] about baseball, and certainly to work here with kids on fighting racism, antisemitism, all the virtues that sports brings — tolerance, sportsmanship — that’s a great event,” Elbaz-Starinsky told JTA.
After the opening remarks, the teens had a chance to ask questions — mostly about baseball.
“I think it’s really meaningful to see Team Israel at the World Baseball Classic,” said Ryan Novick, a 17-year-old player on the Posnack School’s varsity baseball team.
Novick, who works in data analytics with the Miami Dolphins and will soon attend Vanderbilt University, added that it’s great “to see that Israel’s relations across the world are starting to flourish,” and that it’s an added bonus when baseball can serve as a vehicle to that end.
Wayne Stofsky, the athletic director at the Posnack school, and a gold medal-winning Maccabiah baseball coach, highlighted how special it is for his players to meet Jewish players like Kremer and Kinsler.
“It’s not every day they get the opportunity to see professional athletes, and athletes that are Jewish, just like them,” Stofsky told JTA.
Following the Q&A, the entire group gathered on the field to take photos, pose with the two countries’ flags and hear the national anthems for Israel, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.