Mixing softball with Zionism

Mixing softball with Zionism

In between fielding ground balls and shagging flies with other top college softball players, ‘3-year-old Pennsylvania resident Jane Stein also took time out to make sure she turned in the appropriate paperwork and documentation to become a citizen of Israel.

One by one, all 36 American players who’d gathered at the Hit Doctor Academy — an indoor sports facility in Cherry Hill, N.J. —turned in their paperwork, and so were officially ready to join the Israeli Olympic softball team.

In November, the Israeli Softball Association selected Jewish girls from all over the United States to compete in the second round of tryouts at the Hit Doctor. The first round was held in July. Stein, an outfielder, is hoping to make the team and, for the first time, combine the love of Jewish tradition with her love of athletics.

"It’s amazing to be in an environment with all athletes and all Jewish people — and to be able to represent Israel is unbelievable," she said.

At the tryouts in Cherry Hill, pitcher Stephanie Zweig showed off her 64-mph fastball. Born with Erb’s palsy, Zweig has limited range of motion in her right arm; however, she pitches well with her left. She holds her glove in her right hand, throws a pitch, then switches her glove to her left hand so she’s able to play the field. Her style is reminiscent of Jim Abbot, a former one-armed pitcher in the major leagues.

Ami Baran, vice president of the Israel Softball Association, hopes that the Americans picked for the team will mesh well with the players back in Israel. The coaches plan to select almost every American player who participated in the second round of tryouts, said Baran, though they are still making decisions about which of the 17 girls will actually play in the Olympic qualifying games in June.

Baran noted that the seriousness of the coaches and players is unquestionable, but playing the game should be secondary to becoming an Israeli citizen.

"The objective of the whole thing is to raise their knowledge, to raise their Judaism, and to understand that Israel is part of their lives, no matter what," he said.

Lauren Bierman, ‘1, admitted that she originally signed up for the excitement of international play, but is certainly happy to have dual citizenship.

"Why not become a citizen of Israel?" asked Bierman, a second baseman. "I think it’s amazing to do that and still retain U.S. citizenship."

The team hopes to visit Israel in December and again in April before playing in the Olympic qualifying game in June. Every game should hold an extra sense of urgency because the International Olympic Committee voted to remove softball from the ’01’ games, and there is no guarantee of its return, even in ‘016.

Jared Shelley is a staff writer for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.

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