Image: ‘Mensch on a Bench’ with Team Israel player Cody Decker, March 5, 2017. (Screenshot/MLB.com)

Q: What does the Israeli Law of Return have to do with baseball?

A: That’s how a bunch of American Jews wound up playing for Team Israel in theWorld Baseball Classic (WBC) this month.

This week Linda and I have been enjoying watching a bunch of Jews take the World Baseball Classic by storm. Team Israel went in as a long shot (seeded 16th of 18!) and so far they have defeated Team South Korea (seeded #3) and Chinese Taipei (seeded #4).

Most members of Team Israel are American Jews who qualify for the Israeli team because they qualify for Israeli citizenship. Ten of them visited Israel last month, some of them for the first time.

They’ve attracted a lot of attention for their play, of course, but also for their team mascot, “Mensch on a Bench.” Cody Decker bought the doll online, and it traveled with them from the qualifying rounds in Brooklyn to the round robin in Seoul. The Mensch traveled in checked luggage, stuffed in one of their duffle bags.

World Baseball Classic is a tournament with complicated rules, and I will leave it to other articles to explain how players qualify for teams, how teams qualify for the tournament, and how the round-robin tournaments in five stadiums around the world finally come down to a championship at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

A lot of people have wondered how it is that Team Israel has 8 players with Major League Baseball experience (that’s the U.S. MLB.) This article from ESPN explains the details as they apply to the World Baseball Classic. In broad outline: Team Israel players had to fit the profile to qualify for Israeli citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, which begins:

  1.  Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an immigrant.

To learn more about the Law of Return, you can read the Law and both its amendments on the website belonging to The Jewish Agency for Israel, which administers the program. There is a lot of misinformation about who qualifies for the Law of Return – when in doubt, contact the Israeli consulate or the Jewish Agency. Don’t believe what a random person says, unless that person is an Israeli attorney!

Team Israel will next play facing Team Netherlands in the Gocheok Sky Dome on Thursday March 8 at 7 pm Pacific Time. 10pm on the East Coast! You can find the rest of the schedule here.

Where to see it? MLB is the exclusive English-language network; check with your cable company to see if you get it. Another option is to follow the game via Twitter. Search for #TeamIsraelWBC  – you will instantly be connected to Team Israel fans all over the globe. If you choose that route, be sure and say hi; I’ll be online as @CoffeeShopRabbi.

Play Ball!

Update, 3/8/2017: Team Israel beat Team Netherlands 4-2, sweeping their pool. They are on to Tokyo for the next round of play. 

HaTikvah

Members of Team Israel doffed their baseball caps and put on their kippot for the national anthem of Israel, “HaTikva” in Seoul.  PhotoChang W. Lee/The New York Times

Please note the correction in the time for the March 8 game: 10pm Eastern, 7pm Pacific.

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