There we were. Team Israel had just won the final game of the Brooklyn Qualifier to advance to the March 2017 World Baseball Classic, and I am feeling somewhat numb. I was certainly happy that Israel would get to play in what amounts to the World Cup of Baseball for the very first time, but shouldn’t I be much more excited?
It was this unusual sporting event that brought my wife, Robin, and I to the New York area. Brazil, Great Britain, Israel, and Pakistan were competing for the final spot in the Classic. Israel just missed qualifying four years ago, when they lost to Spain in the final game of the 2012 Qualifier in extra innings.
We had never experienced anything like this before! Robin and I both grew up in a very Jewish part of Montreal. Our lives have taken us into many different cultural experiences beyond that of our native heritage. So it was very special for us to travel to Brooklyn, one of the most Jewish cities in the world, to root for Team Israel along with a couple of thousand other Jewish fans. It was absolutely delightful to be with religious and nonreligious members of our community. And that they won made it even better!
But why wasn’t the taste of victory sweeter?
Was it that this marked the beginning of the end of our remarkable time in the New York area, as I realized we were to head home the next day? If you have read my other reflections, you know about the incredibly moving times we had at the Holocaust Memorial near our hotel and the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. These were but two of the many meaningful and delightful shared experiences Robin and I had together during our six-day trip. Through our over thirty-six years of marriage, we have had several getaways, but there was something so very precious about this particular time, and it was coming to a close. But I don’t think that was it.
I think I know what it was. Even though our team won, I was conflicted. You may remember how it came about that we attended this event. If not, briefly: I provide chapel services for the Ottawa Champions professional baseball team. I was having coffee with the player who acts as a liaison between myself and the team. Turned out that he was due to play for Team Great Britain in the Brooklyn Qualifier and their first game was to be against Israel. This was the first I heard about all this, and I thought it would be wonderful to attend in order to both support this player and to cheer on Team Israel. But herein lies the conflict. The way it worked out Great Britain and Brazil played in a semifinal to see who would meet Israel in the deciding game. The result was both our dream and nightmare, because while we wanted Israel to win, we didn’t want Great Britain to lose.
It was surreal both times these two team met as we stood to sing the national anthems of both countries. Being Canadian, we grew up singing “God Save the Queen” in the days before “O Canada” became our official national anthem in 1980. The former remains Canada’s royal anthem. That’s all to say that while we don’t necessarily have great feelings of connection to Great Britain per se, “God Save the Queen” is still our country’s song. But Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel, is also our song. Here is a translation of the Hebrew original:
As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem
To sing this song along with our kinsman at MCU Park in Brooklyn makes the occasion much more than a sporting event. It’s a statement of enduring connection. But that takes nothing away from our love for Canada, “our home and native land.” So whether it was “God Save the Queen” or simply the participation of the Ottawa player playing for Great Britain, my heart was divided.
British & Israeli National Anthems:
Something else happened that underscores the complexity of the situation. Through my involvement with Baseball Chapel, I have had some telephone contact with Frank Reynoso, the New York City area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). We met in person for the first time during Israel’s second game of the tournament, playing Brazil. We chatted about our respective backgrounds and current ministries. Me a Jewish guy from Montreal and follower of Yeshua (Jesus) the last forty years, ten kids, homeschoolers, itinerant Bible teacher. Frank, born in New York, parents from Dominican Republic, grew up on the street, drug lord whose life was eventually radically transformed by Jesus. Afterwards, Robin asked me a question that I too was asking myself: What did I think the Jewish fans we were among thought of our conversation, which they must have overheard? The scene of the two of us in intense conversation and our subject matter must have sounded so strange to our people’s ears. While Jewish people have become successfully integrated in Western society, centuries of persecution in Jesus’s name has instilled an indelible sense of us and them, making the brotherly intimacy experienced between me and Frank completely foreign to the point of being repugnant.
But what I told Robin was that while I understand how our people feel, what they don’t realize (yet!) is that the brotherhood enjoyed by me and Frank at the ballpark that afternoon is actually Israel’s destiny. Our oneness in the Messiah is an essential aspect of the Abrahamic promise: “through you all the nations of the world will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God’s heart has always been to build a family from among the nations, including (especially!) the Jewish people. Frank and I were enjoying a foretaste of what the Jewish people will one day fully embrace when “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). But until then I must continue to bear with an inner sense of conflict, knowing my people look at both my faith and my faith community with great mistrust and regard me as a traitor. I want them to know how much I am rooting for them – just like I was rooting for Team Israel – even though I am also deeply connected to the vast international community of Yeshua followers – like I was cheering on the Ottawa player with Great Britain. One need not undermine the other. It’s uncomfortable, but love is like that.
You can read Frank Reynoso’s incredible story here.