The Detroit Jewish community has had ties to Israeli baseball since its beginning.

The beginning of this summer is not like those of the past. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the usual public events and leisure activities that have long defined the summer season will be much different. For one example, take our American pastime, baseball.

Baseball has long been an integral part of Detroit’s history. Indeed, the Detroit Tigers’ opening day is usually the unofficial beginning of summer, but this year, no one knows when Major League Baseball will begin. So, for readers starved for baseball stories, I found some interesting stories for you in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History about Little League baseball in Israel.

As I looked through the Archive to research this topic, I quickly discovered that the Detroit Jewish community has had ties to Israeli baseball since its beginning.

Baseball is an all-American sport, and one might not think that it has much of a presence in the Middle East. However, the first Israeli Little League was established in 1987, and the sport of baseball has grown in Israel ever since.

Currently, the Israeli Little League has about 50 teams and 700 kids, and one full-sized baseball field in Petach Tikvah. Expats and their families make up 80% of the players, but native-born Israelis are increasingly enthusiastic about the game.

Randy Kahn of Houston made his second visit to Israel in 1985. His first visit was in 1976, when he lived on a kibbutz for four months. During his second visit, Kahn was playing baseball with his nephews when many neighborhood kids joined in. After seeing such a positive local response to baseball, he decided to start a baseball league in Israel, leaving behind his comfortable sales position in Houston. Kahn’s idea came to fruition with the help of the Israeli Association of Baseball, which he founded in 1986.

The third season of organized baseball for youth in Israel was just beginning in 1989 when Detroiters decided to help. There was a sponsored drive in Metro Detroit for which the Jewish community collected as much baseball equipment as possible to send to Israel for the Little League season. Detroiters Irwin Cohen, Dave Dombey, Bob Sternberg and Phil Applebaum organized the drive as members of the Detroit Committee of the Israeli Association of Baseball. The committee was founded to support the growth of Israeli baseball leagues.

Dave Dombey, a photographer from Southfield, was present at the first organized youth baseball game in Israel. His photograph of that game was included in the July 24, 1987 issue of the Jewish News. Dombey became co-chair of the American Friends of the Israeli Association of Baseball and, subsequently, was heavily involved in the world of Israeli baseball.

The Jewish community of Detroit has long been invested in the Israeli baseball league. Through the sport, Detroit Jews have another deep-rooted connection to Israel.

Yael Eichhorn, the guest writer for this week’s “Looking Back” page, is a student at Michigan State University and the 2020 Detroit Jewish News Foundation Summer Intern.

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