Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared at Chabad.org.
JERUSALEM—What was most noticeable at last week’s baseball game between the “Cubs” and the “White Sox” at Jerusalem’s Kraft Stadium were the smiles and laughter as players stepped up to the plate and then rounded the bases in an inaugural game for children with special needs, sponsored by the Friendship Circle of Central Jerusalem.
The Chabad Center of Talbiya—co-directed by Rabbi Eli and Chani Canterman—together with Chicago businessman and philanthropist Dean Klassman and his wife Leslie, and more than 100 volunteers and supporters made this first game of “Buddy Baseball” possible, where teen “buddies” assisted children of varying needs to hit the ball, field it and run the bases. Friendship Circle Center, which is affiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch, provides friendship and support to individuals with special needs and their families through social, educational and Jewish programming.
On a sunny spring afternoon last Thursday, some 45 players and 50 “buddies” took to the field, cheered on by more 100 fans and supporters. Of course, the start of the game followed the throwing of the ceremonial opening pitches—by Knesset member and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren; Rami Levy, owner of the supermarket franchise of the same name and holder of the Jerusalem Municipality’s sports portfolio; and Steve Leibowitz, current president of the nonprofit organization American Football in Israel.
The next two hours involved nonstop action and good sportsmanship. Volunteers scurried around throughout the afternoon, partnering with the kids and staffing the free concession stands.
Even when the game ended, the fun did not. After awarding the athletes championship medals, an American-style barbecue of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers greeted the hungry crowd.
A Goal and a Dream
The day was made possible by Klassman and his wife, Leslie, noted Chani Canterman, still bubbling with excitement hours after the game.
“Dean Klassman has a deep passion for ‘Buddy Baseball,’ and he and his wife have been involved in the program in Chicago for 16 years,” she said.
Teenage volunteers assisted players in helping hit the ball, field it and run the bases.
“Not only does he provide financial support, he also coaches the kids,” continued Canterman. “After learning there was a Friendship Circle in Jerusalem, Klassman spoke to Rabbi Zelik Moscowitz, director of Friendship Circle of Illinois, whose efforts he has sponsored over the past 10 years. Klassman expressed interest in bringing the sport to Jerusalem’s Friendship Circle.”
Moscowitz contacted the Friendship Circle affiliate in Jerusalem and encouraged them to take on the project.
Klassman, who calls himself the program’s “biggest fan,” explained his clear-cut goal: “My mitzvah is to bring my passion for ‘Buddy Baseball’ to Israel, hoping that the community will see the possibilities of starting it regularly here.”
“When I decided it was high time to make my first trip ever to Israel,” noting that he’s not getting any younger, “I had an added dream to create ‘Buddy Baseball’ in Israel, too.”
Baseball for All
The results have been instantaneous. The Cantermans have already received emails from dozens of kids, asking how they could become involved in the program.
Michael Levin, 19 and a seasoned Friendship Circle volunteer, started working with the group in his home town of Philadelphia when he was just 14.
Now in Israel for a year of Torah study, he put his skills to work—not only by being at the game and participating, but by coordinating the timetable, and mobilizing dozens of yeshivah and seminary students to come and help. Needless to say, they added to the volume of cheers as the players crossed home plate.
“It was so great being able to share the excitement of American baseball with both native Israelis and those who have made aliyah from the U.S. The former got a taste of America’s No. 1 pastime, and the latter got a little taste of what they grew up with,” said Levin. “And everyone had the opportunity to take part.”
“You have to understand,” Chani Canterman explained, “that our Friendship Circle is not a chesed [kindness] project. It is a true win-win situation for everybody—it’s a way of life.”