April 9, 2024
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Annual Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Tournament Celebrates the Life of Victim of Terror

From May 16-19, four yeshiva high school teams competed in the third annual baseball tournament in Sharon, Massachusetts, in memory of Ezra Schwartz, H”YD, an 18-year-old who was killed in a terrorist attack in Israel during his gap year in 2015. Students from Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, the Ramaz School, and SAR High School traveled to Ezra’s hometown and competed with the baseball team of his former high school, Maimonides, in a four-day tournament honoring Ezra’s memory. Both the Ramaz and SAR baseball teams returned after competing in the first Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Tournament in 2017.

The tournament began on Thursday with two games being played simultaneously in the early afternoon and another in the evening. Another three took place the next day, after which the games halted for Shabbat. The boys davened and ate together on Friday night at the local Orthodox synagogue, Young Israel of Sharon, where they convened as well the next day for Shacharit. Following lunch, Jeremy Bleich of the Pawtucket Red Sox spoke at the synagogue, talking to the boys about his ability to turn baseball into a career and giving them advice about keeping the right mindset while playing.

The boys then traveled to the Schwartz residence for a day of wiffle ball and ping-pong tournaments, both of which have become a tradition during the annual event. While the ping-pong tournament raged on in the basement, the wiffle ball tournament took place in the Schwartz backyard and a neighboring backyard. In an effort to socialize the players, teams were created at random before the tournament and were deliberately formed with players from different schools. The tournament lasted for over four hours without breaks, with boys playing in both yards simultaneously to speed up the tournament. Included on three of the teams were Ezra’s younger brothers, Hillel, Elon and Avi. Although Elon is a freshman in high school and Avi is several years younger than his rivals, the three boys were forbidden from playing on the same team after easily beating opposing teams in years past. Despite this, however, each of the brothers still made it into the final four teams of the tournament and were only able to be defeated by their siblings.

Following Shabbat, the boys gathered at the Sharon High School baseball field, where the majority of the baseball games had taken place. Two players from each of the four baseball teams participated in a home run derby, in which the single objective is to hit as many home runs as possible. Coming in first was Eli Fishbein from Kushner; second was Hillel Schwartz, Ezra’s younger brother, who plays for the Maimonides team; and third was Sammy Henkin from Ramaz. Following the game, the teams traveled back to the shul for dinner.

On Sunday, the final day of the tournament, the consolation and championship games were played. Ramaz beat SAR in the consolation game, while Maimonides narrowly lost to Kushner in the championship. Following the games, the players met at the Schwartz household one last time for a barbecue, after which trophies were awarded to specific players and coaches for strong performances, including Hillel Schwartz, who is both a pitcher and catcher for the Maimonides team. Participation trophies were then distributed to all the players, concluding the event.

The tournament was arranged mainly by Ezra’s parents, Ruth and Ari Schwartz, who found lodging for the players, often personally hosting the boys at their house; sold sweaters and T-shirts for the tournament; and arranged meals, games and transportation, among other things. Ruth and Ari also spoke about Ezra several times, discussing his love of baseball and his unwavering loyalty and devotion to his friends, and also reading several amusing letters he’d written while serving detentions at the Maimonides school. “I should go to [Israel Advocacy] from now on, because we just watch movies,” he wrote in one of his letters. “So, I guess I should go to class and davening more. But honestly…this is better than class.”

Ezra, though known to be mischievous and silly, was also kind and serious when he needed to be, and this quality shone through in his letters. “Sorry for making you sit in detention with me every other week for the past four years,” he wrote to his teacher Mrs. Wright, who, besides being a well-loved history teacher, had monitored his many detentions. When it came time for Ezra to participate in a senior tradition of picking two or three teachers who’d particularly influenced his academic experience, Ezra wrote only to Mrs. Wright. “I appreciate the life advice you would give me, even though it doesn’t always register right away.”

Ezra had been known for being sweet and impish while maintaining many close friendships, and his murder shocked the close-knit community of Sharon, Massachusetts. “Our main goals in creating this special tournament were to share Ezra’s spirit and love for baseball,” wrote his parents, Ari and Ruth Schwartz, on the Ezra Schwartz Memorial Baseball Tournament site. Ezra had been known for being gifted at sports and a dedicated team player, and his parents seek to use his legacy to inspire future generations to follow in his footsteps.

By Brooke Schwartz

Brooke Schwartz is a senior at The Frisch school and a Jewish Link intern.

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