April 14, 2024
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David Leichman: Bringing the Love of Baseball to Israel

Queens native David Leichman was raised as a big fan of baseball. From the time he played in his first softball league at the age of 8, he never stopped loving the game. He made aliyah to Gezer in the mid 1970s together with a group of other idealistic Anglo immigrants who helped found the kibbutz in Central Israel. He was living the dream and had everything he could have asked for on the kibbutz—except for a baseball field. In fact, at that time in Israel, there wasn’t a single regulation-sized baseball field in the country.

The year was 1983. Leichman was managing the construction projects on the kibbutz, spending his days building houses. One morning he gazed ahead at a patch of farmland and dreamed of a field where Israelis of all ages would run bases and hit home runs in true American style. He lobbied fiercely for the project and when he was granted the necessary approvals to start the plowing, he was able to turn his dream into reality with the help of generous donors in the United States.

Leichman arranged for trucks and tractors and enlisted the help of the entire kibbutz, including school-aged children who assisted by clearing stones. The project took about two months to complete and the result was Israel’s first baseball field. It rests on the outskirts of archaeological excavations and in the shadows of olive trees and dairy farms where cows are milked—adding a unique Israeli touch to this American import.

“I wanted to build baseball and I lived by baseball before I came here,” Leichman said. “I just wanted to keep doing this.” The first game was played later that same year on the kibbutz, and Leichman threw out the first pitch. He does not remember who won the game that day, but he recalls that it was a momentous occasion that brought out the entire kibbutz.

Two years later, top Jewish baseball players from around the globe played against one another at Gezer Field during the Maccabiah Games, also known as “The Jewish Olympics.” Gezer Field is still the playing grounds for athletes at the Maccabiah Games.

Leichman likes to think that the construction of the first baseball field in 1983 was a game-changer for the growth of Israeli baseball. Today, there are approximately 60 teams consisting of 800 athletes who play in Israel’s professional baseball league. Since the field in Gezer was constructed, two full-sized fields have been erected, one at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva and one at the Ezra Schwartz Ballpark in Ra’anana, funded with support of The Jewish National Fund—USA. Another full-size field is under construction in Beit Shemesh. Perhaps the most famous moment to date in Israeli baseball was Team Israel’s impressive run in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, where it finished in sixth place, despite being ranked 41st in the world.

One of the most famous baseball players to have emerged from Kibbutz Gezer is an assistant pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds who played as a pitcher for a community college in California. The young man named Alon happens to be Leichman’s youngest child, whose talents were honed during many hours spent on the mound at Gezer Field that his father built. Alon is the only Israel-born baseball player to have made it into the major leagues.

Leichman flashes a wide smile when he talks about Alon. “Alon has really jumped an enormous amount to get into the major leagues,” he said. Leichman and his wife, Miri, who was ordained as a Reform rabbi, watch every Cincinnati Reds game and keep an album with news clippings of their son.

When he is not focused on baseball, Leichman spends his time making homemade ice cream. He hosts workshops at his home and offers samplings of what he calls, “Leich Cream.” He also worked for many years as an educator and helped raise $1 million for an educational garden on Kibbutz Gezer that aimed to teach Jews from around the world about the centrality of the land of Israel to the Jewish faith. Over 100,000 people visited the park before it was closed in 2010.

Leichman, now 72 years old, no longer plays ball but he attends games at the field that he built. On Fridays, Gezer Field is full of children of all ages, including Leichman’s own grandchildren. “I love to watch the kids play ball,” he said with a smile.


Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.

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