April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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My Little League Team Has Gone to War

As their coach, I glimpsed the kind of adults they could be. It’s no surprise they dropped everything to answer the call of duty.

The team.

My little league team has gone to war. The kids I coached for over 12 years have grown up to be the finest group of 22–25-year-olds. They are all serving as reservists in Gaza or on the Lebanon border right now. Defending me, their coach who did not serve in the military. (I was 33 when I moved to Israel.) I’ve never even fired a gun.

To non-Israeli consumers of media, they are “the IDF,” “Israel Defense Forces,” “Israeli Security Forces,” “Israeli Forces,” or “Israel Occupation Forces.” These terms are impersonal and dehumanizing, but the young men I know are anything but. They are the kindest, most considerate, most ethical people — the kind of men you want as sons-in-law. (Good news: many are still available!) They were fiercely devoted to their team, and now bring that devotion to their country. From their years playing the great American pastime in Ra’anana, they learned to put the team first. And they learned that, like a called third strike out-of-the-zone, life is not always fair.

So, when life turned cruel on October 7, they dropped their plans, returned from travel, delayed their university degrees, left their families, and reported for duty to serve as reservists in this most just of wars against Hamas. Just like the greatest generation of Americans who left their bats and gloves in the corn fields and cities of America to answer the call of duty halfway around the world. Only this threat is an hour away from home.

My star pitcher was supposed to get married on October 12. Instead, he rushed into service and the wedding will have to wait. A tremendous athlete, when he was 10, he could take the entire game into his hands in those years when the ability to just throw strikes was in short supply.

One of my catchers is on reserve duty in the north protecting us against Hezbollah, which threatens to widen this into a regional war. To his mother’s relief, he shaved off his mustache (grown when this generation of reservists tried to look like their counterparts from 1973) while he was on leave two weeks ago for his brother’s wedding. He liked to catch and had the athleticism to do it, until, to my chagrin, he stopped playing baseball. (He liked basketball more.)

I saw the twins who played shortstop and second base on leave for the same wedding. They ultimately preferred football and basketball as well (it happens a lot to us little league coaches), so I didn’t get the chance to coach them for as many years as I’d have liked. My loss. They were great athletes and are great young men doing their duty with pride. One got married last year.

I coached several third basemen. One was quiet as a young player in a way I now know was a sign of still waters running deep. Super intelligent young man. As he grew, he developed some power and turned hard on the ball, pulling it regularly down the third base line. In his regular service, he joined an elite counterterror unit, so I was not surprised to hear that he had rushed south to fight on October 7th; he is no stranger to combat. I saw him home from Gaza recently, with a wry smile and an arm around his girlfriend. Two days later, he was back in Gaza, as there is a lot more fighting to be done, especially for experienced soldiers.

All little league coaches know to make your best athlete your catcher. Mine was so good, he was a franchise player who was even scouted by the Yankees when he played for Israel’s national team in Prague; I still have the scout’s card. He could steal any base at any time,and often tried. Watching him try was so much fun that it was hard to get angry with him on the rare occasions when he was caught.

As a sergeant in the IDF, he used his leadership skills and could rally his soldiers just as he had so often rallied his teammates. His older brother was killed on October 7th, fighting Hamas. He was a company commander in an elite canine counter-terror unit, and he died a hero, having rushed south to combat the terrorists who were running rampant in Israel’s border communities. In his final act, he saved the life of one of his soldiers. Like his younger brother, he was an incredible athlete, though he was too old for me to have coached. I did play softball with him relatively recently — what a joy to see an officer of his standing, with all the responsibility he shouldered, run the bases like a kid. Their dad and I coached together for many years; he would make a point of visiting the mound in tense situations just to tell our pitchers to relax and smile. Our lives will never be the same.

I coached many outfielders, including my two sons (they would want me to note that they also pitched and caught, respectively). My older son returned from his honeymoon straight into reserve duty. He is not a combat soldier and has nonetheless been working, together with his wife, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. for eight straight weeks. My other son, also a newlywed, was supposed to be traveling the world with his wife this year, as Israelis like to do. But he joined his reserve combat unit, spent five weeks on the Lebanon border, and is now in Gaza. Like most of his teammates, he is fairly apolitical. “It’s my turn to protect us,” he said. “Where my unit is, that’s where I’ll be.” Just like he always was for the team.

Another outfielder, and a natural athlete, is in his tank in Gaza. His time in the army alternated with months of study in yeshiva, and he insisted on getting called into the reserves. He started by fixing tanks and trained younger recruits. Then he asked to be sent to combat. He had served admirably in the last operation against Hamas, spending 11 straight days in a tank. So he is experienced and knows what to do, and that keeps his parents (and former coach) calmer. As a player, he was hard on himself when he struck out. But that changed with age, and when I saw him playing softball on a recent Saturday night, the love of the game had taken over.

One of my regular second basemen is now a platoon commander in the tank corps and has been deployed on the Lebanon border. He has lost four peers in the fighting and has been to their funerals. He brought sheer joy to the game, particularly when he was running the bases. He smiled so wide when we gave him the green light to steal the sign; how many times did he run on his own without the green light? I see him and think, when did he become so responsible? Five-plus years in the army. An officer. A leader.

We never won a championship with me as coach. The emphasis was always on playing hard, playing fair, shaking the opponents’ hands afterwards, and having a good laugh in the car ride home. And when they were younger, win, lose, or (sorry, Ted Lasso) draw, as we sometimes did to finish the game before the Sabbath, there was always ice cream.

A better, more selfless group of people has never been assembled. They showed up to protect their fellow citizens following the most heinous massacre in our country’s history. I could not be prouder of them and I am confident that we can count on them not only to defeat Hamas but to build together the better society that Israelis and Palestinians so desperately need. May God protect them and bring them all home safely.

Jack is one of the founding partners at MoreVC, a leading venture capital firm in Israel that pioneered climate-tech investing in Israel. Prior to co-founding MoreVC, Jack was vice president and general counsel of Register.com, and a corporate attorney with the New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Jack holds a JD from Columbia Law School and a BA in government from Harvard College.

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