Israel Swings for Gold follows Team Israel during the Tokyo Olympics as the baseball team competed in the Olympics for the first time.
“No Jew, who is a true Jew, can ever give up hope.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
When Team Israel clinched a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it was an opportunity for a sequel to Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel. How could the filmmakers not make a documentary after following Team Israel on the road to the 2017 World Baseball Classic? I mean, you absolutely have to do a sequel especially with baseball returning to the Olympics for the first time in forever. Because of the pandemic, none of the filmmakers could travel to Tokyo. As a result, it makes for an unconventional approach. Because of this, they gave cameras to Team Israel and would edit the footage together afterwards. Ultimately, Israel would go onto finish in 5th in the Olympic baseball tournament. It’s not the finish they wanted but they should be proud of their achievements.
It’s not often that a documentary will discuss the previous documentary being a hit film but here we are. The film was held over for weeks in Chicago. Mind you, 2018 was still a time when indie films were competing with studio blockbusters for screen time. Whether its Israelis or Jews living in the diaspora, it feels like an achievement whenever Jews do well in sports. Israel’s success in the 2017 World Baseball Classic was history in and of itself. It was similarly historic when Israel clinched a spot in the 2020 games after being ranked 24th in the world! When organizers said only six teams would compete, it meant needing a miracle from G-d at that point. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Olympics! Israel won the two-continent qualifying tournament for Europe and Africa. In doing so, it became their first team sport since 1976.
The film isn’t shy on commentary about antisemitism or anti-Zionism. After years of asking the IOC for a moment of silence following the Munich massacre, there was finally a moment of silence during the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo. Too little, too late after years of missed opportunities including the 40th anniversary during the 2012 London Olympics. But anyway, it’s because of the 1972 games that Israel doesn’t really hang up their flag outside their rooms in Olympic Village. This changed during the summer games in 2021. Regardless, Team Israel felt some extra pressure just because of who they are and where they came from. A childish TikTok video of Israelis jumping on the bed led to lots of backlash in the media and on social media. Meanwhile, the film includes footage of anti-Zionist protesters and the antisemitism during the games.
In addition to players and coaches, the filmmakers insert some commentary from the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He was a sports fan and his comments are a nice addition to the film. The filmmakers use one of his comments about Jews observing Shabbos to segue into the Friday night rituals.
It’s rather short for a documentary at 77 minutes but I don’t mind because it’s a baseball movie. The film isn’t groundbreaking by any means. There are at least two F bombs in the film. I’ve been told that they will also be in the theatrical version but removed for special screenings at shuls, yeshivas, and camps. This was a problem with the first film and not surprisingly, it’s a problem once again. Back in 2018, they had to make a cleaner version because of the profanity. There are Jews that love baseball and will probably want to take their kids to watch this film. But with such language, they might turn away and see something else instead. That’s my two cents on the profanity front.
Israel Swings for Gold and once again, the filmmakers hit it out of the park. Unfortunately, baseball is not returning for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
DIRECTORS: Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger
SCREENWRITER: Daniel A. Miller
FEATURING: Jordy Alter, Jeremy Bleich, Scott Burcham, Jonathan de Marte, Tal Erel, Nate Fish, Jake Fishman, Blake Gailen, Mitch Glasser, Eric Holtz, Alex Jacobs, Richard Kania, Alex Katz, Ty Kelly, Ian Kinsler, Peter Kurz, Ryan Lavarnway, Alon Leichman, Shlomo Lipetz, Andrew Lorraine, Assaf Lowengart, Jon Moscot, Nate Mulberg, Robb Paller, Zach Penprase, Nick Rickles, DJ Sharabi, Danny Valencia, Joey Wagman, Ben Wanger, Zack Weiss, Josh Zeid
Menemsha Films will release Israel Swings For Gold in theaters on May 5, 2023. Grade: 4.5/5
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