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How Israel built its most talented baseball roster ever for the 2023 World Baseball Classic

MIAMI (JTA) — As Team Israel celebrated its victory over Nicaragua Sunday afternoon in its opening game of the 2023 World Baseball Classic, there was proof up and down the lineup card of a months-long recruitment process that brought together a slew of major league talent.

There was manager Ian Kinsler, a 14-year MLB veteran and four-time All-Star. Big league pitchers Dean Kremer, who started the game, plus Richard Bleier and Zack Weiss. All-Star slugger Joc Pederson, and major league catcher Garrett Stubbs, who drove in the winning run.

For Kinsler, who played a central role in putting the roster together, the victory served as validation — even if he didn’t know what some of the players actually looked like until they arrived in Miami.

“Knowing the names, and then finally seeing all the faces and everybody coming together and playing a good game yesterday was very rewarding,” Kinsler said Monday. “It was a lot of fun.”

Pulling the team together took a combination of personal cajoling, a widely respected manager, Jewish geography and an effort to tap — and ignite — the sometimes embryonic Jewish identities of players who hadn’t given much thought to how their Jewish roots and baseball prowess might be combined.

“There’s quite a few guys who really want to help Israel and feel Jewish and buy into it,” Team Israel general manager Peter Kurz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We evolve towards those players more — a player who says that he’s been to Israel, or that he’s connected to Israel. We definitely like to keep more than a player who was not connected at all, even though we try to go for the best athletes.”

The journey to assemble Team Israel, a 30-man roster composed largely of American Jewish ballplayers, half of whom have MLB experience, actually began back in 2021.

While playing for Israel’s 2020 Olympic team, Kinsler had conversations with Kurz and Israel Association of Baseball president Jordy Alter about managing the team in 2023.

“Once I developed the relationship with those two in the Olympics, it was a pretty easy decision,” Kinsler told JTA prior to the WBC. Kinsler had never managed a team before, at any level.

After he took the helm last June, Kinsler took a lead role in the team’s recruitment, working off a preliminary list of 50 players who were eligible to play for the team — meaning they were Jewish themselves, or the child or the grandchild of a Jew or married to one, and thus eligible for Israeli citizenship.

Kurz said Kinsler’s reputation around baseball was a key factor in offering him the job.

“There’s no doubt that Ian is one of the most respectable Jewish players that’s ever played the game before,” he said. “People respect him and they look up to him. Having experienced being in Israel twice, and playing for us in the Olympics, it just gives him that much more legitimization to talk to these players and ask them to come play for Team Israel.”

Kinsler is not the WBC’s only inexperienced manager who was chosen in part as a draw for players. Former players Mark DeRosa (United States), Mike Piazza (Italy) and Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico) are all managing, and Nelson Cruz is both a player on the Dominican Republic team and its general manager.

Ian Kinsler played for Team Israel at the Olympics in Tokyo after 14 MLB seasons. (Courtesy of JNF-USA)

As Kinsler began his recruitment, his first call was to Joc Pederson.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” Pederson told JTA. “I really enjoyed my time last time I played [in the 2012 WBC qualifier], and I wanted to do that again. Great group of guys.”

From there, Kurz said, he and Kinsler went down the list of Jewish major leaguers, calling each one to gauge their interest in representing Israel in the World Cup-style tournament. Given the timing of the WBC — just weeks before Major League Baseball’s Opening Day — it was largely a conversation about logistics.

“I think it wasn’t really necessarily the conversation about ‘Are you Jewish?’ Or ‘Are you eligible to play for Team Israel,’” Kinsler explained. “I think it was more of a conversation of ‘do you want to participate?’”

Pederson, who texted fellow big league players like Houston Astros star Alex Bregman and Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Rowdy Tellez (who is playing for Mexico), said health concerns and having enough time to get ready for the season were factors. New York Yankees players Harrison Bader and Scott Effross dropped out because of injuries.

And why did Pederson want to help recruit? It’s simple: “Because I like winning, and I want to win,” he said.

Israel hoped that having big-name players like Kinsler and Pederson lead the outreach efforts would pay off. While some of the game’s top Jewish stars ultimately did not join the team — namely Bregman and Atlanta Braves ace Max Fried — their work was far from fruitless, as this roster boasts the most major league experience Israel has ever had.

“I tried to get Peter to hold off as long as he could, so I could be the first one to get in touch with people,” Kinsler said. “Because I do think it helps hearing from a player.”

When making his calls, Kinsler said he shared his experience playing in the 2017 WBC with the U.S. team, plus “what kind of environment we’re trying to create for Israeli baseball.”

While navigating spring training schedules and injuries is certainly part of it, Kurz said there were many players who were excited for the opportunity to wear Israel across their jersey.

One of those players is Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dean Kremer, who was the first Israeli to be drafted into the MLB. Kremer, whose parents are Israeli, was born and raised in California, but has spent time living in Israel.

Dean Kremer pitches against Nicaragua in Israel’s first game of the 2023 World Baseball Classic, March 12, 2023, in Miami. (Courtesy Team Israel)

“Playing for Team Israel, anytime I get to put on that uniform is special for me,” Kremer said after pitching in Israel’s victory over Nicaragua. “It’s like another home. So every time I get to represent it’s one of the better feelings.”

Pederson added that the whole team “feels extremely proud.”

Ryan Lavarnway, a veteran catcher who has also played for Israel since 2017 and is seen as one of its leaders, has been vocal about how much it means to him to suit up for Israel.

“Playing for this team is super meaningful to me,” Lavarnway said after Israel’s exhibition game against the Miami Marlins. “It’s been really life changing. And I hope that this next generation of players that are new to this team takes the baton, and it means as much to them as it’s meant to us.”

One of those younger players is Toronto Blue Jays prospect Spencer Horwitz.

“Coming into this, I didn’t know what to really expect, this being my first time playing for Team Israel,” Horwitz said. “It’s living up to everything that people are saying. That environment we were just in was definitely electric.”

With reports of antisemitism on the rise in the United States, Kurz said players are more inclined to publicly identify as Jewish.

“I think a lot of these players feel, even more so, that they have to identify as being Jewish. Nobody’s trying to hide that at all,” he said.

Kurz added that Israel had an easier time recruiting top talent for the 2023 roster than in previous years, for a few reasons.

First, he said, both Team Israel and the WBC itself have gained in prominence over the past decade. For Israel, a surprising run in the 2017 WBC helped put Israeli baseball on the map, garnering excitement among both fans and potential players. And the WBC itself has grown more popular in the United States and around the world, with superstar players such as Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout suiting up for their ancestral countries, and MLB devoting more resources to marketing the tournament.

Geography also played a role. With most of the games being played in Miami, that allowed MLB players to more easily participate, as half the league has spring training in Florida.

When trying to discover Jewish players, there’s a certain element of word-of-mouth Jewish geography that comes into play, too. No player encapsulates that better than Ty Kelly.

“It’s easy to get the Cohens and the Levys. It’s more difficult to get the Ty Kellys,” Kurz said.

Ty Kelly bats during Israel’s exhibition game against the Miami Marlins, March 8, 2023 in Jupiter, Florida. (Emma Sharon/MLB)

Kurz recalled that about seven years ago, he heard from someone on Long Island who had taken his kids to a minor league game. Kelly was signing autographs and spotted the kids’ kippahs and told them he was Jewish. They told their father, who in turn told Kurz.

“And the rest was history,” Kurz said. Kelly, who has played for Israel since the 2017 WBC, has become another one of the team’s leaders. After this WBC, he will begin his coaching career in the Seattle Mariners organization.

The WBC’s eligibility rules also allowed Israel some flexibility in recruiting. Outfielder Alex Dickerson, for example, is not Jewish, but his wife is.

“This is about creating the best team possible within the rules,” Kinsler said.

Creating the best team also meant creating a strong coaching staff.

Kinsler recruited former Israel manager Brad Ausmus, who was Kinsler’s manager in the big leagues, and former All-Star and fan favorite Kevin Youkilis, the former Boston Red Sox first baseman.

“It was easy,” Youkilis said of his decision to join the team. “Being part of this is part of my heritage, part of growing up Jewish and being bar mitzvahed and all that. It was an easy yes.”

Youkilis, who retired in 2014, said coaching full-time isn’t in the cards for him, but he’s enjoying the experience right now.

“It’s remarkable how good a talent we have, a collective Jewish group of ballplayers that when I was growing up probably wasn’t that strong,” he said. “It’s good to see the next generation of ballplayers, and to be a coach, and to witness it and be around and help guys.”

While this team, and its coaches, is largely a group of American Jews, the uniform says Israel. Even with the fraught political climate in Israel, which is experiencing an uptick in violence and widespread protests over the country’s far-right government and its controversial judicial proposals, both Kurz and Kinlser said politics were not a factor for any player.

“I don’t think in general athletes are too scared of those types of things,” Kinsler said.

Kurz added that leading up to the WBC, numerous players reached out to ask questions and gain a better understanding of the current situation in Israel. But nobody expressed hesitation about identifying with the country. (There have not been protests or anti-Israel demonstrations, as there have been at times in the past when Team Israel plays in the United States and abroad.)

“They’re definitely interested, they want to know what’s going on,” Kurz said. “They want to know who they’re playing for.”

Kelly, who was part of those types of discussions in the clubhouse with the Olympic team, said the players are keeping an eye on the news, but they haven’t had many conversations about it yet.

“I think it’s sort of the nature of the team, having a lot of new guys and people not really knowing what their roles are supposed to be, as far as talking about that stuff, or what their opinions are supposed to be,” Kelly said. “I think that happens as guys get to know each other more.”

Building camaraderie was also a priority for the team. Prior to the tournament, Israel held a private screening of the new documentary “Israel Swings for Gold,” which followed the team’s Olympic experience in Tokyo.

Kinsler said that while the event was not mandatory, he encouraged players to attend.

“I think that’ll be a great bonding experience for us, and something that other teams don’t really have the luxury of using as motivation or bringing togetherness,” Kinsler said beforehand. “That could be an advantage for us.”

And with a tough draw in Pool D, which pits Israel against top teams including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, Israel will need any advantage it can get.

But Israel is no stranger to being the underdog. In fact, the team relishes it.

“We’re certainly the David against the Goliath of the baseball world. But you know, we love it,” Kurz said.

The post How Israel built its most talented baseball roster ever for the 2023 World Baseball Classic appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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