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Nelson Cruz and other Hispanic MLB players visit Israel to promote Christian-Jewish relations

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TEL AVIV (JTA) — On a recent Monday, the owner of a restaurant here captivated a group of 14 lunch patrons with stories of her life before and after moving to Israel from Ethiopia as a youngster. A family visiting from New York approached from another table, and the adult son asked if he could pose for pictures with some of the members of the big group.

After the group had left to walk to the shore nearby, the restaurant’s owner learned that she had just hosted a group of professional athletes and their entourage. She briefly considered running after them for a photo herself.

“I wish I’d known who they were,” she said. 

The athletes — Nelson Cruz, Cesar Hernandez and Jeimer Candelario, all Major League Baseball players in the United States — were surprised by what they learned at lunch, too. For instance, they had not known of the existence of Black Jews, including the thousands of Ethiopians living in Israel.

The players and their significant others were brought to Israel for a week by the Philos Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes Christian relations with Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. It was the organization’s first delegation to Israel involving Hispanic athletes, said Jesse Rojo, the Philos Project’s director of Hispanic affairs. The group toured Christian sites in Jerusalem and the Galilee and ran a baseball clinic for Jewish and non-Jewish youth in Raanana. 

The visit also aimed to “proactively” combat antisemitism, Rojo said, “to show our baseball players that they can make a difference, not wait for someone to come out with an antisemitic tweet to do something.” The trip was organized well in advance of the recent antisemitism controversies involving American celebrities such as rapper Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving.

But the players also expressed eagerness to learn about Israel and to impart their experiences upon returning to their homelands of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela — and to MLB clubhouses.

Cruz, from the Dominican Republic, is 39th on the MLB’s all-time home run list with 459. He hit only 10 homers this year and is 42 years old, but he said he’s hopeful a team will sign him to a contract for 2023. Hernandez, a second baseman who is also now a free agent, hails from Venezuela and is a former Gold Glove winner, earned for being named the best defender at his position in the American League. Candelario, born in New York but raised in the Dominican Republic, is also looking for a new team after playing six seasons at third base for the Detroit Tigers. Cruz and Hernandez played together on the Washington Nationals this past season.

On a minibus, before it set out for a day of touring, Cruz led a prayer of gratitude as everyone along for the ride bowed their heads. Members of the group uttered “amen” responses throughout. In Jaffa, Candelario expressed excitement at learning that the Bible’s Jonah had departed by ship from the ancient city’s port before being swallowed by a huge fish. At lunch, Candelario led the table in grace.

In separate interviews, each of the three visiting players said he had never heard anti-Jewish or anti-Israel views expressed by relatives, friends or acquaintances. Most of their compatriots, they said, think that Israel is constantly under enemy attack, a view they added was dispelled by their experience traveling around the country and feeling safe.

All attributed pro-Israel inclinations to their strong Christian beliefs, including regularly attending church services. They cited their mothers as devout women who raised them with Bible stories.

“We love God and the word of God. This is the land of our fathers,” said Candelario. “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed,” he said, paraphrasing God’s promise to Abraham. 

Rojo is organizing a charity softball game in the Dominican Republic between Dominican and Jewish-American MLB players in the coastal town of Susua — which was founded by refugees of Nazism who established still-operating dairy and sliced-meat factories. Funds raised through the event will pay to renovate both a baseball field and the town’s synagogue and to commemorate the Jewish immigrants’ roles in Susua’s history, Rojo said.

Cruz is trying to recruit fellow Dominican players to come on subsequent Israel trips and to play in next year’s Susua event. Superstar outfielder Juan Soto, Cruz’s former teammate on the Washington Nationals, considered participating in the recent delegation, but he reversed course after being traded mid-season to San Diego, Cruz said. Cruz also hopes to persuade the retired legends Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez to come to Israel, too.

Back home, “we’ll share this experience, and definitely more players will be motivated to come,” Cruz said.

“Anyone who’s an opinion-maker from such countries helps us,” said Jonathan Peled, the Israeli foreign ministry’s deputy director general for Latin America. “They become ambassadors of good [will]. Whether a pastor, an athlete, a performer, a YouTuber – on every visit to Israel, there’s nothing like firsthand observation to see Israel in a more balanced, positive manner and less distorted.”

Jeimer Candelario, a third baseman for the Detroit Tigers, interacts with children at the Raanana field. (Nico Andre’ Duran)

Israel enjoys good relations throughout Latin America, with Venezuela an exception after it broke off diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in 2009, Peled said. “But we hope that [ties] will be renewed soon,” he said.

Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Israel, coincidentally, will be competing (along with Puerto Rico and Nicaragua) in the same group at the upcoming World Baseball Classic, to be held in Miami in March. The teams will feature large contingents of major leaguers, with Israel’s roster consisting mainly of American Jews.

Baseball is not a top sport in Israel, but Team Israel’s periodic success on the world stage has helped promote the game. The Raanana site — dedicated in memory of Massachusetts native Ezra Schwartz, who was killed in a 2019 terrorist attack in Israel — is one of only a handful of baseball fields in the country. Other notable ones are at Kibbutz Gezer, in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, and at the Baptist Village complex in Petach Tikvah.

At the group lunch, Hernandez said that he “would live here” in Israel in the off-season if he could obtain a visa. He was asked whether he meant it.

“Yeah, because it’s the Jesus country,” Hernandez said. “I asked my wife, and she said yes.”

Sitting beside him at the restaurant, Gabriela Hernandez nodded.

“Yes,” she said, “because of the significance it has for us.” 


The post Nelson Cruz and other Hispanic MLB players visit Israel to promote Christian-Jewish relations appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

PHYLLIS POLLOCK

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary

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By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre


Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station

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This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.


The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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