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Wild pitch: How an Israeli kibbutznik became a Cincinnati Reds pitching coach

KIBBUTZ GEZER, Israel (JTA) — Bill James, the influential baseball writer, historian and statistician, once described the great Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly in only four words: “100% ballplayer, 0% bulls—.”

The same can be said of Alon Leichman, by all accounts the first athlete born and raised in Israel to make it to the major leagues, having just been named assistant pitching coach of the Cincinnati Reds.

Under manager David Bell, Leichman will help instruct the team’s pitchers — including Chase Anderson, Luis Cessa, Fernando Cruz, Alexis Díaz and Hunter Greene on mechanics, pitch selection, preparation, concentration and execution.

His journey has been unlikely, verging on preposterous: How could someone from Israel, where baseball is barely an afterthought, step out of the wheat fields of a kibbutz to the highest level of baseball in the world?

The 33-year-old Leichman is the product of Kibbutz Gezer, the youngest child born to two idealists who grew up in Zionist youth groups and helped found this kibbutz in central Israel in the 1970s together with other Anglo — that is, English-speaking — Zionists.

But David, Alon’s father, couldn’t leave it all behind in Queens, New York. He was a baseball fan, a big baseball fan — “I always knew that if, God forbid, there’s a fire in my house, I know where my baseball glove is” — and one day, he and his fellow kibbutz residents had an idea: Why don’t we cut off a slice of the wheat crop and construct a regulation-sized field in the southwest corner of the kibbutz, where we can all go play when we get off work? 

That was 1983, and there wasn’t a single baseball or softball field in all of Israel So David, who was in charge of construction on the kibbutz (Alon’s mother, Miri, is the kibbutz rabbi), built his field of dreams, just 450 yards from his front door and in the shadow of the 4,000-year-old archaeological site that gives Gezer its name.

And that’s where Alon Leichman grew up, first brought to the field by his father for the 1989 Maccabiah Games, five weeks after Alon was born on May 29.

“I never related to that field as the place my dad built,” Leichman said. “It was a field that was on the kibbutz. Growing up, everyone around me played — my older brother played, and all my friends, a little older than me, played.

David Leichman, left, stands behind the backstop at the baseball field he helped build at Kibbutz Gezer in Israel, where his son Alon, right, learned the game that has brought him to the major leagues. (Elli Wohlgelernter)

“I remember — I was 4, in gan [pre-kindergarten], and I would walk to the baseball field and practice. I vividly remember being in the gan and going to practice. But baseball on the kibbutz is just something that I grew into. Everyone did it; I was not special, just another kid who played. I happened to love it a lot.”

So he played and played and got better and better. By age 10, he was on the team representing Israel at a tournament in the Netherlands. But baseball in Israel back then was in its infancy, and there was not enough money to pay for the team to travel. So Leichman had to work extra hours to get the kibbutz to fly him over.

Not that he wasn’t used to working — like all kibbutz members, he was already contributing by third grade. But now he had to put in extra hours, picking olives or milking cows, to make the extra money.

“I liked milking cows,” he recalled. “Sometimes it’s hard work, but I got more of a kick out of it than hitting an olive tree” to shake loose the olives.

Leichman remembers well that tournament in Holland, the first time he wore the Israeli uniform representing his country abroad.

“It was really cool,” he recalled. “A sense of pride. That’s the first time I think I felt like: ‘You’re not just Alon, you’re not just representing the kibbutz anymore — you’re representing a whole country.’

“I knew back then that Israel was not on the best terms [with] the world. So it was something that I was aware of: that part of our job of playing baseball is also making sure that these guys get to know Israelis other than what they hear on the news and show them that, you know, we’re good people.”

The 5’-8” right-hander kept playing, kept improving and kept representing Israel at tournaments. He played in the one-season Israel Baseball League in 2007 as the second-youngest player, served in the Israeli army from 2007 to 2010, and then headed to the states to play college ball at two schools, Cypress College and the University of California, San Diego.

In his first appearance at Cypress, his elbow blew out, and he needed what’s known as “Tommy John surgery” to repair a torn ulnar ligament inside the elbow. Then he got hurt again and had a second Tommy John surgery. But when he got hurt a third time, and the doctor said he needed to go under the knife yet again, Leichman knew that his hopes for a professional playing career were over.

But not before proving to himself that he had what it takes.

“I know I was good in Israel. I knew that. But I had no idea how I would fare coming to the States. I thought I could fare [well] there, but I really never knew because I had never faced those types of hitters. And then, in my first game, I did really well for two and a third innings, four strikeouts. No one got on. It was 1-2-3, 1-2-3, and then I got the first guy out in the ninth. And on a one-two fastball, my elbow popped. So it was like, ‘Okay, I can do this here.’”

His love for the game never left him, and Leichman grew into an insightful and intuitive coach. His expertise and aptitude were self-evident.

Various jerseys from Alon Leichman’s baseball career are displayed on the wall of his family’s home at Kibbutz Gezer, Israel. (Elli Wohlgelernter)

“Alon will be a big-league coach one day,” pitcher and teammate Alex Katz said three years ago. “It’s hard to get a coaching job in affiliate ball without professional experience, let alone non-affiliated experience. But he’s just one of the most intelligent baseball minds I’ve ever been around. And he’s young.”

Leichman said his strength is “helping guys get better. Communicating with them. Being able to relate to them. Getting on their level. Simplifying it for them. And being creative and finding ways to throw more strikes.”

Despite the surgeries, Leichman could still pitch, if he did it sparingly. He joined Israel’s World Baseball Classic teams of 2012, 2016 and 2017 as a player or coach; pitched for the European Baseball Championship team in 2019; threw in the Olympic qualifying tournaments in 2019; and hurled one perfect inning against Team USA at the Olympics in 2021 in Tokyo. Along the way, he also earned a black belt in jujitsu.

But coaching was his future, and after being given a chance in 2017 to instruct in the Seattle Mariners farm system, Leichman kept moving up, from Single A to Double AA to Triple AAA, before being grabbed by the Reds to join their major league staff this season.

His father is overwhelmed. “It’s unbelievable,” David Leichman said. “I’m still shaking and crying to myself about how wonderful this has been. It’s really amazing.”

Alon is no less shell-shocked, having agreed to sign a contract with the Reds on the same day the New York Mets asked to interview him about a potential job.

“It’s not really sinking in yet, to be honest,” he said while in Israel recently to visit his family on Gezer. “But it’s definitely a dream come true, something I’ve been dreaming about since I’m a little kid. Obviously, I wanted to be there as a player, but once I got hurt and realized that playing was not an option anymore, I started pursuing coaching. I wanted to do it at the highest level. The dream remained; it just took a different route. But it’s still as exciting.”

Leichman is still undecided on whether to join Team Israel’s coaching staff in Florida for the WBC in March before heading back to Goodyear, Arizona, to rejoin the Reds in spring training. But this product of the wheat fields of Gezer won’t ever forget from where he’s come: His uniform numeral, 29, is a constant reminder. It’s his laundry tag number at the kibbutz.

The post Wild pitch: How an Israeli kibbutznik became a Cincinnati Reds pitching coach 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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