Israel Swings for Gold is, ostensibly, about the unlikely success of Israel’s national baseball team in the 2020 Olympics. On its surface, this documentary about how a country that was ranked 24th in the world fielded one of only six teams chosen to participate in the competition for a gold medal in baseball during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But just beneath the surface, this inspiring production has much to say about national pride, Jewish identity and the power of sport to transform our lives.
Much of the film is taken from video recordings made in the athletes’ Olympic Village at key moments during the competition. Security was extremely tight in the compound and outside documentary crews were banned from where the team was housed. To make up for the limited access, the producers of the film gave each member of the team a small Canon home video camera to record their reactions to what they were experiencing.
Watching the film gives an intimate glimpse into both the jubilant thrill of victory and the agonizing emotions of defeat. The sense of imminent drama is never far from the players’ thoughts, from moment to moment as they compete for both Olympic glory and a place in the firmament of Jewish sporting history.
The film is also a look back at how far Israel has come since the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes who were taken hostage at the Olympics in Munich. All of them later died in a bungled German attempt to rescue them. In the 2020 Games, for the first time since those tragic events, the International Olympic Committee, after 50 years of prodding agreed to a moment of silence during the Opening Ceremonies.
Also, for the first time since the Munich tragedy, the Israeli flag was used by the 2020 team to mark their Olympic Village living quarters.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, the late Chief Rabbi of Britain reminds us in this film, “no Jew, who is a true Jew, can ever give up hope.”