Brother Peter Kurz (Honorary)

In an article for the Jerusalem Post, Stewart Weiss, the director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana, wrote, “Baseball is the only major sport that does not have a clock, and so there is no time limit as to how long the game will take to play. In a sense, then, baseball – like Judaism – is endless; it goes on and on. As my father before me was a baseball fan, so am I and so are my children. For how can we not be? It’s tradition!”

Brother Peter Kurz (Honorary), in his role as the General Manager of Israel’s Olympic and National baseball teams, is creating a new baseball tradition in Israel. “About 25 years ago, when I first got involved in Israeli baseball, it was nothing…a few hundred people – mostly American immigrants and their children — and a sandlot field.” From this, Brother Kurz has helped to build a lasting legacy — and tradition — of Israeli baseball.

A native New Yorker, Brother Kurz’ parents met shortly after World War II while his father was working for the Jewish Agency in Italy, helping Jews get out of Europe to get to Israel. While the rest of his family moved to Israel, Peter’s father stayed in Israel and married his mother, a Hungarian immigrant. A few years later, the family moved to New York.

“We would go to Israel regularly when I was young to visit family but the trip I remember most clearly was in 1967, when I was 10 years old. That was just two weeks after the Six Day War, and I stayed the whole summer. Israel was in euphoria. We went to Jerusalem, to Ramallah, to Bethlehem, to all the places there…It was a real, an Israel that thought three weeks before that they would be annihilated was all the sudden triple in size. So that’s where my love for Israel came in and my Zionism grew.”

And then, two years later, another miracle. “Seeing the Miracle Mets in 1969 win the World Series was just as miraculous to me!”

After graduating from SUNY Purchase in suburban Westchester, New York, Brother Kurz traveled for some time and ended up back in Israel where he got his master’s degree and met his wife. “We came back to the states for about five years and both of our sons were born there but we decided to return to Israel.” He began a career in business, but baseball quickly became his life.

“My son was nine or ten years old, and he was playing on one of those sandlot fields in Israel and after one practice, the coach came to me and said, ‘Listen, I need some help. You want to help me?” And I said, I don’t know anything about baseball. I played softball growing up in Manhattan. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, you know more than these kids.” A month later, the coach moved to northern Israel and put Peter in charge. That coach was president of the Israeli Baseball Association and got Peter involved in the national team.

“Like three months after that, he came to me and told me that he wants me to take a national team of 10-year-olds overseas. He told me, ‘Just make sure the same 15 kids you take are the same 15 kids you bring back.” With a 19-year-old IDF soldier with a baseball background as a coach and assistant, the team went to Holland in 1998 where they promptly lost every game. “We came in last place, but it was a lot of fun.”

“That was the start of getting involved in Israeli baseball. I served on the board of directors became the national team manager and general manager. I became the president of Israel Baseball but stepped down to focus on the Olympics and serving as the General Manager of that effort.” In his role as GM, Brother Kurz is responsible for finding and selecting the players.

Brother Kurz is currently getting the Israeli squad together for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) to be played in March in venues in Taiwan, Tokyo, Miami (FL) and Phoenix (AZ). The Israeli team will be based in Jupiter, Florida.

“This is our third World Baseball Classic. We were there in 2016-17and in 2012. It’s different than the Olympics because the rules say that the players have to be eligible for citizenship from the country you are playing for. This means we can open it up and find Jewish American players. During the Olympics, our players must all hold a passport and that is a little more restrictive.”

In 2016, the Israeli team won a qualifier tournament in Brooklyn to become the last team to make the January 2017 WBC tournament in Korea. “ESPN kept calling us the Jamaican Bobsled team, but we defeated Korea and Taiwan in the first two games and ended up in first place after the first round.” After beating the Cuban national team, the Israeli squad lost its final two games to finish the tournament in fifth place.

“Before we went to Korea, we took 10 of the players to Israel for a 10-day whirlwind tour. They made a documentary of that team called Heading Home (available on Amazon Prime but you can view the trailer here) and it really told the story.” Those same documentarians have produced a new film about Israel’s 2020 Olympic baseball team. “Israel Swings for Gold” recently premiered at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

The 2021 WBC was delayed two years due to COVID and, this year, Brother Kurz asked Major League Baseball to keep his team in the U.S., if possible. “We got to play in Miami but we’re in a group with some very tough teams like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. We got to stay in the U.S., but we are in the ‘Group of Death.’ Hopefully, they will beat each other up and we can make it into the second round.”

Brother Kurz first became aware of AEPi when a group of alumni raised money to build a field in Ra’anana in memory of Ezra Schwartz, a Boston-area teen who was tragically killed in a 2015 terrorist attack while attending a post high-school program in Israel. Schwartz was planning to attend Rutgers University and hoped to join AEPi. In a moving ceremony on April 30, 2017, AEPi inducted Ezra’s father, Ari, as a Brother and Ezra as an honorary Brother.

“At the dedication of that field is where I first heard of AEPi and met Andy Borans (former AEPi CEO). I think that at least two of the guys on our Board of Directors are AEPi Brothers, too. Andy Borans asked me to come to your convention in 2018 in Arizona to speak. At that meeting, he asked me to become a Brother and I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’ The only thing I knew about fraternities was from Animal House but so far its been pretty tame. I was officially initiated last year at a ceremony in Jerusalem.”

“I know that there will be a lot of AEPis who are going to come to the games in Miami and I hope we can organize something together with the team. We are playing an exhibition against the Washington Nationals on March 9 in West Palm Beach, and I am hoping to have a fundraiser there for the team and our project to continue to improve the fields in Israel. The field dedicated to Ezra is used a lot now and we’re trying to raise money to put in lights. We’ve already gotten a lot of the money in but we still have more to go.”

More and more kids are playing baseball in Israel, hoping to grow up to be major leaguers or, at least, have a shot at the Israeli National team. The sport is definitely becoming more popular. “Because of our success at the Olympics, we will be hosting of the 2025 European Baseball Championships in Israel. It will be in September, just before the holidays. Sixteen of the best teams from Europe, will be playing for 12 days in Israel. So, we have to raise a lot of money for that.”

“I hope my AEPi Brothers can come out to cheer us on in Miami and help us continue to build baseball in Israel.”

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