As some of you may have heard, some major league baseball players are getting together to organize Israel's first professional baseball teams. Israel currently has two professional sports: basketball and soccer (called football here, in the European tradition; what American's call football is called "American football").
Israel's history with sports is rather up and down.
Historically, Jews and sports didn't mix well, stemming from their refusal to take part in the ancient Greek sports games that required participation in the nude, and generally represented a heathen pastime and hero-worship. In the twentieth century, Jews managed to overcome that old association, and I'm sure many of you can list famous Jewish sports players in almost all disciplines, from Sandy Koufax to Al Singer to Mark Spitz.
Despite Israel's fascination with American culture, it follows European culture more closely. As such, it competes in the annual Eurovision song competition, and is also consumed with soccer fanaticism.
Israeli's soccer and basketball teams compete at a very high level, both within Israel and around Europe.
The fact that many soccer teams in Israel take their name from the Maccabees, the zealous Jews who fought against the Greek sports culture, is rather ironic.
Israel also has a long history of triumphs and disasters at the Olympics, the high being a silver medal in Judo by Yael Arad in 1992, and the low being the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Israel hosts the Jewish equivalent of the Olympics, the Maccabiah, every four years, which has had its own share of triumphs and disasters.
English speaking immigrants have brought their own sports to Israel, but up until now only in a minor way, such as the American Touch Football League in Israel, which is played by teams sponsored by American-sympathetic local businesses. Equivalents exist for softball, cricket, rugby, Frisbee, and so on.
For more detailed information, please see this excellent overview.
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