Veteran filmmaker Jeremy Newberger says his latest documentary happened almost by accident. Good timing, an abundance of preparations and a confluence of events helped make “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” a reality, he says.
The 87-minute film tells the David-and-Goliath story of Israel’s national baseball team while competing for the first time in the World Baseball Classic of 2017. With a roster including many Jewish-American Major League Baseball players – such as Ike Davis, Josh Zeid and ex-Braves catcher Ryan Lavarnway — the team made sports history and won the hearts of Jews around the world.
“Heading Home,” which was released last year, will be screened on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Hillel Lounge at Newell Dining Hall at Towson University. The screening will be hosted by Towson Hillel and the Jewish Tigers Alumni Alliance.
“This movie has great religious, social and spiritual elements, and seems like a great way to engage the school community,” says Towson Hillel executive director Lisa Bodziner. “It really goes a long way to following the mission we’ve set out through Hillel.”
Newberger says he — along with co-directors Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller, who head the Garrison, N.Y.-based Ironbound Films company — were approached several years ago by MLB.com reporter Jonathan Mayo about producing a documentary following a group of Jewish baseball players on their first trip to Israel. Mayo was a Jewish summer camp friend of the filmmakers.
Initially, Newberger, Kramer and Miller liked the concept but were not certain of its appeal to the general masses. That all changed in late 2016 when many of the players selected for the film project tried out for Team Israel to qualify for the WBC. At the time, Team Israel ranked 41st in the world, but somehow defied the odds and qualified for the 16-team field.
The filmmakers were then able to raise funds to follow the team on its first trip to Israel in January of 2017, just two months before the tournament. As Team Israel’s fame grew, Newberger says that Ironbound Films had no problem crowdsourcing the remaining funding for the project on Kickstarter to follow the Israeli team to the tournament in Seoul.
“We really stumbled into this documentary,” says Newberger, 46, a New York native. “We wanted to collaborate with [Mayo] for a Jewish baseball project. When Team Israel qualified for the World Baseball Classic, the story told itself. Having the players’ interviews on their trip to Israel made it even more special.”
Team Israel kicked off the round-robin WBC with wins over South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. They then advanced to the second round in Japan, where Team Israel defeated Cuba before losing to the Netherlands and Japan.
Team Israel – whose roster included current Orioles pitcher Richard Bleier and Dean Kremer, an Israeli-American pitching for the Orioles’ Triple-A team in Norfolk, Va. — qualified for the 2021 World Baseball Classic, thanks to their performance in 2017.
Since its release, “Heading Home” has won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2018 Gold Coast International Film Festival, the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2018 Washington Jewish Film Festival, and the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2018 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.
“This documentary was as much a spiritual film as it was a sports one,” Newberger says. “Many of these Jewish-American players had a tenuous relationship with Judaism at best prior to this experience. We also wanted to accomplish the goal of showing others how young Jewish kids connected through baseball.”
The Towson screening of “Heading Home” is free and open to students and the general public. Ballgame food will be provided at the event. For information or reservations, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ron Snyder is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.