Wonder of Wonders: Our Review Of ‘Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 22, 2019
Wonder of Wonders: Our Review Of ‘Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel’

The sign of a truly strong documentary is that it can engage with an audience that is not already predisposed to be interested in the film’s subject matter. Such is the case with Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, a doc that chronicles the events of Team Israel and its first time competing in the World Baseball Classic in 2017.

Admittedly, I have never been a big fan of professional baseball, and, prior to this film, was unaware of the World Baseball Classic itself.

Directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger wisely choose to let their subjects’ (ballplayers Corey Baker, Jeremy Bleich, Cody Decker, Sam Fuld, Ty Kelly, and Ryan Lavarnway, among others) personalities take centre-stage, giving the audience a group of guys that are affable, funny and humble gentlemen that one can’t help but be endeared to.

No, these men are not Israeli. Rather, they are Jewish-American athletes that, due to their heritage, qualify to play for Team Israel. Some of them played in the MLB, many of them are older and perhaps past their prime, but the joy they find in playing for their ancestral home is thoroughly infectious.

We see the team visiting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (many of them for the first time), and reconnecting with their roots in rather profound ways. We also see the team glad-handing with children at the ballpark – whom – because Israel does not have an MLB team – are sporting gear of the Mets, Yankees, and even my hometown Blue Jays.

Further, there are moments where the subjects of the film reconnect with their (in some cases estranged) Jewish roots; praying at the Wailing Wall, or visiting heritage sites. There is a moment when one player asks a Palestinian man living in Jerusalem if he could root for Team Israel. The man he says he cannot: a subtle, yet powerful look into the ongoing conflict that plagues the Middle East.

The only big problem with the film is that the directors do not highlight the stakes at the end of the competition. We see a game between Israel and (as I recall) the Netherlands. It is not made clear that this game is the make-or-break for Team Israel, and thus, the stakes come across as an afterthought.

One could argue that these players, being American-born Jews and not Israelis are not true Israeli ballplayers. This concept is indeed brought up in the film, and one of the players has an incredibly profound response to that criticism, suggesting that this team is simply laying the groundwork for hometown kids to take over the mantle. It’s a beautiful, inspiring moment.

And the team’s mascot, the Mensch on the Bench is just the best. Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel is a very entertaining documentary that can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys a good underdog story.

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