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Blue Jays fans in Israel are coming together

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The Segal children. From left, Yaakov, Ilana, Mikaela, and Avi

In Modi’in, an affluent community 35 km southeast of Tel Aviv and 30 km west of Jerusalem, a car is parked on the side of a busy road, a blue flag protruding from a rear window.

It’s not the flag of Israel, however. It’s a Toronto Blue Jays banner.

With an estimated population of more than 75,000, Modi’in has a large contingent of Canadian, American and other English-speaking olim who have settled there.

One such family includes Toronto-born Ernest Segal, his Montrealer wife, and their four children. According to Segal, 45, the family is mixed when it comes to certain sports teams – his wife and one of his sons are Montreal Canadiens fans for example – but they’re all in agreement when it comes to the Blue Jays.

“We are a family of Blue Jays fans,” Segal said by phone from Israel. “This summer, we came back to Toronto, so I made sure we went to a bunch of games.”

Thanks to MLB TV, which you can livestream via the Internet, being a Jays fan in Israel is easier than you’d think. And with the playoffs, Canadian olim have also “#ComeTOgether,” to use the slogan and hashtag associated with the Jays’ playoff run, despite being 9,263 km away.

For Game 1 of the Blue Jays-Rangers American League Division Series (ALDS), Segal hosted a party for his family and other Torontonians in the area to watch the game. The seven-hour time difference wasn’t even that much of a problem, with the game starting at 3:37 p.m. EST.

“We had barbecue, drank beers, and watched the game. Though they lost, word still got around the community, and we’re expecting even more people for our Game 2 barbecue against Kansas,” Segal told The CJN ahead of the Oct. 16 American League Championship Series (ALCS) matchup.

Due to the time difference, living in Israel actually makes it easier for religious Jews to watch Saturday games.

“I’m shomer Shabbat so in Toronto I can’t watch games that start at 1 p.m. or 4 p.m.,” explained Meir Balofsky, a fellow Toronto expat who lives in Ramat Gan. “But here I can.”

Which meant he won’t have to miss Game 2 of the ALCS, and thanks to social media, “it feels like you’re cheering along with friends and family from all over the world,” he added.

Twenty-five-year-old Leah Shaki, who made aliyah earlier this year, reiterated his sentiments. “It’s not easy being away from all of the action but through social media, I’m able to live vicariously through my friends and family which definitely makes it easier to feel connected to the Jays while being so far away.”

An avid sports fan, Balofsky said the Blue Jays were his “first true sports love.” In fact, despite his living in Israel since 2004, he’s attended at least one game per season since 1979.

While baseball is not yet mainstream in Israel, it is becoming more popular, particularly in Modi’in, which had a team in the Israel Baseball League, a six-squad pro circuit that played for one season in 2007.

“There’s a family from Texas here, and there’s been a lot of trash talking in shul,” Segal says. “There’s a family from Kansas, too, so that has definitely continued.”

As for the Blue Jays flag on Segal’s car, while most Israelis don’t recognize it, a woman did honk at his wife, Aviva, while she was driving. “I haven’t seen that in 20 years, since I lived in Toronto!” she told her.

Coincidentally, after the Jays’ historic Game 5 win on Oct. 14, Balofsky walked into a store in Givatayim wearing a Blue Jays hat and the store owner yelled at him, “Did you see the game?!”

“He went off about Jose Bautista and his home run, and was clearly not North American by any stretch,” he said.

Twenty-four-year-old Leor Mann, who made aliyah from Toronto in 2013 and joined the IDF a year later, said the first thing he did when he moved to Israel was purchase MLB TV and the MLB at Bat app. “There is no Sportsnet or TSN here, and the only sports shown on TV are soccer and basketball,” he said.

Mann said that he “prays” for afternoon games. “I watched every game of the Texas series, though I did fall asleep during Game 3, which started at 3 a.m. here.”

Having been born in 1991, Mann has “no memory” of the Jays’ back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.

“My father was at the game when Joe Carter ‘touched them all’ [in 1993] and has had a huge influence on my love of the game. In extraordinary fashion, Bautista has supplied my generation’s Joe Carter moment. I can only hope this continues to the World Series.”

Amen.

For fellow Blue Jays fans living in Israel, Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv will reportedly be broadcasting the World Series, at least. If you’re in, or around, Modi’in, you may want to befriend the Segals.