Baseball and eligible Jewish bachelors: an interview with Jeremy Newberger

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

The Jewish International Film Fest of Greater Binghamton has arranged a virtual showing of the film “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel.” Director Jeremy Newberger will lead a discussion of the film on Monday, June 8, at 7 pm. For more information, see the article in this issue. 
It was clear to Jeremy Newberger, one of the directors of “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” that the film would be popular at Jewish film festivals. “Team Israel represents the most eligible group of young Jewish men ever assembled,” he noted in an e-mail interview. “We were not worried that it wouldn’t play well to Jewish audiences.” 
Newberger and his filmmaking partners, Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller, at Ironbound Films decided to make the film after being approached by an old friend. “An old Jewish sleepaway camp friend, Jonathan Mayo, is now a reporter for Major League Baseball,” Newberger said. “He pitched us the idea of making a film about taking Jewish baseball players on their first trip to Israel.” 
However, arranging financing for the film was not easy. “All the available players were barely known minor leaguers, so it was difficult to raise money for the film,” he said. “As luck would have it, these same players helped Israel qualify for the World Baseball Classic in 2016 [which was held in 2017]. They catalyzed a worldwide fan base and also interest in a movie about the team.”
Other difficulties arose, including getting permission to attend the World Baseball Classic games. Newberger noted, “The hardest part of making [the film] was gaining access to events around the World Baseball Classic, which is run by the notoriously restrictive Major League Baseball.” Other parts were easier: “Making the players’ huge personalities shine on camera,” he noted was not a problem. 
The Japanese reaction to the team mascot was unexpected. “Among the many funny things that happened while making ‘Heading Home’ was filming the team’s mascot, The Mensch on a Bench, in different locations around Tokyo,” Newberger said. “It turns out that the Japanese love oversized children’s toys, even when dressed as pious Jews from Eastern Europe in the 1800s.” 
On his Twitter account, @jeremynewberger, Newberger calls himself a political satirist, although he also sees satire as playing a role in other parts of his life. “My satire, that’s just an extension of the nonstop vaudeville routine between me and my two filmmaking partners, Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller,” he said. “We aspire to be the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker of documentary. All our films make people laugh, if not by the content than at least by our Q&A shtick.” 
Newberger noted that “Heading Home” is now available on all streaming platforms, DVD and Blu-ray. “If you know anyone who misses baseball and/or contact with other Jews, please have them visit the website, www.menemshafilms. com/heading-home,” he said.