Ladies and Gentiles, Jews, Buddhist Hermaphrodites, Babies, all Animals you think of when you think of the forrest, unite, if only for this brief peaceful moment together. I, King of All Jewish Baseball, proudly introduce to you, David “Leich Cream” Leichman, from this day forward known always and forever exclusively as… THE KING OF ALL JEWISH ICE CREAM.
David is from Queens originally. He is left handed. And his name… is David. I mention these 3 things because everyone in israel is from Queens, is left handed, and is named David. I’ve noticed a disproportionate number of lefties here in Israel and in the GREAT SECRET WORLDWIDE JEWISH COMMUNITY in general. This is most certainly a result of generations of careful use of our left hands in chiseling commandments and shoe making, and, of course, inbreeding. Even as I now lay here on my endless purple velvet carpet, receiving my afternoon massage, listening to live whale calls, per usual, there’s a garbage bag of lefty gloves in the trunk of my car to give to kids, and I’m scrambling for more. My own father is from New York, and is left handed, but was for some reason named Jerome, not David, and never moved to Israel. But I digress, point is, all of these things make David a prototypical American Israeli, except for 1 thing, 2 things, actually, 2 things that make him of certain interest to us here, 1) HE MAKES AMAZING FUCKING ICE CREAM, and 2) He built the first baseball field in Israel. So stick with me as, using only the power handed down to me from a long line of Jewish Baseball Magicians, and the internet, and the voice recorder on my phone, of course, I weave these two seemingly separate threads together into a single king-sized literary silk sheet. We’ll start with the Ice Cream.
It appears, in hind site, considering the photo above, that David was certain to become the Greatest Jewish Ice Cream Maker of All Time, and, somewhat less, maybe even to be the wizard responsible for building the first baseball field in Israel. But he didn’t know it at the time, the poison of the present, the disguise of destiny. He was just a kid. And like all kids in New York City at the time, he liked ice cream, and baseball. By the time he was in Middle School, David was eating three ice cream sandwiches every day for lunch.
In 1974, a friend gave David his first ice cream machine, a simple wooden bucket with a silver crank on the side that had come from Vermont. David moved to Berkley. He took his machine with him. He met a man with an Ice Cream Shop named Old Uncle Gaylord who taught him how to use the machine. David moved to Israel to live and work on a kibbutz. He took his machine with him again.
By 1982, David was living with the group he had moved with from California on Kibbutz Gezer. They were Israeli now. They worked the fields. They were tan and strong. They spoke Hebrew. But one thing did not change, they still loved baseball, and they would all get together once a week to play on a semi-flat, dry, cracked piece of land between houses on the Kibbutz.
All around the country, on weekends, on shabbat, Americans who had moved here to live and work started gathering to play baseball and softball. Finally, Ed Friedman, long time Director of the Israel Softball Association, contacted American journalists in Tel Aviv who also played and they ran an ad for players. It said, “JOE DIMAGGIO, WHERE ARE YOU?”, and like that, baseball and softball were born in Israel. It was the first effort towards organized teams here. There was one problem, it is the same problem we still have. There were no fields.
David, like all of us, was a bit lost at times when he moved here. He was a New Yorker. He said in our interview he needed two things to orient himself. He needed a land mark, a place to hang out and meet friends. He had come from a grid, a land of 90 degree angles, a place where you could exactly locate someone with a street name and cross street. And now he how was living on open land. What he needed was a corner. And he needed a baseball field. After years of working as the chef on the kibbutz, he was now the head of building, and he was in a position to make it happen.
David took a tractor and started flattening a smallish plot of land near where they had their weekly games. At the same time, a man named Velvl Lehr (No, that is not a typo, just a great name), back in New York, who David did not know, died. And the fortune of baseball in Israel was forever effected.
Velvl loved Israel, and baseball. He was involved with an organization called “Habonim” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habonim_Dror), which translates to “The Builders”. Someone who knew Velvl knew David, and knew David was building the field at Kibbutz Gezer. One day when he was on the tractor, the phone in the kibbutz office rang for David. The office manager came out to the field. David climbed off the tractor and rode his bike to the office while the person on the other end did what is now unthinkable, they waited patiently. The caller told David that in honor of Velvl, Habonim would like to make a donation of 30,000 dollars to the project. David was now able to add grass and a backstop to his field, and he and the Kibbutz named the field “Hombo”, short for Habonim.
David is an ice cream genius, a baseball fan, and an activist extraordinaire. By 1997, through charitable work, he had created a relationship between two sister cities. In America, Kansas City. And in Israel, Ramla, a mixed, predominantly Arab city 15 minutes from Kibbutz Gezer. Two places that have nothing in common, besides that they are both cities. David needed money to maintain and improve the field for the upcoming Maccabi Games. The Jewish Federation in Kansas City said they could do better than money. They would introduce David to George Toma, head groundkeeper for the Royals and Chiefs.
As far as groundskeepers go, George Toma is the one, the King of Non-Jewish Field Maintenance, if you will, the “Nitty Gritty Dirt Man”, as he is known, and the title of his book. Toma has supervised the field preparation for every Super Bowl since 1981. He is in the Baseball and Football Hall of Fame. David went to Kansas City to meet Toma, and later that year, George Toma, legend, was living and working at Kibbutz Gezer for 2 weeks. They shipped in dirt from all over the country, Toma mixing the dirt, sniffing it, adding a little of this, a little of that, getting the right mixture, texture, density, smoothness, a dirt chef, David doing the same with the ice cream they’d share at his home at the end of the day.
All of this history, of course, pre-dates me, for I am very young, pre-history, if you will, BKOJBE (Before King of Jewish Baseball Era). I was 2 when the field was built. I was 17 when Toma renovated the field, somewhere playing on the groomed ball fields of Northeastern Ohio. It was not until many years later, in 2007, that I played my first game at Gezer. It was the summer of the IBL, the Israel Baseball League, the first and only season of the first and still only pro baseball league in the Middle East. I was playing 3rd base for the Tel Aviv lightning. We played about 20 games at Gezer. There were good hops, and bad hops, hard spots, and soft spots, fans, and no fans. There was a light pole in play in right field and a warning track that cut through the middle of the outfield. We complained about the field. Since, I have been to Gezer almost every summer, for camps, to coach, to play. I was there Thursday to interview David and eat Leich Cream, and I will be going back there Tuesday of next week for our “Succot Baseball Clinics”. After 30 years, Hombo Field at Kibbutz Gezer is still 1 of just 3 fields we have in the country.
Last week, after 40 years of using his wooden bucket to make his ice cream, after 40 years of doing the old fashioned way, land lines and tractors, one scoop at a time, having people come into his home to try the ice cream, David bought a powerful home machine, an industrial strength monster of modern ice cream making technology. It will make his life easier, and his ice cream better.
And David is writing down recipes for the first time. That’s right, Ladies and Geetles, The King of Jewish Ice Cream is goin’ commercial, selling out! He says it will only take him 20 more years to perfect his new machine and his product. Then he will stop.
Until then, David, we move onward and forward, together, through the parallel universes of Jewish Baseball, and Jewish Ice Cream.
There is still not a corner at Kibbutz Gezer.