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Jews in the Gym

Judaism, Sports, and Athletics -SJC Vol. 23

edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon

Publication Year: 2012

For some, the connection between Jews and athletics might seem far-fetched. But in fact, as is highlighted by the fourteen chapters in this collection, Jews have been participating in—and thinking about—sports for more than two thousand years. The articles in this volume scan a wide chronological range: from the Hellenistic period (first century BCE) to the most recent basketball season. The range of athletes covered is equally broad: from participants in Roman-style games to wrestlers, boxers, fencers, baseball players, and basketball stars. The authors of these essays, many of whom actively participate in athletics themselves, raise a number of intriguing questions, such as: What differing attitudes toward sports have Jews exhibited across periods and cultures? Is it possible to be a “good Jew” and a “great athlete”? In what sports have Jews excelled, and why? How have Jews overcome prejudices on the part of the general populace against a Jewish presence on the field or in the ring? In what ways has Jewish participation in sports aided, or failed to aid, the perception of Jews as “good Germans,” “good Hungarians,” “good Americans,” and so forth? This volume, which features a number of illustrations (many of them quite rare), is not only accessible to the general reader, but also contains much information of interest to the scholar in Jewish studies, American studies, and sports history.

Published by: Purdue University Press

Front Cover

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Front Matter

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Table of Contents

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pp. vi-vii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. viii-ix

The Twenty-Third Annual Klutznick-Harris Symposium took place on October 24 and October 25, 2010, in Omaha, Nebraska. The title of the Symposium, from which this volume also takes its title, is “Jews in the Gym: Judaism, Sports, and Athletics.” ...

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Editor's Introduction, Contributors

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pp. x-xvi

Okay, so I’m not a sports fan. But even I have a sports-related memory involving a Jewish athlete. This is what I remember: it was the summer of 1965, and I was still a teenager. Somehow or other, I was in New York City, with a choice: go to the World’s Fair or go see Sandy Koufax pitch. ...

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Playing Roman in Jerusalem: Jewish Attitudes toward Sport and Spectacle during the Second Temple Period

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pp. 1-24

Under the rule of the first few Roman emperors, games and spectacles, whether performances of comedy, tragedy, mime, or musical competitions in the theater, horse and chariot races held in the Roman circus, the Greekstyle athletic competitions of the stadium or gladiatorial bouts or beast fights staged in the arena, ...

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Sports and the Graphic Novel from Diaspora to Diaspora: James Strum’s The Golem’s Mighty Swing and JT Waldman’s Megillat Esther in the Tree of Contexts

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pp. 25-52

At first glance, James Strum’s 2001 The Golem’s Mighty Swing and JT Waldman’s 2006 Megillat Esther would seem to have little in common aside from the fact that they are both graphic novels. Strum creates a story ex nihilo, a fiction based on a range of interlocking historical realities. ...

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The Jew in the Gym: Judaism, Sports, and Athletics on Film

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pp. 53-64

As the above joke from Airplane (dirs. Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, 1980) demonstrates, it has long been a tenet of Jewish humor that Jews do not do sports. In The Hebrew Hammer (dir. Jonathan Kesselman, 2003), for example, members of “the Coalition of Jewish Athletes” are, entirely predictably, nowhere to be seen. ...

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Is Life a Game? Athletic Competition as a Metaphor for the Meaning of Life

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pp. 65-78

Our American culture is completely immersed with sports. Our very language is imbued with terminology either derived from or associated with sports. These terms are used in almost every field of human activity. As an example of this immersion, consider the words written by columnist Nicholas Kristof: ...

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The Jewish Athlete of Faith: On the Limits of Sport

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pp. 79-96

The subject of this essay speaks to my deep involvement in sport personally and professionally, and to a way of life that guides and influences me every day. The meaning, character, and nature of being a contemporary person of faith, and the perspective I will be discussing, derive from a modern Orthodox Jewish viewpoint ...

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Antisemitism and Sport in Central Europe and the United States c. 1870-1932

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pp. 97-124

Historians on both sides of the Atlantic have become increasingly interested in Jewish participation in sport in the early twentieth century, exploring their motivation, uncovering evidence of Jewish participation, and documenting antisemitism. One of the most famous episodes of antisemitism occurred in Russia in 1890, ...

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Cutting the Way into the Nation: Hungarian Jewish Olympians in the Interwar Era

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pp. 125-176

Hungary lost roughly two-thirds of its territory and population, including nearly half of her Jews, with the Trianon Treaty of 1920.1 In the ranks of the vanquished Austro-Hungarian Army, the rate of Jews was lower than their share in the population of the monarchy; 300,000 Jews, including 25,000 officers, ...

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Grappling with Ghosts: Jewish Wrestlers and Antisemitism

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pp. 177-188

This paper traces the influence of Jewish wrestlers on their sport from the late 1920s to the present. Using methods of memoir, historical reconstruction, and archival research, we focus on the careers of four Jewish wrestlers who gained prominence in wrestling in the twentieth century: Fred Oberlander wrestled ...

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Sporting a Nation: The Origins of Athleticism in Modern Israel

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pp. 189-196

Annually, in celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, a poster is selected to symbolize the country. The widely disseminated choice addresses different themes and topics each year. In 2004, the Independence Day poster in honor of Israel’s fifty-sixth year of statehood was dedicated to sports with the byline: ...

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Gyms and the Academy: Professional and Personal Reflections on Stepping Up to the Scholarly Plate

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pp. 197-212

The serious study of the Jewish sports experience in the United States had great difficulties getting out of its starting blocks. Historiographical traditions of apologetics and self-congratulation weighed down scholarly considerations of the Jews in the American gym. Emblematic of why Jews wrote so defensively ...

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Jewish Women in the American Gym: Basketball, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 213-238

Basketball for Jewish women, generally neglected by historians of American sport and women, and Jewish sport history scholars, represents a topic of considerable importance in understanding historical experiences of Jews in the gym. In the early twentieth century Jewish women played basketball at settlement houses, ...

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From Benny Leonard to Abi Olajuwon: Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals, and the Evolving Religious Challenges of being an American Athlete

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pp. 239-262

It is a truism of the immigration process into the United States in the early twentieth century that successful participation in sports presented itself as a way into the American mainstream. Not only was the American passion for sports surging toward an obsessive popularity that has continued until our own time, ...

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Buster Haywood and the Jews of Black Baseball

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pp. 263-274

When I began to research Jewish participation in black baseball,2 I assumed I would be writing primarily about Syd Pollock, Abe Saperstein, and Ed Gottlieb, the white Jewish owners and promoters of Negro League teams, and the Jewish communist sportswriters who fought for baseball’s integration. ...

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A Global Game: Omri Casspi and the Future of Jewish Ballers

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pp. 275-289

One of the more hyped and media saturated stories of the 2009-2010 NBA season was the arrival of Omri Casspi, a rookie with the Sacramento Kings. Treated like a “rock star”1 and receiving tremendous fan support throughout the league, Casspi’s Israeli/Jewish identity has been placed front and center. ...


E-ISBN-13: 9781612492391
E-ISBN-10: 1612492398
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557536297
Print-ISBN-10: 1557536295

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Studies in Jewish Civilization
Series Editor Byline: Leonard J. Greenspoon