Debunking Myth of the Unathletic Jew

From Izzy Fayerman to Ali Raisman, We're Pretty Sporty

Golden Mensch: We all know Aly Raisman, but how about Yasmin Feingold?
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Golden Mensch: We all know Aly Raisman, but how about Yasmin Feingold?

By Gerald Eskenazi

Published October 22, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
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I would not say I’ve become jaded, but I thought I had heard enough (and written enough) about Sandy Koufax not pitching on Yom Kippur. I knew the stories about Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen and those other outstanding Jewish ballplayers.

And then one day, in the mail recently, I got a 24-page publication called Jewish Sports Review. I immediately thought of that old joke about the shortest books in the English language — you know, the list that includes “Jewish Sports Stars.”

But I opened the Kindle-sized publication, and there was a picture of Izzy Fayerman. Who knew that Potsdam College’s women’s hockey team had a freshman forward named Izzy? Or that Amherst College’s men’s lacrosse squad had a junior named Danny Gold?

But wait. I learned that Yasmin Feingold (you know, Israel’s great oarswoman) was trapped under her boat after it capsized in the Yarkon River, but a 60-year-old bystander who “leaped into the polluted water” saved her.

On and on it went: badminton stars, ice skaters, fencers, sailors. If you are a sports fan and always wondered, “Is this person Jewish?” then this is the publication for you — six times a year, at that.

I don’t know why there’s the myth of the unathletic Jew. After all, in the old countries we were often laborers just as we were store owners. Every Jewish community had its soccer teams. And when Israel was created, the glamour of farm life, of kibbutz living, seemed attractive to me, a 12-year-old who had never lifted a hoe or a hammer in Brooklyn.

Yet, while Jews have been 2% of the American population for many years, we never really got above 1% of those who played professional sports. Then again, the numbers assuredly are top-heavy for those who went into such professions as medicine, law and education; if not, maybe more would have become running backs or shortstops or point guards for a living. Maybe.

Still, we are endlessly fascinated by stories of Jews who play sports and play them well. (Say, did you know Ari Ronick of the Richmond Flying Squirrels of the Class AA Eastern League was moved up after posting a 3–1 won-lost record?)


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