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Book Review - Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame

While this isn't normally the kind of book we review here, it is an interesting read and it's about SPORTS.  The following book review is a special for Blackfive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link on the far right sidebar.

9781455516131_p0_v1_s260x420Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame is a collection of essays compiled and edited by Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy of The New Republic magazine. It’s a portrait of fifty Jewish individuals and the role that they played in sports. This compilation is about Jews from different areas of the world, and playing different sports, that also include executives and coaches.

Tracy commented, “Franklin Foer and I are big sports fans who identify with our Jewishness, and are also fans of good writing. There was the realization that this book could be a way to gather great writers, most who were Jewish, but were not professional sports writers; yet, loved sports. I am talking about big names such as: David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, Simon Schama, a superstar English historian who wrote about the boxer Daniel Mendoza, Mark Leiborvich, of the New York Times, and Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary, who wrote about Harold Solomon, the tennis player.”

The athletes chosen included a range of players from Bobby Fischer to Sandy Koufax. Fischer was born and raised Jewish; yet, later in his life he hated his own people by becoming an Anti-Semite. There was also the discussion about Sid Luckman and Benny Friedman, who pioneered the game of football while playing for their respective teams, the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants. They revolutionized football with the forward pass, and having the quarterback as the superstar. Rich Cohen stated in the essay about these two players, “It was the birth of the quarterback as we know him: the general who calmly leads his team down the field.”

The most powerful part of the book was the discussion of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Tracy noted, Lipstadt fabulously pointed out how these athletes came to Germany to compete in peace and instead were murdered. The Munich massacre maybe showed what we write in our introduction, that Jewish athleticism originally comes out of the instinct for self-defense. How Zionism sprung from the violence against Jews. This is also emphasized in the essay by Shalom Auslander who wrote about an older Jewish man, confronted by two black kids, on a New York subway, “And he turned around and pushed them back-hard-and they fell back down in the seat…And he said, ‘We’re Jews, we won this war, we beat our enemies, we don’t take this stuff anymore.”

Another interesting point is how Mark Spitz and Shep Messing responded differently to this horrific event in Jewish history. Messing, a soccer player for the US team reunited with David Berger, an Israeli weightlifter with whom he had become close friends. While being sequestered along with other Jewish athletes he learned that a group of Palestinian terrorists had taken eleven members of the Israeli team hostage, killing his friend Berger. He was described as being overcome with grief and rage, that “a Jewish wire in him that even he hadn’t known existed had been tripped.” Compare that to Mark Spitz who was described as ignoring questions about his feelings and was more bitter about being hustled out of Munich, not for the Israeli athletes who died, but “that he never got to stop at the Mercedes-Benz factory and pick up the 450 SL he had been promised.”

Tracy described Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame as the story of the “Jews in sports is a microcosm to the story of sports in America. The story of Jews in sports is the story of sports. From Al Davis who was a path breaker by integrating the NFL for head coaches to Hank Greenberg who, as the general manager of the Indians, mistreated one of his players, Al Rosen, solely because he did not want to be seen as playing favorites to one of his own, another Jewish slugger.” This book is an interesting read for both Jew and non-Jew alike since it involves interesting facts and tidbits about some of the most important athletes in sports history.