Category Archives: Music

Aly Raisman wins Olympic gold to Hava Nagila!

I’m not sure how many Jewish Olympians there are, but Aly Raisman is one of them. 18 years old, from Massachusetts. Yesterday, she won the gold medal in the women’s floor event to the tune of Hava Nagila – a classic Hebrew folk song. Well done Aly and hoping for a repeat at the 2016 Olympics.

Aly also won a gold in the gymnastics team event as part of the US team and a bronze in the balance beam event.

This leads me onto another question I’ve been wondering about, how do Jews perform at the Olympics in general? Clearly, sport isn’t a strong area for Jews. If you want to find the Jews in sport, it’s usually the owners of sports teams you have to look at. But, nonetheless, do Jews over-perform or under-perform at sports compared to what is expected?

About 1 in 500 people in the world are Jewish and there are 300 events at the 2012 London Olympics. According to Wikipedia there were approximately 4700 medals produced for this year’s Olympic games (including this year’s Paralympics). Remember, in many events there may be many medals awarded (due to team events) and there are at least three medals for every event. So if Jews were expected to win 1 in 500 medals, we’d only expect them to win 10 medals in total, which I can imagine they probably do (well Aly Raisman has three already).

Looking at things like this however does the skew the picture a bit. We probably shouldn’t be counting large parts of Asia and Africa in our numbers. Jews should probably be winning about 1 in 200 medals (this is totally my own estimate). That would be about 24 of the 4700 medals produced. Do Jews win that many medals? Probably. Doesn’t sound like a lot of medals to win, but I don’t really know.

This discussion is a bit silly though. At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear Jews haven’t done exceptionally well at sport historically and they probably haven’t done exceptionally poorly either.

This discussion does sort of highlight just how small the world Jewish population is. Slightly crazy when you consider all the Jewish success (imagine if Jewish nobel laureates were as rare as Jewish olympic medalists) and how there are people like Ahmadinejad who see the Jews (or the Zionists) as the world’s biggest problem. We’re one five-hundredth of the world’s population. Leave us alone already. I suppose it is quite a complement to be considered so important despite our smallness.

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Jews – Not Least In Music

A friend of mine sent me this last night. I thought it was worth a post. It’s piece by Brian Magee from his book Aspects of Wagner. The piece is taken from the chapter Jews – Not Least In Music.

The book is about Richard Wagner, a German 19th century composer. There’s a chapter about Jews in this book because he was a vehement antisemite and published the essay “Das Judenthum in der Musik” (“Jewishness in Music”). The essay attacked Jewish contemporaries (and rivals) and accused Jews of being a harmful and alien element in German culture. The Nazis used parts of Wagners thought that were useful for propaganda.

Here’s what Magee has to say (it was written in 1968 so it is slightly outdated):

In the last hundred years three people have produced theories about man and his environment which in depth, originality and scope are equal to almost any before them – Marx, Freud and Einstein. The theories are not compatible, but each is a creative achievement of the highest order, and their influence has been immense. Marx, in fact, has had more influence in less time than anyone else in history: within a mere seventy years of his death a third of the human reach was living under governments calling themselves Marxist. The intellectual achievement of Einstein is more impressive, and may prove in the end of be as important in its practical application, if only because of the hydrogen bomb. As for Freud, he has done more to extend our vision inward, into ourselves, than anyone else; doing work required unimaginable courage, and unlike that of the other row its good consequences are more obvious than its bad. All three, I think, must be ranked among the greatest of the world’s creative geniuses.

All three were Jews. This fact is remarkable for many reasons. One is that there had been only one Jew of comparable achievement, Spinoza, in the previous eighteen hundred years. Another is that, in spite of this, these three pioneered a Jewish renaissance of fantastic proportions. Jewish philosophers since Marx include Bergson, Husserl, Wittgenstein and Popper. Not only Freud but most of the famous psychoanalysts have been Jews: in the sciences not only Einstein but Nobel Prize winners so numerous it would be tedious to list them (since the Nobel Prize began in 1901 it has been award to more than forty Jews). All this is doubly amazing when one remembers that the total number of Jews in the world is only about thirteen million – the population of Greater London.

In no field has their contribution been more outstanding than in music. Mahler was Jewish, as were Schoenberg and most of his famous pupils. The greatest instrumentalists of this century have been Jews. Even if one forgets Kreisler, Schnabel and all the other great dead, and considers only the living, the best violinists are nearly all Jews (and, oddly enough, from Russia) – Heifetz, Menuhin, Stern, Milstein, Zukerman, Perlman, Oistrakh. Jewish pianists include Gilels, Serkin, Rubinstein, Solomon, Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Boman, Perahia, Ax and Barenboim. And the conductors Solti, Bernstein, Ormandy, Dorati, Levine, Previn and Maazel. These lists themselves grossly incomplete, can not be matched by the 99.5 per cent of the human race who are not Jews. If anyone wants to tell me this is coincidence my reply is that this is simply not credible. The intellectual and artistic output of Jews in this century relative to their numbers if a phenomenon for which I can think of no parallel in history since Athens five centuries before Christ. It is something that calls for explanation.

Magee then attempts to explain this phenomena. I think his explanation is quite poor and I hope to update this post in the future with my thoughts about it.

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