Category Archives: Sport

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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Jewish pride

This week Omri Casspi, Cleveland Cavaliers NBA player, uploaded a picture of himself wearing Tefillin to his Facebook page. It’s nice to see a young basketball superstar that earns millions of dollars a year to still be connected to his roots and to still be putting on Tefillin. Ga’avah Yisraelit.

There was another moment like this last year when Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Itai Shechter scored a goal against Austrian football team Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League qualifying rounds. The match was being played in Austria and when Shechter scored Hapoel’s third goal to make the score 3-1, he took a kippa out of his socks, put it on his head and said the Shema in celebration. Shechter was given a yellow card for his celebration, but it was a proud moment for Israel. Shechter wearing his kippa proudly in Austria, a country where many Jews lost their lives during the Holocaust a mere seventy years ago. Hapoel went on to win the game 3-2 and qualify for the 2010 Champions League. Here’s the video of the celebration:

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2012 Champions League final: Bayern Munich vs Chelsea and the Jewish story behind the game

My first post on this blog was about Jewish footballers, managers and owners of teams in the English Premier League. This Saturday night we have some more Jewish footballing news, in the 2012 European Champions League final which will be contested between Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

Chelsea is owned by the Jewish Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, but what does the German club Bayern Munich have to do with Jews? (Much of the rest of this post is taken from the theJC.com).

Interestingly, Bayern Munich has a very Jewish background. In pre-Nazi Germany, Bayern was a club of Jewish visionaries. It was sponsored by Jewish businesses and became a beacon of tolerance and cosmopolitanism. The Nazis suppressed it, and a mixture of post-war guilt and simple ignorance kept the story hidden.

The key figure in the story is Kurt Landauer, a stout Bavarian from a wealthy Jewish family who was club president from 1919 onwards and made little Bayern into one of Germany’s most dynamic football institutions. Landauer shared the vision of his friend and mentor Walther Bensemann, an even more important Jewish German football pioneer, that the game could create friendships between nations. Landauer rejected the notion of Kampfgeist (“spirit of struggle”). Rather, he saw football as a game of creativity, artistry and joy.

Bayern’s 1-7 defeat at the hands of the Budapest club MTK in 1919 changed his life. MTK was another “Jewish club”, and played stylish, intelligent, quick-passing football. Landauer was so impressed by the Hungarians that he spent the next decade recruiting as many of them as possible to Bayern, and all of them happened to be Jewish.

Rarely has so much coaching talent passed through the doors of one club – talent like Izidor “Dori” Kürschner who would later flee to Rio and help lay the foundations of Brazil’s beautiful game, and Kálmán Konrád, who coached Bayern for a season and, in 1999, was picked by World Soccer magazine as one of the 100 greatest players of all time.

By the early 1930s, Richard Dombi, a Viennese Jew, was one of the most coveted managers in Europe. He led Bayern to its first championship in 1932.

In short, Landauer had turned Bayern into a bastion of enlightened values and good football. The club had the best youth training system in Germany and was pushing for professionalism. And it was all doomed. As Schulze-Marmeling says: “Bayern Munich was like a little island in a sea of antisemitism”.

Today Bayern’s Jewish history is slowly being re-embraced by the club.

As a Manchester United fan I was extremely happy to see them raise the Champions League in 1999 scoring two goals in the last minute to make a historic comeback and win 2-1. As both a Jew and an englishman I was even more happy to see the Germans defeated in such fashion. Now that I have become aware of Bayern’s Jewish roots and stand against the Nazis and antisemitism in the 1930’s and 40’s, I won’t be too upset to see Bayern beat Chelsea tomorrow night. I’ll still be hoping for a Chelsea victory though.

You can read more about Bayern Munich’s Jewish history here.

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Checkmate – Jewish chess players

I’m a fan of the game and I’ve been wanting to write about this one for a while. Today, Israeli Boris Gelfand (originally from the Soviet Union) will start a 12-game match against Viswanathan Anand of India for the world chess title and a prize of $1.5 million. Gelfand, currently ranked 22nd in the world, is the underdog, but you never know what will happen. The match will go on for three weeks. You can read more about it at JPost.

There have been many great Jewish chess players. There have been fifteen World Chess champions to date. Six (40%) of them have been Jewish. (And a seventh, Gary Kasparov, rated the best Chess player of all time, had a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother).

28 of the best 64 (44%) chess players of all time have been Jewish (according to a somewhat dated study from 1989). Not a bad record for a people that constitutes 0.2% of the world’s population. The best Jewish chess player of all time was the American Bobby Fischer (who was sadly also a vehement anti-semite and anti-America and anti-Israel).

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The 30-year old Israeli chess grandmaster, Alik Gershon, holds the world record for simultaneous chess games. He broke the world record in 2010, which previously belonged to Iran. He played 523 games in a 19-hour marathon. He won 86 percent of his games (he needed to win at least 80-percent to seal the record.) Training for the event was purely physical and included a lot of jogging and swimming, with many kilometres of walking and high levels of concentration needed to play all 523 players. You can read more about this record at The Telegraph.

Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician, former Soviet refusenik and prisoner and human rights activist was also a chess prodigy as a child. At the age of 15, he won the championship in his native Donetsk. When incarcerated in solitary confinement, he maintained his sanity by playing chess against himself in his mind. Sharansky beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition in Israel in 1996.

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Jews in the Premier League

(All the people mentioned in this article are Jewish.)

The biggest League in the world has come to an end for the year. Manchester United are crowned champions and Chelsea finish in second place. Manchester United also came second in this year’s Champions League.

Manchester United are owned by the Glazer family.

Cheslea is owned by Roman Abramovich.

Arsenal finished in fourth this year and the late Danny Fiszman‘s company (Danny passed away a month ago) owns 16%.

West Ham finished bottom of the league and their Israeli manager Avram Grant was sacked, but he’s done well in the past. He managed Chelsea for a season and finished second in both the league and the Champions League.

The league has a couple of Israelis playing in it. Yossi Benayoun plays for Chelsea but doesn’t get into the starting lineup on a regular basis.

Tamir Cohen plays for Bolton. He is the son of former Liverpool defender Avi Cohen who died in a motorcycle crash earlier this year. His footballing highlight of the season came a few weeks ago when he scored a last-minute match winning goal for Bolton in the league.

Other notable Israeli’s in the premiership in recent years have been Tal Ben Haim (Bolton, Chelsea, Man City, Portsmouth, West Ham) and Ben Sahar (Chelsea).

Previous Jewish owners of English Premier League clubs have been Sir Alan Sugar who was the previous owner of Tottenham Hotspurs and Alexandre Gaydamak who briefly owned Portsmouth a number of years ago.

UPDATES (thanks to a comment by Daniel Morris): Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has a Jewish father and may himself be Jewish.

Also, this year (2012-13) we have the addition of Itay Shechter to the Premier League. Swansea have loaned him for the year from FC Kaiserslautern. Shechter’s most famous goal was against Red Bull Salzburg when playing for Tel Aviv in a Champions League qualifying match. Shechter celebrated the goal by taking a kippa out of his sock, putting it on his head and saying Shema in the Austrian stadium. You can watch the video of the goal and celebration here.

Well done to Chelsea for winning the 2012 Champions League and to Manchester United for coming 2nd in the 2012 Premier League.

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