Tag Archives: jews

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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Quote from The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill

Continuing with our quotes, here are two nice quotes from Thomas Cahill’s book The Gift of the Jews:

If we had lived in the second millennium BC, the millennium of Abraham, and could have canvassed all the nations of the earth, what would they have said of Abraham’s journey? In most of Africa and Europe, they would have laughed at Abraham’s madness and pointed to the heavens, where the life of earth had been plotted from all eternity … a man cannot escape his fate. The Egyptians would have shaken their heads in disbelief. The early Greeks might have told Abraham the story of Prometheus … Do not overreach, they would advise; come to resignation. In India, he would be told that time is black, irrational and merciless. Do not set yourself the task of accomplishing something in time, which is only the dominion of suffering. On every continent, in every society, Abraham would have been given the same advice that wise men as diverse as Heraclitus, Lao-Tsu and Siddhartha would one day give their followers: do not journey but sit; compose yourself by the river of life, meditate on its ceaseless and meaningless flow.

The Jews started it all—and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and aethiest, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings … we would think with a different mind, interpret all our experience differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.

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A L Rowse’s greatest honest would have been to be an honorary Jewish citizen.

Over the next few days we’ll be posting some nice quotes about Jews that come up in the Chief Rabbi’s Letters to the Next Generation 2. The letters are well worth a read. Inspiring.

The first quote is from Alfred Leslie Rowse:

If there is any honour in all the world that I should like, it would be to be an honorary Jewish citizen.

Here’s the Cheif Rabbi’s second letter where the quote comes up:

Letter 2: A historian’s honour
DEAR RUTH, DEAR MICHAEL, I said yesterday that I would try to give you an answer to the question why stay Jewish. There are many answers, and to understand them is the work of a lifetime. But we have to start somewhere and probably the more unexpected the starting point, the better.
Like you I studied at university, so I knew vaguely about an eccentric Oxford don, a historian and a writer about English literature. He was a Fellow of All Souls, which meant that he was one of the brightest minds of his generation.
His name was A. L. Rowse and he was best known for his theory about the identity of the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He died in 1997, and shortly before that, in 1995, he published a book called Historians I Have Known. I was reading it one day and I came to the last page.
There – it was the penultimate sentence of the book – I came across a remark that left me open mouthed with amazement. Nothing had prepared me for it. A. L. Rowse was not Jewish and as far as I know he had no connection with Jews other than those he knew at university.
This is what he wrote. “If there is any honour in all the world that I should like, it would be to be an honorary Jewish citizen.” What an extraordinary remark from a wise man nearing the end of his life, reflecting on all that life, especially history, had taught him.
The British know about honours. So I could understand an Oxford don who had written over a hundred books admitting that a medal, an award, a knighthood would not go amiss. But “to be an honorary Jewish citizen” and to count that not just as an honour, but the one above all he would like to have – that was an extraordinary thing to say.
Why did he say it? I never met him. I did not know anyone who had. And by the time I read the book he was no longer alive. So I can only speculate.
Was it that Jews more than any other people in history cared about learning, education and the life of the mind? That they had contributed, vastly out of proportion to their numbers, many of the greatest intellects of the modern world?
Was it that they were the first monotheists, the first to believe in a God who transcended the universe, creating it in forgiveness and love, making humanity in His image and endowing us with a dignity no other faith has ever equalled?
Was it that they had survived for so long – twice as long as Christianity, three times as long as Islam – and under some of the most adverse conditions ever experienced by a people? Was it, given that Rowse was a historian, the fact that Jews were the first historians, the first to see God in history, the first even to think in terms of history?
Was it, given that he was a writer on literature, the fact that the Hebrew Bible is the greatest work of literature ever written?Was it the vision of Moses, the poetry of psalms, the social conscience of Amos, the hope of Isaiah, the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the passion of the Song of Songs? Or that Jews had given humanity its most basic moral concepts: freewill, responsibility, justice and the rule of law, chessed and the rule of compassion, tzedakah and the principle of equity?
Who knows? But I know this – that if they offered to make you a dame, Ruth, or a knight, Michael, you wouldn’t refuse. You wouldn’t consider it trivial or irrelevant. But if Rowse was right, it turns out that you have already been given an honour greater than these. Don’t forget it or give it away.

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John Adams about the Jews

I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe, or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.

John Adams, in a letter to F. A. Vanderkemp (16 February 1809), as quoted in The Roots of American Order (1974) by Russel Kirk.

For more quotes about Jews, see wikiquote.

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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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