Archive for the ‘Sports and religion’ Category


Clean sweep

Posted on: August 5th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

Going through the mailbox to clean up the dust-bunnies that accumulated during my trip to the SABR convention (more on which later).


* Maccabiah Games close in Jerusalem with Israel topping medal count (Cleveland Jewish News)

* After accident, athlete returns to Maccabiah triumphant (JWeekly.com)

* SoCal athletes find fulfillment at Maccabiah Games (Jewish Journal)

* For ESPN broadcaster, Maccabiah ends just as it was getting started (St. Louis Jewish Light)


* Enough Of Ike Davis — New York Mets Should Let Josh Satin Start Everyday (RantSports)

* Ike Davis Is Batting .317 Since All Star Break, But… (MetsMerized)

* Ryan Braun, Disgraced Jewish Baseball Player? (ReformJudaism.org) Personally, although this is a shande and fodder for those anti-Semitic knuckleheads who live for this stuff, I think Braun’s religion is totally irrelevant. Few seem to bring that up for Andy Pettitte, a self-proclaimed Christian who admitted using HGH and testified at the trial of former teammate Roger Clemens.

* A pitch to report cyber hate (Jewish Week)

* Op-Ed: A Tisha B’Av Message for the All-Star’s (IsraelNationalNews) Still interesting, even though I overlooked posting this at the appropriate time.

* Ryan Braun is a Major League Baseball Star. So, Why Haven’t Jews Embraced Him? (Tablet) The same can be said for this piece, which fell through the cracks prior to Braun’s suspension.


* Listen to Gabe Carimi (JoeBucsFan)

* Carimi pushes for spot on Bucs line (Tampa Bay Times)

* Bucs OL coach helping Carimi with transition (Tampa Tribune)

* Tempers flare at Jets camp (Newsday re : Antonio Garay). To use the name of a regular Pardon the Interruption segment, “something or nothing?”

* Bengals’ strong safety position up for grabs? (NBCSports re: Taylor Mays)

* Schwartz faces ‘different’ pass-rush moves (ClevelandBrowns.com)

* Bears rookie punter faces daunting challenge (Chicago Tribune, re: Adam Podlesh)


* The Dallas Mavericks want Gal Mekel to show up to camp early, and Israel’s coach isn’t happy (Yahoo Sports)

* Mekel chooses to sit out EuroBasketl (Jerusalem Post)

* Israel national coach Arik Shivek blasts Mavericks for putting Gal Mekel in impossible situation (Dallas Morning News) Hey, at least it’s not a Yom Kippur dilemma thing.

* New Maverick Gal Mekel not worried about transition to the NBA: Basketball is basketball (Dallas Morning News) “A rose is a rose…”

* Growing up as the ‘Jewish Jordan’ (ESPN.com re: Tamir Goodman)

* Soccer star Lionel Messi visits Western Wall on ‘peace tour’ (JTA)

* Egyptian agrees to play in Israel for Swiss soccer squad (JTA)


Jews and Cricket (Jerusalem Post)

* German industrialist (and IOC member) Berthold Beitz dies at 99 (ESPN.com)

Blogger recaptures drama of Nazi era in Hank Greenberg fiction

Posted on: July 26th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

It was a bit disheartening to see the anti-Semitic screeds regarding Ryan Braun’s suspension. But compared with what players in Hank Greenberg’s era had to endure, the comments and Tweets about Braun are love letters.

Jeff Polman, a graphic designer from Culver City, California, posts several installments each week about Greenberg in “Dear Hank: A Fictional 1938 Season in Letters,” a blog about the original “Hammerin’ Hank” as he deals with anti-Semitism on the homefront and the incursion of Nazism in pre-WWII Europe.

Polman has used this method before with 1924 and You Are There!; Play That Funky Baseball; The Bragging Rights League; and Mystery Ball ’58, The stories are all fictitious, but based on seasons “played” via Strat-o-Matic (1924 was also published in book form.)

I spoke with Polman earlier this week. You can listen to our conversation here.



Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

Another attempt to clear out my mail box full of stories and links:

Hank Greenberg* Sports Illustrated published this dramatic excerpt from John Rosengren’s Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes in the July 8 issue.

* Burton Boxerman, co-author with his wife, Bonita, of the two-volume Jews and Baseball series published by McFarland a few years back, published this review of Larry Ruttman’s American Jews & America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball in a recent edition of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

* Rabbi Jeremy Fine writes about the difficulties finding kosher food at Dodger Stadium, despite Los Angeles’ large Jewish community. The issue is further complicated by just exactly what constitutes kashrut and who decides.

* Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer won her opening match against Xenia Knoll of Switzerland 6-2, 6-2 at the Budapest Open yesterday.

* As baseball heads to the unofficial midway point with the All-Star Game, get ready for more and more football stories, like this one on the Jets’ Antonio Garay and this one on Gabe Carimi, now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

* NHL free agent Eric Nystrom, who will serve as a coach for the USA hockey team at the Maccabiah games, signed  a four-year contract with the Nashville Predators.

* JML Ian Kinsler and Jice-man Jeff Halpern were among several athletes who shared their path to the pros with ESPN The Magazine.

* Finally, this hasidic “chorus” belted out the National Anthem when the Brooklyn Cyclones held their Jewish Heritage game recently, but not without a few little problems.


'Crossing' a line in baseball

Posted on: June 28th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

(Or “Sermon on the mound?”)

Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation posted this thoughtful essay, “On the display of divisive iconography in our ballparks.”

I wonder how Jason Marquis or Scott Feldman would react, pitching on a mound on which a Christian symbol was “stenciled” by a member of the grounds crew.

House cleaning

Posted on: May 24th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

In an attempt to clean out my Google Alerts, here is a “links dump” of accumulated knowledge:

And that’s it! All nice and empty.

So have a good holiday folks, see you next week.


Yogi Berra Museum hosts program on Hank Greenberg

Posted on: April 11th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

The Yogi Berra Museum, located on the campus of Montclair State University, will host a lunch program on Hank Greenberg on Friday, April 26, at noon.

Guests include John Rosengren, author of the new biography Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes; Aviva Kempner, producer/director/writer of The award-winning documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, which has recently been re-released with additional material; and Steven Greenberg, son of the late Hall of Fame slugger and a former assistant to the Commissioner of  Baseball.

I spoke with Rosengren — who is not Jewish, by the way (not that there’s anything wrong with that when it comes to writing about perhaps the most famous Jewish athlete) — recently about his book. As Rosengren put it

I found it a fascinating story on several levels. One, yes, Greenberg was immensely important to the Jewish people. At the same time, he was immensely important to the non-Jewish people…because, as Rabbi [Michael] Paley says in my book, “He changed the way gentiles viewed Jews and, in turn, the way Jews viewed themselves.” But for someone like me, who comes at it from the outside, I learned about this person who faced adversity, rose above it, and, in doing so, brought hope to not just Jews, but to many people. To me, it’s a story of dignity and inspiration that transcends any ethnic affiliation….”

You can hear the rest of our conversation here:


Here’s a trailer for Kempner’s excellent documentary. There are places on-line to watch the entire film for free, but for me, the real pleasure is in the behind-the-scenes material that’s only available with the DVD itself.

I was curious about the song that plays in the video, so I did a little digging into “Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye.” In this version, it was sung by Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx (!), with a guest appearance by Greenberg himself. I wish there was a clip of that.

But as an official sports nit-picker, I feel compelled to point out a mistake in the lyrics.

Greenberg “sings” the following lines: “Wait a minute, when the count is 2-0 and I let that third one go/what happens then?” Crosby and Marx reply, “You’re out.”

You’re out after taking a 2-0 pitch (baseballspeak for two balls and no strikes)??? Obviously it should be 0-2 (no balls and two strikes), but that didn’t fit the rhyme scheme. I wonder if Greenberg put up any kind of fuss about that, or he didn’t want to seem ungracious, since the tune was a tribute to him.


Tickets to the Greenberg event are $20 and include lunch. To RSVP or for more information, call 973-655-2378. See you there.


Now hear this: Larry Ruttman

Posted on: March 31st, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

I usually don’t post on a weekend, but I just found out that Larry Rutman, author of American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball, will be speaking tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble at 86th and Lexington in Manhattan, which used to be my favorite lunchtime haunt when I was working at the American Jewish Congress, way back when. So I wanted to post this and maybe get some of you local folks to get out there and say hi. The program follows a discussion format with Marty Appel, author of Pinstripe Empire and very involved in Jewish baseball topics.

Larry Ruttman, center, flanked by Dr. Martin Abramowitz, who wrote the intro to 'American Jews and America's Game,' and yours truly at the 2012 'Jews and Baseball' retreat.

I met Larry last year at the Jewish Baseball Retreat at the Isabella Freedman Center in Falls Village, Connecticut and learned that among many things we shared was a publisher. His book will also be officially released tomorrow by the University of Nebraska Press, just like my 501 project.

Larry was nice enough to spend some quality time talking about his new project. Enjoy.



People of the book: Jewish Jocks wins award

Posted on: February 8th, 2013 by Ron Kaplan

Franklin Foer, left, and Marc Tracy.

Congratulations to Franklin Foer, Marc Tracy, and all the contributors to Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame, which is among the award-winners as selected by the Jewish Book Council.

The book, a collection of appreciations for Jewish athletes by an eclectic group of writers, won as best anthology.

The JBC will hold an award ceremony on Thursday, March 14 at 8 p.m. at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street, in Manhattan. The event is open to the public.

For more information, visit JewishBookCouncil.org.

Explaining the ‘Maccabees’ Moniker for Jewish Athletics?

Posted on: December 11th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

by Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org

Jewish athletes from around the world gather every four years in Israel for the Olympic-style Maccabiah Games, not to mention the annual JCC Maccabi Youth Games in America. Most Israeli professional basketball and soccer teams preface their names with “Maccabi” (perhaps most notably the hoopsters of Maccabi Tel Aviv), and the athletic teams from Yeshiva University are dubbed—you guessed it—the Maccabees.

Does all of this mean Judah the Maccabee was a superstar athlete back in the day?

Actually, history suggests just the opposite. The story of Hanukkah was one in which the Jews—seeking to “Hellenize”—started to adopt Greek sports, only to have the anti-assimilationist Maccabees buck that trend as well as others that blended Jewish and secular lifestyles.

“Calling Jewish sports teams Maccabees is a contradiction in terms because the historic Maccabees were anti-sports,” Yeshiva University professor of Jewish History Jeffrey Gurock told JNS.org. He explained that the Maccabees’ goal was to “return back [to tradition], go away from these outside influences.”

Instead, Gurock said, the modern usage of the Maccabee moniker can be traced to 1898, when social Darwinist Max Nordau—founder of the Jewish athletic movement—coined the term “muscular Judaism” (muskel-Judenthum) at the Second Zionist Congress. Nordau believed the existence of strong and physically fit Jews could defeat the classic stereotype that Jews are physically weak and instead depend solely on their wit.

The great rabbinic figures of the Middle Ages were concerned with physical fitness, but sports remained “something foreign to Jewish culture” at the time, Gurock said. Nordau was looking to emulate Jews who fought against the world and were successful, and historically speaking, that was found most prominently in the story of Hanukkah.

“The only examples we have of Jews who were strong and successful were really the Maccabees,” said Gurock, who is also the author of Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports (2005).

From that point on, Gurock said the name Maccabees became a “badge of honor” for Jews pursuing sports. The same year as the Second Zionist Congress, Jews in Berlin founded the Bar Kochba athletics association, after which Jews in Eastern Europe (Galicia, Bulgaria) followed suit, according to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Russia’s Maccabi society joined the fray in 1913, and in the 1930s Poland’s Maccabi federation included 30,000 Jewish athletes in 250 clubs, YIVO said. Before World War II, “probably every European country from Poland on east had some sort of Maccabee team, or Maccabea Club,” Gurock said, representing “an expression of Zionist pride.”

The trend continues today, with numerous Jewish sports teams calling themselves Maccabees or something similar—including the teams at Yeshiva University (YU). That led Gurock to another question: Since YU is an Orthodox institution, shouldn’t it call its teams the “non-Maccabees,” to accurately represent the anti-assimilationist protagonists of the Hanukkah story? Not quite, he answered.

“What we like in modern times [about the historic Maccabees] are not so much their religious values, but their success in competing against the world,” Gurock said.

Though the original Maccabees were against the concept of organized athletics, Gurock noted that they were still the first Jewish group to raise the question of “How can you be Jewish and engage in a foreign cultural activity called sports?” He explained that in ancient times, sports were associated with pagan culture and ritual rites, but in modern times, “the great challenge is to integrate that foreign cultural phenomenon called sports into Jewish culture, so that the two can live side by side, which is often a difficult task.” The Maccabees ultimately decided that mixing sports with their Jewish lifestyle would be too inconsistent, Gurock said.

At YU, the athletic teams themselves—not the school’s administration—decided how they should be named. Originally the “Blue and Whites,” YU’s teams were the “Mighty Mites” from the 1940s-1960s, when they struggled against athletically superior squads, according to Gurock. In the 1970s, the teams adopted their currents monikers: the Maccabees and Lady Maccabees.

“It’s not today a defiance of tradition, it’s appropriating the idea of struggle, of success and virility, and power, which is emblematic of sports,” Gurock said.

The name Maccabees fits, Gurock explained, because the university is particularly proud of its Zionist orientation.

“It’s the only place outside of Israel where before every game both the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah are played,” he said. “So what more can you say?”

Max Nordau, founder of the Jewish athletic movement, coined the phrase “muscular Judaism” at the 1898 Word Zionist Congress, a precursor to Maccabea Clubs in Europe and the eventual adoption of the name “Maccabees” for Jewish sports teams.

It's Times for Jewish Jocks

Posted on: November 30th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

A review in The New York Times practically guarantees increased sales, so kudos to co-editors Tracy and Foer  and all the contributors to this fine collection.


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