Jews & Sports

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Ironically, as the number of professional Jewish athletes declined, interest in them has continued to grow.

There are no less than a dozen books with "Jews in Sports" in their title, and there are a host of web sites, such as JewsInSports.org and JewishSports.com, that track Jews on the court, in the field, and on the gridiron. Every time Jewish players accomplish something in their sport, great or small, the Jewish press is all over the story.

So, why the obsession?

Jews enjoy taking pride in the accomplishments of fellow "members of the tribe" in a variety of spheres--science, politics, and theatre. Sports, arguably, are no different. This is the nature of a minority group still trying to gain acceptance in the mainstream. Another explanation is that publicizing the image of the strong Jewish athlete breaks the long held stereotype of the bookish or weak Jew.

The organized Jewish community has even embraced Super Bowl Sunday, making it Super Sunday, a day of phone-thons and fundraising for Federations across the country. Super Sunday is no longer a major fundraising day in all cities, but the original assumption was that everyone was at home watching the game, available to answer the phone and ready to donate money to the Jewish community.

In recent years, new expressions of Judaism in sports include the wide availability of kosher food at sporting events and annual Jewish Heritage Days at ballparks.

Outside America, Zionism played a central role in merging sports with Judaism. At the Zionist Congress in 1898, Herzl's right-hand man, the popular writer Max Nordau, expressed the Zionist longing for the creation of a "muscle Jewry." Subsequently, Jews across Europe established sporting clubs, which served a double function-- strengthening European Jews' collective identity as a minority, while offering a means of integrating into mainstream society. A number of the European sporting clubs that were associated with Zionist youth groups were later transplanted to Israel, where they formed the first teams in the states' professional sporting leagues.

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