The Book of the Week is “The Jew in American Sports” by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow, originally published in 1952, revised most recently in 1985.
The authors contended that the achievements of the athletes who were perceived to be Jewish, were all the more remarkable, considering that they had to overcome religious discrimination in addition to the fierce competition, rigors of training and harsh traveling conditions they had to endure in their generations. That is why the authors compiled this specific list of athletes.
The authors said Hank Greenberg might have been better than Babe Ruth in the 1930’s. “… Ruth was left handed and aimed at a 296 foot wall at Yankee Stadium most of the time. The park was built for him. Greenberg, right handed, aimed at a fence 340 feet away… he fell only two [homeruns] shy of Ruth’s record!” Later ballplayers had more opportunities to break records with lengthier seasons, stadiums easier to hit in, not to mention performance-enhancing drugs. Other baseball standouts included Al Rosen, Moe Berg and Sandy Koufax.
Jews became proficient in professional boxing in the early 20th century due to abuses they suffered at the hands of local neighborhood thugs of rival ethnicities, such as Irish and Italian. The New York City law against boxing was relaxed when Mayor Jimmy Walker saw the appeal of the sport among World War I veterans.
Benny Leonard was a Jewish boxer who benefited from that. He became rich and famous and from the mid-1920’s into the 1930’s, used his fame to purchase a hockey team, act in Vaudeville, write about sports and teach a course on pugilism at City College, New York. After his failed comeback, he tried his hand at refereeing, Zionism and helping to sponsor a Jewish Olympics in Tel Aviv.
Harry Newman, like Benny Friedman before him, played exceptionally great college football in the early 1930’s at the University of Michigan. In 1932, the team was undefeated and untied. “He had a hand in every winning play in every single game.” Benny Friedman, who played with the (professional) New York Giants, was popular with Jewish fans. The Giants saw Newman’s potential to keep up the good work, so they agreed to an irregular contractual provision that gave Newman a percentage of home attendance revenue.
In 1928, Irving Jaffee competed as a speed skater in the Olympics. When a Norwegian judge committed religious discrimination against Jaffee, a tremendous hue and cry erupted from athletes and the International Olympic Committee to award Jaffee a deserved gold medal. The American media picked up the story so the athlete became more famous than otherwise.
Read the book to learn about many other American athletes perceived to be Jewish, who overcame hardships and prejudice to rock the sports world with their feats.