Columns - 2004

    The Sporting Jews

    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    Another Olympics arrives, and with it comes the biennial ad-nauseum repetition of a few lines from the movie "Airplane!":

    "Would you like something to read?"

    "Do you have anything light?"

    "Here's a pamphlet on famous Jewish sports legends."

    Yes, there are Israeli olympians. Have been for quite a long time now.

    Okay, you're probably thinking that Israel's been only to the summer Olympics. A country in the Middle East having winter sports competitors is the eastern hemispherical equivalent of Jamaica having a bobsled team.

    But, in case you saw "Cool Runnings," you know that Jamaica did have one. So don't be so surprised that Israel has had delegations at each of the last three winter Olympics. Of course, don't be surprised that Israel hasn't exactly swept the winter competitions yet, either.

    Israel's Olympic history should be about more than just the PLO killing the eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. I'd like to say that Israel has won a slew of medals.

    But I can't. That's not to say there haven't been Jewish olympians, even champions. But you're lucky I did as much research as I have already (looking up how to spell "olympians"), so don't push it.

    Though I can tell you that Sports Illustrated predicts a bronze in mistral (Olympese for "some kind of sailing") for Gal Fridman, who won Israel's only medal in 1996 (also a bronze).

    Think that's all the Olympic hardware Israel can hope for? Gotcha! Gotcha Tsitsiashvilly, that is. He's predicted to win the gold medal in the 84 kilogram category for greco-roman wrestling. According to SI, Tsitsiashvilly is from Georgia (no, the other one), and is the fourth Israeli men's world champion in any sport.

    If I go further, I'll debunk the very stereotype I'm trying to exploit for your amusement. So, rather than invalidating every stereotype you've heard about Jewish athletes being an oxymoron, let's look at other aspects of Jews in sports.

    No, we won't look in the owner's box. Citing notorious owners such as Steinbrenner and Reinsdorf won't help the cause, despite the champions they've fielded.

    But one more note about the Olympics. As you might know, the 1936 Olympics were hosted in Berlin. Hitler did a lot to try there to demonstrate "Nazi superiority." Things like broadcasting the opening ceremonies on television, which was more of a big deal back then because fewer people had cable.

    What you might not know is that the Olympic Torch relay was another tradition that was started then. Yes, the torch started being used in 1928 at Amsterdam, but the relay was a separate statement.

    Anyway, it's interesting to note that Israeli religious leaders, with the Olympics just a few short days away, seized the timing to issue a ruling on... bullfighting.

    I'm not making this up. A leading Israeli Orthodox leader ruled in early August that bullfighting is cruel to the bulls, says Jews in Spain should avoid the sport. He later ruled that Mets games since the All-Star Break have been cruel to fans, and says to avoid them for now, too.

    This is an interesting twist, being concerned about cruelty in sports as the Olympics start. The ancient Olympics in Greece were far more brutal than anything we're used to today, including stadium hotdog prices and the last Mets road trip.

    Of course, "Olympics" is Greek for "Maccabiah", the longtime Israeli sports competition. The Maccabiah Games originated with the Maccabees, who rededicated the Temple, founded Hanukkah, and who during their revolt committed many violent acts against the enemies of Judah that were second only to what ancient Greeks did for sport at the Olympics.

    Finally, official word is still pending on the newest professional baseball league, the Jewish League. But I can unofficially tell you all about it.

    No games on Friday night, during the day Saturday, starting before sunset on Saturday night, or on any holy days.

    No playoff games on the High Holy Days. No cheese for your chilidogs.

    There's ten players in the field instead of nine, in case there's an urgent need for a minyan during a long inning.

    Players or managers who are thrown out of a game are automatically suspended two games and required to hear about it from their mothers. However, it's less likely that players will be thrown out, rather than out-complained. Imagine:

    "He was out! Are you blind, ump?"

    "Out, safe, you think you got problems? Squatting down to call balls and strikes is aggravating my brusitis. And my wife never holds dinner when we go into extra innings..."

    "Never mind..."

    Little has been said about team ownership, but the franchises have been named.

    The Western Division includes: Minneapolis Menschen, California Angels, Portland Punim, Los Angeles Leiners, San Diego Rebbes, Oakland Dreidels, Arizona Diamondbrokers, Phoenix Sons-in-Law, Kansas City Knishes, St. Louis Ramhorns, Green Bay Guilt, San Francisco Moan-n-Shriers, and the Houston Oylers.

    The Eastern Division includes: New York Yunkels, Lower East Side Lebuvitches, Birmingham Boychiks, Boca Bubbes, Hamptons Heimisches, Boston Seltzerwaters, Florida Lox, Massachusetts Machers, Philadelphia Frumies, Pittsburgh Thou-Shalt-Not-Stealers, Montreal Macabees, Toronto Bluefringes, Washington Sheisters, and the Northwest Arkansas Goyim.

    Doug Brook is a technical publications program manager in Silicon Valley. With a fifteen-foot turnaround jumper, he sank the winning basket in the 1989 USY Pilgrimage Group 2 three-on-three tournament at Kibbutz Hannaton.

    In 1987, as a freshman, he scored the first touchdown for Mesch AZA at regionals in... well, MANY years. He ended that game against Fortas AZA with two touchdowns and two safeties... before Mesch got pulverized by Peres AZA in the championship game. For more information, past columns, career sports highlights, other writing, and other current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.