From Sandy Koufax to Yossi Benayoun: Where Are All the Other Jewish Sportsmen?

Donna Gee@Donna773Correspondent IJuly 12, 2008

As a lifelong sports fan who also happens to be Jewish, I am mystified why Jews in the diaspora just don’t seem to make it to the same levels of sporting success as their Gentile neighbours. Apart, that is, from Israelis and South Africans.

In my country, the UK, you can count the number of indigenous Jews who have made it to top professional level in the last half-century on one hand. Footballers Mark Lazarus  and Barry Silkman, who played for QPR and Manchester City respectively in the 60s and ‘70s, Scottish boxer Gary Jacobs, who was European welterweight champion a couple of decades ago, and that’s about it.

Today there is to my knowledge just ONE British Jew playing professional football. And Welsh-born Joe Jacobson is currently plying his trade, not with one of the Premier League big boys, but at third division level with Bristol Rovers.

Yet top English football is not without it share of Jews—well, Israeli Jews, shall we say. Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun, Chelsea’s Tal Ben-Haim and Bolton’s Tamir Cohen are all right up there with the cream of pro talent. Then there’s Ben Sahar, who has just moved on loan from Chelsea to Portsmouth.

Four Premier League Jewish players at one time—that’s probably more than the total number of British Jews who have played at top level in living memory! And of course, until he was ridiculously fired after almost winning the Champions League in May, Chelsea also had a Jewish manager in Avram Grant

In South Africa, rugby union rules the roost. It’s what football is to most of the world—THE number one game. And the game has not been without its mega-Jewish stars over the years.

When the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 1997, their winning points were kicked by their Jewish fly-half, Joel Stransky. Many South Africans feel that having a Jewish player in the side is a special omen for success… and Stransky certainly proved that point. Earlier Springboks included forward Okey Geffin in the 50s and winger Syd Nomis a decade later.

Compare that to the UK, where England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have not, to my knowledge, had a single Jewish player in their national teams since World War II..

While I know precious little about American sport, I understand US Jews have not been particularly auspicious in their numbers at top pro level over the decades.

Even I have heard of legendary stars like Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, but how many Jewish players are there in the NFL, or it baseball, basketball and hockey equivalents today? Can anyone enlighten me?