The Super Bowl, this Sunday’s National Football League championship game, isn’t the only notable sports event to take place on a Feb. 3 — there was also the 26 points scored by Phil Rabin of the Kingston Colonials against the Brooklyn Jewels in a 1937 American Basketball League game, and the Buffalo Bisons’ Max Kaminsky’s 1943 appearance in the first American Hockey League All-Star Game.
If your reaction is normal — Who? — then you didn’t read the recently published “Day by Day in Jewish Sports History” (Ktav/American Jewish Historical Society).
The 404-page book, which chronicles the exploits of Jewish athletes around the world from A (Barney Aaron, 19th-century boxer) to Z (Russia’s Vera Znovareva, mixed doubles partner of Israel’s Andy Ram in a 2006 Wimbledon championship), is the result of more than a decade’s work by Bob Wechsler, sports editor of the Express-Times in Easton, Penn.
A longtime Jewish sports fan with daily access to wire-service scores and stories, he first set out to do a this-day-in-Jewish-sports-history calendar. When he couldn’t find a publisher for that idea, he decided on a day-by-day book highlighting Jewish competitors of great and little renown.
It’s more than Sandy Koufax and Mark Spitz.
“It’s even more than the [fashionable] ‘top 125’ athletes,” says Wechsler, who, in doing library and Internet research, chronicled the victories, trades, birthdays and other details on thousands of amateur and professional Jewish athletes. “I was trying to get as many names as possible.”
Many of the names and achievements, he admits, border on the obscure.
Wechsler’s favorite item: the 1973 baseball trade that included Mike Epstein of the Texas Rangers and Lloyd Allen of the California Angels, the only known swap featuring two Jewish baseball players.
All athletes with a Jewish parent who identified as Jewish or did not convert to another faith made the cut for Wechsler’s book.
He says he still combs the news for names of Jewish athletes, “in case there’s a second edition.”(The book is available at ktav.com.)
The Super Bowl probably won’t make the next edition. There are no Jewish players or coaches on the rosters of the New England Patriots or the New York Giants, though both teams’ owners are Jews. “I try to stay away from owners,” Wechsler says.
But last week’s Australian Open tennis tournament will. Ram and his partner Jonathan Erlich on Jan. 26 won the men’s doubles championship, the first Israeli pair to do that in a Grand Slam tournament.