Wednesday, May 8, 2013

From Ellis Island to Ebbetts Field by Peter Levine

This volume explores the assimilation of the American Jewish community through the vehicle of Sports.  The book discusses boxing, football, basketball, and baseball, all the professional sports and their Jewish adherents in the first half of the 20th century. Personages like Barney Ross, Sid Luckman or Marshal Goldberg, Dolph Schayes, and Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax are highlighted.

There is a very moving scene of return when Barney Ross comes back to his old neighborhood in Chicago and is called up to the Reading of the Torah.  His rabbi recognizes his errant member and warmly says "you've come back!" and even though Ross' return is not back to a Torah lifestyle, nevertheless, his Jewish identity is not shorn. 

Greenberg struggled with the dilemma of playing on the High Holidays receiving some sort of rabbinical permission for the New Year but personally chose to sit out the game on the Day of Atonement.  By the time Sandy Koufax comes around the choice is not novel but nevertheless inspiring to most Jewish Americans.  Professor Levine intimates that Koufax might have had a tinge of self hatred since in his personal life he never identified with the Jewish community or with Jewish causes.  It took him years to come to terms that he was a hero to most Jewish kids.  Koufax always wanted to be remembered as a Ballplayer not a Jewish Ballplayer!

Levine's thesis is simple: Sports were a vehicle to become American and when the Jewish community came of age, came out of the immigrant experience and were accepted as Americans the novelty and plethora of Jewish sports figures waned. In almost each case Levine's thesis rings true!  Sports help one assimilate it does not help one develop a Torah lifestyle.

This book is excellent scholarship very readable and very insightful about how the Jewish community came of age.

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