Eighty-year-old Jewish sports detectives call it quits – The Forward

If for the last quarter century you’ve wondered if an athlete is Jewish, they’ve got it covered.

cornerstone? no Krayzelburg? Yes. fishman? You bet. nobleman? Don’t even get them started.

You might have looked them up on Wikipedia or read them on this site. But the first to find out — and those who knew for sure — were almost always the same retired sports freaks. Living on opposite sides of the country, they tracked down tips the old-fashioned way: they picked up the phone and called.

They compiled their discoveries in the Jewish Sports Review, a print-only magazine they mailed six times a year to about 500 subscribers in the United States — and the 153rd and final issue of which was mailed to subscribers last month.

In a letter to readers on the cover of the September/October issue, Shel Wallman and Ephraim Moxson, the review’s 80-year-old co-founders, wrote that age, rising costs, and declining readership had all contributed to the decision to stop publication for good.

“It was never our intention to profit from our ‘love labor’ – quite the contrary,” they wrote. “We will truly miss the work that comes with it and the appreciation and satisfaction of being the ‘ultimate source’ of who is Jewish in the world of sport.”

The duo, who met when Wallman wrote a column for the Indianapolis Jewish Post & Opinion in the 1970s, started the Jewish Sports Review as a joke in 1997, each shelling out about $400 to get the first issue printed and publish it in to advertise newspapers.

At this point, it was not widely known who the Jewish athletes outside of baseball were. Moxson and Wallman pored over hundreds of collegiate and professional cadres from across the country looking for names that sounded Jewish, and either emailed or called the school, the player, or their family and asked.

“It’s a bit embarrassing, but I’ve gotten so used to it,” Moxson, 80, said in an interview. “I never had a negative answer. Not once. I’ve had a lot of parents apologize – or the athlete would apologize and say no, I’m not – but I’ve never had anyone say no and hang up.

An athlete was considered Jewish if they had at least one Jewish parent, practiced no other faith, and identified as ethnically Jewish.

That formula excludes Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals first baseman whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors but was raised Catholic, and Julian Edelman, the retired Patriots receiver who has placed Judaism at the heart of his identity, whose father is Moxson However, Edelman said he was not Jewish when he was in college.

And it excluded players who weren’t Jewish at all but who Wikipedia said they were, like tennis pro Mardy Fish.

“I spoke to Mardy’s father about ten years ago,” Moxson recalls. “He says, ‘You know, he’s married to a Jewish girl, but we’re not Jews.’ And he says every time he goes to Wikipedia and removes it, it’s back within hours.”

The newspaper survived for 18 years on a $36 annual subscription before rising costs necessitated the help of donors. After her long-time print shop went out of business earlier this year, doing business became impossible without raising subscription costs, and Moxson said he didn’t want to “bubble,” meaning beg, a second time.

Longtime subscribers, who had come to count on the bi-monthly mailings in their mailboxes, were devastated by the sudden announcement.

Howard Megdal, a sportswriter and author of The Baseball Talmudsaid he saved years worth of issues of the Jewish Sports Review.

“As a lifelong supporter of Jews in sports and as a journalist, I know only too well how vital the work they have undertaken is and how persistent they had to be to track down so much of this information,” Megdal said in a Twitter message . “Of all my subscriptions, I can’t think of one that has always given me as much pleasure as the Jewish Sports Review.”

Neither issues nor content were ever published online, and the JSR website remained Web 1.0 from inception until it went offline earlier this month. And there are no plans to digitize old editions.

But Wallman and Moxson plan to help a kind of successor, the website Jewish Baseball News.

The editor of this site, Scott Barancik, says he has been a subscriber since at least 2009.

“Shel and Ephraim changed the game by coming up with their own definition of ‘Jewish’ and then humbly, objectively and unemotionally screened one athlete at a time to see if they qualified,” Barancik said in an email.

He was glad to have her help with baseball. But, he added, “I fear the identification of Jews in other sports is once again becoming the domain of assumptions, aspirations, rumors and politics.”


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