(JTA) – Jewish sports fans, regardless of sport or team preference, share a universal experience: discovering new players and immediately asking themselves, “Are they Jewish?”
For decades, two men have provided the answers.
Since 1997, Ephraim Moxson and Shel Wallman have produced the Jewish Sports Review, a bimonthly print-only magazine that identifies Jewish athletes from college to professional sports. They rarely wrote detailed profiles and used few photos. The magazine’s calling card was its extensive and accurate lists of Jewish players, accompanied by key statistics and basic biographical information.
Their streak ended last month when the octogenarian partners decided to call it quits.
Until then, the review survived in several iterations. Wallman published a version from 1972 to 1974, then for 20 years in the form of his weekly column for an Indianapolis Jewish newspaper. Wallman and Moxson got together when Wallman, now 85, ran an ad in The Sporting News magazine. Moxson, now 80, started out as an attendant for Wallman, and the two eventually teamed up to relaunch Jewish Sports Review as an independent journal with two staff members. They also became good friends along the way.
Moxson, a retired California probation officer, and Wallman, a retired New York middle school administrator and social studies teacher, devoted four hours a day to their jobs, most of it after retiring from their main careers. Moxson called the magazine “undoubtedly an affair of the heart.”
“This is important to me because, like Shel, I have a very, very strong Jewish identity,” Moxson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The pair have long avoided the limelight; Wallman didn’t respond to requests for comment, and Moxson reluctantly offered just a single photo to share. Instead, they preferred to let their work speak for itself – and the work was meticulous. For collegiate athletes, they would drag every roster across divisions in six sports — baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse and soccer. They searched the lists for names or hometowns that might indicate Judaism and began making contact. They would email the team’s sports information director and athletic director and contact the athlete’s family.
They highlighted everyone from all-American high school athletes to current pro stars like the Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried and Washington Wizards Israeli forward Deni Avdija.
The Jewish Sports Review worked on three criteria: the player must have at least one Jewish parent, must not actively practice any other religion, and must agree to be identified as Jewish in the magazine.
“Fact-checking was the fun part,” Moxson said. “I mean nobody will do what we did.”
Unlike traditionalists who cling to matrilineal descent—that Judaism is passed on through the mother – they didn’t care which parent was Jewish. They also didn’t care how religious the family was. If the athletes said yes, they were in, and if they said no, they were out. No hard feelings, no explanation needed.
“You learn that not everyone Schwartz, Cone, Levy, Ginsburg, Feldman, Goldberg is Jewish,” Moxson said. “It’s surprising how many there aren’t. If you find an athlete named Schwartz and he’s from Fargo, North Dakota, don’t even bother, he’s German.”
The debate over who is considered Jewish and how to identify Jews can often be a touchy subject in the Jewish world. On the one hand, America’s increasingly diverse Jewish community includes a growing number of people who do not have Jewish names or live in Jewish enclaves, meaning that Jewish Sports Review criteria could easily overlook Jewish athletes. On the other hand, some think the magazine was too comprehensive. During a presentation at the National Baseball Hall of Fame several years ago, a man wearing a kippah challenged the Jewish Sports Review’s criteria, telling Moxson and Wallman that a player is not Jewish unless his mother is it.
Wallman’s answer? “Open your own magazine!”
“We list them as Jewish simply because they identify as Jewish, whether they are religious or not,” said Moxson, whose parents immigrated to what was then Palestine in the early 20th century. “I’m very, very Jewish. I am the son of Palestinian Israelis Third Aliyah. My parents were Third Aliyah, my father was a Zionist fundraiser, Golda Meir came to my house. Nobody can question my Jewish identity. I’m just not religious.”
In fact, Moxson added: the landmark 2020 Pew Research study on American Jews relied on a nearly identical definition of Judaism. “Our criteria almost word for word. I think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he said.
Over the years, the Jewish Sports Review built a loyal readership that peaked at around 1,200 subscribers, some of whom had been with the magazine since its inception in 1972. Moxson said her readers are mostly older males, but outside of the Jewish population centers of New England, New York, and Florida, she had readers from almost every state in the US, including Wyoming, Idaho, and Arkansas.
“I think especially for the southern states, they got it because the communities there are smaller and they just wanted to know who was Jewish,” Moxson said. ‘Can’t pick up the Jewish Journal [of Greater Los Angeles] in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”
The magazine didn’t sell ads, and its price of $36 a year never increased. What has increased over the years, Moxson said, is the number of Jewish athletes at the professional level.
“People ask me why, and I say because there’s money in it now,” Moxson said. “Child no longer has to be a doctor or a lawyer. You can be a hockey player or a baseball player and make a boatload of money.”
Ultimately, after 25 years of identifying Jewish athletes from college to professionals at the Olympics, Moxson said their mission, and he hopes their legacy, is simple: to prove that Jews can be athletes like everyone else.
In other words, Moxson and Wallman set out to discredit them famous scene from the 1980 comedy Plane! When a passenger asks for light reading, the flight attendant replies, “How about this pamphlet—Famous Jewish Sports Legends?”
“We had to disagree with that,” Moxson said.
The post The Eighty-Year-Old ‘Who is a Jew?’ Team of professional and collegiate athletes who wrote Call it quits first appeared on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.