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ELLIS ISLAND TO EBBETS FIELD by Peter Levine

ELLIS ISLAND TO EBBETS FIELD

Sport and the American Jewish Experience

By Peter Levine

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-19-505128-9
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

 A thoroughly researched but dull treatise showing the significant impact of sports on the great American-Jewish pastime of assimilation. As Levine (A.G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball, 1985) demonstrates how second-generation Jewish immigrants dominated the playing, coaching, and administration of basketball in its formative decades, it becomes clear that in this sport, unlike in baseball, boxing, college football, or Olympic sports, Jews (with teams like the Cleveland Rosenblums) gave far more than they got. What all these sports did for Eastern European immigrants of a foreign and anti-recreational culture, Levine explains, was to give them a passport to the level playing field where even ``undersized and weak-muscled'' Hebrews might prove themselves the equal of wholesome Christian lads. But the bearded Talmud scholars who disdained the sporting frivolity of grandsons with names like Red Auerbach (basketball icon), Barney Ross (boxing champ), and Sid Luckman (football star) were aghast at the possibility that these boys ``would someday be eating pig''--and they couldn't imagine things getting so bad that, by 1970, the son of baseball slugger Hank Greenberg would list himself as a Congregationalist. Levine offers an impressive record of little-known Jewish sports figures, but his hard digging is trivialized by his seemingly watered-down sense of Jewish issues and identity. Occasional interviews with athletes who were caught in cultural conflicts with their families make up the book's most engaging segments. Interesting, but too long and too dry.