Muscling in on New Worlds: Jews, Sport, and the Making of the Americas. Eds. Raanan Rein and David M. K. Sheinin. Leiden: Brill, 2015. xiii + 203 pp.
This volume contains ten enlightening essays on Jewish identity and sport, exploring linkages and disjunctions between how both are culturally constructed in specific times and places. It is also a book whose parts are greater than their sum. That is to say, the introduction, epilogue and eight essays that form the body of the book are all valuable in their own right, but the attempts in both the editors' introduction and Ari Sclar's epilogue to create a unifying vision among them remain problematic.
There are many ways to categorize the essays that make up this volume. At the risk of oversimplification, one way would be to dichotomize those that primarily provide a chronicle of Jews in sports, giving us the who, what, where and when of Jewish athletes (primarily, though not exclusively, well-known figures in major sports) vs. those focus more on the why and how, giving us analyses of major trends and underlying causes. Each essay naturally includes aspects of the other genre too, but the different foci yield decidedly different kinds of essays, which sometimes complement each other but sometimes seem to inhabit different realms of scholarly discourses. Extensive bibliographic notes make visible the frames of reference in which these authors place their scholarship.
In the former camp are David M. K. Sheinen's "What Ray Arcell Saw in the Shower: Victor Galindez, Mike Rossman, and the Two Fights that Put an End to Jewish Boxing"; Raanan Rein's '"My Bobeh was Praying and Suffering for Atlanta': Family, Food and Language among the Jewish-Argentine Fans of the Club Atletico Atlanta"; Jeffrey S. Gurock's "The Clothes They Wear and the Time They Keep: The Orthodox Athletes' Tests of Tolerance in Contemporary America"; and Gerald R. Gems's "Jews, Sport and the Construction of an American Identity." (To spare the reader the suspense, what was claimed to have been seen in the shower referred to in Sheinin's titillating title was the ostensibly uncircumcised penis of boxer Max Baer ). In the latter camp we find the editors' introduction, "Making an Adjustment"; Rebecca T. Alpert's "The Macho-Mensch: Modeling American Jewish Masculinity and the Heroes of Baseball"; and Ari Sclar's "Redefining Jewish Athleticism: New Approaches and Research Directions." Standing apart from these are essays that are...