A Much More Complete List of Diaspora Jews at the Tokyo Olympics—and About the Guys Who Found Them—the Jewish Sports Review Editors. More Medal Winners, Too!
Every two years, since 2002, I have poured over rosters of Olympics-bound teams (other than Israel) to find the Jewish athletes. It is a time-consuming and often difficult task. I would find about 80% of the Jewish Diaspora athletes going to the Olympics. I knew I was finding around 80% of them because just about the time the Games were ending, I would receive my copy of Jewish Sports Review (“JSR”) magazine. The JSR “Olympics issue” would inevitably have everybody I “had”, and about 20% more.
My Olympics article usually came out about week before the Games. The JSR Olympics issue was usually mailed to subscribers a day or so before the Games began and the JSR would not share their list with me until the Olympic issue was in its subscribers’ hands.
This year, now-resolved health problems prevented me from putting in the time and effort to find these athletes.
The biggest Jewish media outlet, the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), issued a number of articles on the Olympics about a week before the Tokyo Games began. It was wider coverage than they had in prior Olympics and a number of writers were credited. Still, I thought something was amiss when their list of Jewish Olympic athletes had only 8 names (excluding Israeli athletes and Diaspora Jews playing for Israel).
I sent the JTA list to the two editors of Jewish Sports Review. Long story short: the JSR Olympics issue lists 22 Jewish athletes from the Diaspora.
A JSR editor told me this year they mailed their Olympics issue out early to their subscribers and I am now free to share their findings. I am doing that here.
But, after the JSR list, do read the fascinating story of the Jewish Sports Review, which is unquestionably the best source on who is Jewish in pro and amateur sports down to the high school level. Trust me, it’s a really cool, Jewish story.
Just below is the JSR list of Olympics-bound Jewish athletes from countries other than Israel. To be clear, the JSR also lists the Israeli team members. The hardest thing is what they do: finding out how is Jewish besides Israeli team members.
Many of you have read the JTA articles. For your convenience, I have asterisked the names the JTA mentioned, so you can quickly see “who’s new”. I have also annotated the list to note how the athlete performed at the Games (as of Aug. 22). This list is not exactly as it appears in the JSR. I have reduced their biographical copy. “Google” an athlete for more info.
As I write this, Jewish Diaspora athletes have won one gold medal and three bronze medals. Not bad for Diaspora Jews, who number less than 10 million people—even if the definition of a Jew is “liberal”.
Basketball - SUE BIRD, who at age 40 is the oldest player in the WNBA and the longest tenured having played for 20 years with the Seattle Storm. Syosset, NY native. * (US team unbeaten as of Aug.2)
Beach Volleyball: ALEXANDRA “ALIX” KLINEMAN, 31, from Manhattan Beach, CA, was a four -time All-American at Stanford U. This is her first Olympics. * (Quoting UPI, August 3: US. women's beach volleyball stars April Ross and Alix Klineman are now two wins away from their first Olympic gold medals after defeating Germany in the quarterfinals on August 3)
Equestrian: ADRIENNE STERNLICHT, 28, from Greenwich, CT. She competes in the Show Jumping division of Equestrian, She earned a team gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. This is her first Olympics. (No results as of evening of Aug. 2.)
ELI DERSHWITZ, 25, from Boston, MA, Eli earned a #1 national ranking in the sabre in February 2018 and a #1 world ranking in July 2018. This is his first Olympics. * (He lost in the “round of 16” individual competition and the US team was eliminated after two losses to other countries).
JACQUELINE “Jackie” DUBROVICH, 26, from Paterson, NJ. She got a medal (foil) at the 2019 Pan-American Games. She will be competing in her first Olympic Games (She was eliminated in the first round of the individual competition. The team lost their first match, won their second, and were eliminated with a third match loss).
JACK HOYLE, 27, from Philadelphia, PA. He won a bronze individual medal for Epee and a gold for Team Epee at the 2018 Pan-American Games. He is currently ranked #1 in the U.S. for the epee and #12 world ranked. This will be his first Olympic Games. (He lost in the first round of the individual competition and the team was eliminated in their 2nd round match).
NICK ITKIN, 21, from Pacific Palisades, CA. Nick won a gold medal for the foil at the 2018 Jr. World Championships, won NCAA championships in 2018 and 2019 while at Notre Dame and is currently world ranked #7for the foil. (He was eliminated in the 2nd round of the individual competition. HOWEVER, the US foil team defeated Japan for the bronze medal and Itkin is a BRONZE MEDAL WINNER).
NICOLE ROSS, 32 from New York, NY Nicole competed in the 2012 Olympics finishing 25th in the Individual Foil and 6th in Team Foil. Nicole and her teammates won the Team gold in the 2018 World Championships. (She was eliminated in the 2nd round of the individual competition. The US foil team played for the bronze medal against Italy and lost.)
JEFFREY GLUCKSTEIN, 28, from Red Bank, NJ. He competed in the Trampoline division of men’s gymnastics. He is is a 7-time U.S. champion and won a silver medal in the men’s individual event at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. Jeffrey is a first time Olympian. (He did not survive the qualifying rounds).
Track & Field
SAM MATTIS, 27, from East Brunswick, NJ. Sam took first in the discus at the 2019 Outdoor U.S. Track & Field Championships. This is Sam’s first Olympics (Mattis is the son of an African-American father and a white, Jewish mother. An Ivy League grad, he gave up lucrative offer to work on Wall St. to train for the Games. He finished 8th at the Tokyo Games).
Argentina/Tennis - DIEGO SCHWARTZMAN, 28 from Buenos Aires. Diego has captured 4 ATP singles titles and in October 2020 reached his highest world ranking of 8th. This will be Diego’s first Olympic Games. * (He lost in the 3rd round of the singles competition and he lost in the first round of the doubles competition).
JESSICA FOX, 27, an Aussie born in France, competes in the women’s canoe slalom. She earned a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics in the K-1 women’s slalom. * (She won a BRONZE MEDAL in the kayak competition and a GOLD MEDAL in the canoe competition. She got lots of coverage after she posted a video of how a condom was used to secure a gooey substance that fixed a cracking problem at the nose of her canoe).
NATHAN KATZ, 26, JUDO, 66KG. Katz and his brother, Josh, were both in the 2016 Games. Due to qualifying problems, brought on by restricted travel due to Covid, Josh did not make the Tokyo team and Nathan was added to the team at the last minute. He lost to Israeli SHMAILOV BARUCHA in the second round of competition).
JEMIMA MONTAG, 23, from Melbourne, who competes in race walking, won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the 20K race walk. This will be Montag’s first Olympic Games. * (Event not held yet).
STEVE SOLOMON, 28, from Sydney is a sprinter who specializes in the 400m Dash. He represented Australia in the 2012 London Olympics. (As I write this, Solomon advanced into the 2nd round, having finished 2nd in his first heat. In his second heat, he finished third and had a chance to advance based on his time versus others. Complicated).
SHARON FICHMAN, 30, who resides in Toronto, plays singles and doubles tennis but mostly doubles in recent years and will play doubles in Tokyo. Her highest world ranking in doubles was #31 in May 2021 and #77 in singles in May 2014. (Lost in first round of the doubles’ competition).
SHAUL GORDON, 27, who was born in Tel Aviv but now resides in Montreal, is a fencer specializing in the Sabre. In the 2019 Pan American Games, he earned a bronze medal in the sabre. This is his first Olympics. (Lost in first round of competition)
ELI SCHENKEL, 28, who was born in Los Angeles, CA, but now resides in British Columbia, is a fencer specializing in the Foil. He captured 2 team medals at the 2019 Pan American Games. Like Gordon, he is a Olympic Games rookie. (Also lost in first round of competition)
SAMANTHA SMITH, 29, born in Toronto, trains in Vancouver. She is a trampoline gymnast who won a bronze for Team Trampoline at the 2019 World Championships. * (She finished 13th in the qualifying round and did not advance to the final).
CAMILA GIORGI, 29, was born in Macerata, Italy, and currently lives in Pisa. This veteran tennis player reached a career high world ranking of #26 in 2018. This will be Camila’s first Olympic Games. (She won her first three singles matches and made it to the quarterfinals, where she, sadly, lost to another Jewish woman: Elina Svitolina, from the Ukraine. See below). .
AVI SCHAEFER, 23, was born in Osaka and holds dual US-Japanese citizenship. The 6:10 center and Georgia Tech graduate has played for the Japan national basketball team since 2016. As the host country, Japan automatically qualified for the Japan Olympics. * (Japan lost its first three games and was eliminated from the competition).
ELINA SVITOLINA, 27, was born in Odessa, Ukraine Republic, and reached a highest ranking in world tennis of #3 in September 2017 and again in September 2019. This will be Elina’s first Olympic Games. (She won the BRONZE MEDAL. Quoting Olympics.com: “Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina is leaving the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with a bronze medal in the women’s singles. Svitolina fought back to beat Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and win Ukraine’s first ever Olympic tennis medal.”
Tennis/American SOFIA KENIN, 22, from Pembroke Pines, FL. She was born in Moscow, Russia). After being named to the U.S. Olympic women’s tennis team, Sofia decided to decline the honor because she was not permitted to take anyone with her. Not included in the “22” count above.
Two JTA Olympics articles have said that Russian Olympic team member Lilia Akhamikova, 24, is Jewish. An artistic gymnast, Akhamikova just won a gold medal in the vault event.
Bottom line: there were no Jewish details in the stories about her and there are other reasons to question her identification as Jewish. She may or may not be Jewish.
All About the Jewish Sports Review
Jewish Sports Review is a print-only publication that puts out six, 24-page issues a year. There aren’t long profile articles and only a few photos. The biographical sketches of the listed athletes vary, but are rarely more than a few sentences. What makes the publication great is the breadth of its coverage and its accuracy.
The listings are tied to the beginning of a sport’s season. For example, the May-June, 2021 issue listed all the Jews currently playing Major League Baseball. After each name, there is a short bio (hometown, previous season stats, etc.).
This list is followed by all the Jewish players in the minor leagues (some are former major leaguers, and that is noted).
The previous issue (April-May) covered all the Jews in college baseball.
The Review also creates Jewish, All-American College teams. In the May-June issue, there were three All-Star teams of Jewish players—women’s college basketball; men’s college basketball; and men’s college hockey. Also in the issue, there was coverage (lists) of Jewish college women who play, respectively, hockey and lacrosse, and college (male) wrestlers.
The May-June issue had a “bonus”—a list of every Jewish Olympic medal winner since 1968.
Near the end of every issue are several pages of brief updates on Jewish athletes in just about every sport.
At the end of every issue is a page or two of “fun facts” about Jewish athletes from any era and a fun quiz.
Naturally, the athletes mentioned in the Review get a bit of a thrill—as does their family and friends. If they make a JSR “All-American” team—that award often appears in their biography on their college team website.
I find it fun to see athletes from the area I grew up in, where I live now, and from my undergrad college. Sometimes I share “local” Jewish athletes with friends around the country, “Did you know your [insert college] starting quarterback is Jewish?”---that sort of thing.
The Review is a “labor of love” by two dedicated guys: Ephraim Moxson, 79, and Shel Wallman, 83. They have no staff. A yearly subscription is $36.00. The subscription revenue just about covers the cost of typesetting, printing and postage.
Moxson and Wallman live largely on their pensions. Now retired, Shel was a Queens, NY, social studies teacher, then a Dean of Students, and again a social studies teacher, Ephraim was a social worker who became a State of California parole officer. He, too, is retired.
Shel is a New York native, the son of immigrants. Ephraim was also born in New York. He lived in Cleveland from age 1 to 15. His family then moved to Los Angeles—where he currently resides. While in Cleveland, he delivered newspapers to Jewish baseball Hall-of-Famers Al Rosen and Hank Greenburg—but never met them.
Neither of the JSR editors played on athletic teams while in high school or college. But both played sports that guys do—like gym basketball—and both have long had an interest in who is Jewish in sports.
I’ll put it this way—they both have strong ties to their Jewish identity and they take pride in being Jewish—and that’s part of why they do the Review. The hundreds of good athletes in every Review issue undermines the false belief that Jews, compared to most other groups, are not good athletes.
Moxson’s parents were born in what is now Belarus, but met and married in Warsaw. They moved to then-Mandate Palestine in the 1920s. It’s still a bit of a confused story—they made trips back and forth from America to Palestine. But, by the late ‘30s, they were settled for good in America. Moxson’s father worked before, and after Israel’s creation, as a fundraiser for Zionist causes.
In 1972, Shel put a small ad in “The Sporting News” asking for subscribers to a newsletter about Jewish athletes he was writing called “Jewish Sports Review”. Ephraim replied and subscribed and they began writing back and forth about sports and other things. In 1974, Shel shut down the Review. For the next 20 years he wrote a column on Jews in sport for a now-defunct Indiana-based Jewish paper that had a national circulation.
Before internet research tools, it was very hard to determine if a “new on the scene” athlete was Jewish. But Shel did so by writing letters to the athlete, or his/her parents, or his or her coaches. He also made some phone calls. Ephraim was one of Shel’s unpaid “stringers”. He gathered West Coast info for Shel.
The two guys became great social friends over the years. They discovered that they had a lot in common besides sports. They had similar cultural interests and similar politics. They, and their Jewish wives, often vacationed together.
Both guys are fathers. Shel is still married to his “only” wife. Ephraim became a widower 17 years ago. Fortunately, he later found a great woman who has long been his romantic partner.
In 1997, the Indiana paper said it could no longer pay Shel even a modest fee for his column. So, with Ephraim, he revived Jewish Sports Review and the two of them, in effect, have been the Review since.
The internet was up and running by 1997 and the Net has helped research “who is Jewish”. You can easily access reliable articles that say an athlete is Jewish (especially pros and college stars). You can find addresses much more easily and you can e-mail a question instead of sending a paper letter.
But, to a surprising degree, the JSR guys rely on the phone. They cold call the homes of athletes they think are Jewish and ask them (or their parents, etc) if they are Jewish.
Ephraim told me that once they explain why they are asking---virtually everyone is cooperative. If they aren’t Jewish, they say it and are not offended. If they are Jewish, they are usually happy to tell Shel or Ephraim that. Ephraim can only recall one time that a person was really angry at the question.
Ephraim told me that they constantly look for multiple, good sources to confirm that someone is Jewish.
Over the years, they developed the following criteria to include someone in the Review. If the athlete has at least one Jewish parent, and was raised Jewish or secular, they will include him in the Review. However, in almost all instances they contact the athlete or their representative (like a parent) and ask if the athlete is okay with identifying themself as a Jewish athlete in the Review. If they say “NO”, they are not in the Review. Only about a dozen “otherwise qualified” athletes have ever asked not to be in the Review.
Both editors, I am told, devote about 4 hours a day to Review research. Of course, they don’t try to contact everyone on a team roster—but if there are rational clues (like a usually Jewish, or often Jewish, last name)—they try and contact the athlete.
I have been “running” down Jewish celebrities for a long time. First for a biographical web site, and later for a Jewish newspaper column. I am pretty good at what I do—but I am in awe of these two guys---how hard they work and how much attention they pay to accuracy.
Before they were on the scene, articles and books about Jews in sports were almost all shot through with errors. Somebody who wasn’t Jewish would appear in a book on Jews in sport and other authors would repeat the same mistake for decades.
Every Jewish media outlet should subscribe to the Review and credit them for use of their research. Sadly, many of these outlets make mistakes because they don’t know about the Review or don’t care about accuracy. Even sadder, there are media outlets that simply lift their lists without credit.
The saddest thing, to me, is the fact that these two guys long ago decided that the Review will end when one of them can no longer “do the work”. I wish they would train successors, but that’s not their plan.
I predict that within a few years after the Review ends, the “bad old days” will return. There will be more and more lists of famous “Jewish” athletes that erroneously include many non-Jews. These lists will be published/posted in the Jewish media, and elsewhere, because the persons creating these lists just doesn’t do the hard work.
There will also be lists in the Jewish media that are very incomplete. Many Jewish athletes, including Olympic athletes, will simply not be identified as Jewish in the Jewish community media.
But the good news is that the JSR guys are still here, working, and in pretty good shape. Please consider subscribing and take one worry away from them—where they will get the money to put out another issue.