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The Top 20 Jewish Athletes of All-Time

There are people from all religions who have made massive contributions to the fields in which they work and have become famous as a result. One religious group that has many examples of people who have excelled in sports are those who follow Judaism. There are Jewish athletes who compete in every field of sport and athletics. Many of these have achieved great accomplishments and become some of the biggest names in their field. They may have competed in the most events, broken world records, become one of the highest paid sportspeople, or become popular as a sports personality with the public. Here are 20 of the top Jewish athletes of all time.

20. Jason Lezak - Swimming

Jason Lezak is a competitive swimmer who was born in Irvine, California, on November 12, 1975. He has swum for three swimming teams; the Irvine Novaquatics, Rose Bowl Aquatics, and the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.Lezak has competed in four Olympic Games in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. From these competitions, he has won four gold medals. He is a former American record-holder in the 100-meter freestyle event and also holds records in the medley relays and the 400 meters freestyle events. Lezak famously turned down the opportunity to compete in the 2009 World Aquatics Championships. Instead, he chose to take part in the 18th Maccabiah games in Israel. He also competed at this event in 2017 as part of an American all-star team that beat a team of Israeli Olympians. He lives with his wife, Danielle DeAlva, in Irvine.

19. Marshall Goldberg - Football

Marshall Goldberg was a professional footballer who played in both halfback and fullback positions. He was born in West Virginia on October 25, 1917. His father was a Romanian Jewish immigrant. Goldberg showed a talent for many sports from a young age and was the team captain for his school’s basketball, football, and track teams. While at the University of Pittsburgh, he was in the Pitt Panthers football team. His professional career spanned from 1939 to 1948 and, for the majority of this time, he played for the Chicago Cardinals. Marshall Goldberg died in 2006 in a nursing home Chicago at the age of 88.

18. Tal Brody - Basketball

Tal Brody is an American-Israeli basketball player who was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on August 30, 1940. He was brought up by his Jewish family who had emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. Brody began playing basketball when he was just eight years old and played for the Biddy Basketball League of Trenton Jewish Community Center. In his senior year at Trenton Central High School, he was selected by The Star-Ledger to the First Team All-Stare Team. He was a successful basketball player at college before establishing his professional career when he joined the Baltimore Bullets in 1965. In the same year, he won the gold medal at the Maccabi Games and achieved the same level of success at the same event in 1969. He was named Israeli Sportsman of the Year in 1967 and was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. This honor was followed by him being inducted into the United States National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. He has also been inducted into the Israeli Basketball Hall of Fame. Brody retired from professional basketball in 1980.

17. Kenny Bernstein - Drag Racing

Kenny Bernstein is a drag car racer who is known by his nickname ‘Bud King’. This was a nickname he earned due to his success in the Budweiser King funny car and dragster. Bernstein also had the nickname ‘The King of Speed’ after he became the first driver to break the 300 miles per hour barrier in the first quarter from a standing start. He was born in Clovis, New Mexico, on September 6, 1944, and grew up in Texas. He started his career as a Funny Car driver in 1979 and won his first championship in 1985. Bernstein joined the Top Fuel Dragster class in 1990. In 1996, he became the first driver in the history of the NHRA to win championships in both nitro classes. Although he initially retired from racing in 2002, he returned in 2006. Kenny Bernstein is the current president of the Professional Racers Organization.

16. Max Baer - Boxing

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on February 11, 1909, Mas Bauer is one of the best-known Jewish boxers of all-time. He was at the height of his professional career during the 1930s and the highlight of this era for him was when he became the Heavyweight Champion of the World. He has been rated as one of the top 30 punchers in the whole world. Throughout his career, he was in 81 fights of which he won 68 and 59 of these were won by knockouts. In addition to his professional fighting, he also had a career as a boxing referee. Furthermore, he had some small roles in television and film. Baer died on November 19, 1959. He had been staying in Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel when he began experiencing chest pains. Although a doctor was called to assist him, Baer died before they could get him to hospital.

15. Amy Alcott - Golf

Amy Alcott is one of the most successful female golfers of all-time and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 22, 1956. She began playing golf as a teen and in 1973, she won the United States Girls’ Junior. She turned professional in 1975 when she became a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Throughout her career, she has won 29 LPGA Tour events and five major championships. In addition to playing as a professional golfer, she is also a golf course designer and was part of the team that designed the course for the Rio De Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

14. Marty Hogan - Racquetball

Not many racquetball players are well-known, but Marty Hogan hit the headlines frequently as he made some massive achievements in his chosen sport. This racquetball player was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 22, 1958. Throughout his career, he won over 100 national and international titles. He also won six United States national championships. Between 1976 and 1990, Hogan was consistently ranked as either number one or number two in the world. He had showed talent in this sport as a teen and in 1975, he had already won the United States Racquetball Association Junior Racquetball Championships. In 1989, Hogan played in his final national championship and then decided to retire the following year. He briefly returned to win a title in 1991 before hanging up his racquet for good. He became the first millionaire in the history of racquetball because of his success.

13. Ron Mix - Football

Ron Mix is a retired offensive tackle American football player who was born in Los Angeles on March 10, 1938. He was the AFL champion in 1963 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Mix was also an eight -times AFL All-Star and a nine-times All-AFL. Between 1960 and 1969, he played for Los Angeles and the San Diego Chargers. He then played for Oakland Raiders throughout 1971. When his professional career in football was over, Mix practiced law in San Diego, California. He also hit the headlines when he pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.

12. Barney Ross - Boxing

Barney Ross was born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York, on December 23, 1909. He was a professional boxer who was the world champion in three weight divisions. During his successful career in boxing, Ross was in 81 fights of which he won 72 and 22 of these wins were as a result of a knockout. He lost only four contests and drew on three occasions. One of his losses was his final fight which took place on May 31, 1938. During World War II, Ross enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He died from throat cancer on January 17, 1967, at the age of 57. In honor of this boxer, there is a character of the same name in the film ‘The Expendables’ who is played by Sylvester Stallone.

11. Lenny Krayzelburg - Swimming

Lenny Krayzelburg is originally from Odessa, Ukraine, where he was born on September 26, 1975. His Jewish family immigrated to the United States when he was 14. Krayzelburg is a former competitive swimmer whose best discipline is backstroke. Not only is he a former world record holder, he has competed in both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic games. He won four gold medals between these two Olympics when he was representing the United States. Lenny Krayzelburg now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

10. Dolph Schayes - Basketball

Dolph Schayes was both a professional basketball player and a coach for the National Basketball Association. He was born in The Bronx, New York, on December 10, 2015. His parents were Romanian Jewish immigrants. He began his career in basketball in 1948 with the Syracuse Nationals. He remained with this team throughout his career, even when they became the Philadelphia 76ers. During his 16-year career, he was a 12-time All-NBA selection and a 12-time NBA All-Star. He has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and was named as one of the Greatest Players in the history of NBA. When he retired as a player, he briefly coached the Buffalo Braves. Dolph Schayes died at the age of 87 on December 10, 2015, in Syracuse, New York.

9. Benny Friedman - Football

Benny Friedman was a professional football player who was born on March 18, 1905, in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents were Jewish Russians who had immigrated to the United States. Friedman began playing football when he was at the University of Michigan for the team the Wolverines. In 1926, he won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football trophy as he was the most valuable player in the Big Ten Conference. As a professional player, he played for eight seasons in the National Football League for the Cleveland Bulldogs, the Detroit Wolverines, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. When he retired as a player, he worked as a head coach for several teams. He died on November 23, 1982, in New York.

8. Al Rosen - Baseball

Al Rosen was a famous Jewish baseball player who was known by many other names, including ‘The Hebrew Hammer’ and ‘Flip’. He was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on February 29, 1924. Rosen started his careet in 1947 and played for the Cleveland Indians for the entirety of his career until he retired from professional baseball in 1956. He played third baseman and right-handed slugger. He was a four-time All-Star and a 285 career hitter. Following his retirement form the game, he worked as a stockbroker for two decades, He then returned to baseball as a front-office executive working in various capacities for teams including the Houston Astros, the Giants, and the New York Yankees. He died on March 13, 2015, in Rancho Mirage, California.

7. Maria Gorokhovskaya - Gymnastics

Maria Gorokhovskaya was born in Yevpatoria, Russia, on October 17, 1921. She was a Soviet gymnast of Jewish descent. She has the honor of winning most medals won by any woman in a single Olympics as she won seven medals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. She won the silver medal in all four events in which she participated, and this earned her the overall gold medal. She also won medals as part of the team events. Gorokhovskaya moved to Israel in 1990 and worked as a gymnastics coach there. She died in Tel Aviv on July 22, 2001.

6. Agnes Keleti - Gymnastics

Agnes Keleti is a Hungarian-Israeli gymnast who was born in Budapest, Hungary, on January 9, 1921. She began to train as a gymnast at the age of just four. Her childhood was troubled as her father was killed in Aushwitz and she had to hide with the rest of her family from the Nazis. She became the Hungarian National Champion for the first time when she 16 and went on to win the title ten times between 1937 and 1956. By the time she competed in the Olympics for the first time in Helsinki in1952, Keleti was 31-years-old. This was because the war and personal injuries had prevented her from competing in the past. Despite being one of the oldest competitors at the event in the field of gymnastics, she won one gold, two silvers, and a bronze. In 1956, she competed in the Melbourne Olympics. By now, Keleti was 35 but she managed to win three gold and two silver medals.

5. Dara Torres - Swimming

Dara Torres was a competitive swimmer who was born in Los Angeles on April 15, 1967. Althoguh her father was Jewish, Torres wasn’t raised to be Jewish and didn’t convert to this religion until later in life. Torres is the most decorated female Jewish Olympian of all time. She competed in five Olympic Games over a 20-year period and won 12 medals. These have included four gold, four silver, and four bronze medals. She is also a former world record-holder in three events. Following her retirement from competitive swimming, Torres worked as a reporter and announcer for several American television networks. She has also worked as a model. In 1992, she married first husband Jeff Gowen who she later divorced. In 2000, she married Israeli surgeon Itzhak Shasha and converted to Judaism prior to the wedding.

4. Sid Luckman - Football

Sid Luckman was a famous football quarterback who played for the Chicago Bears between 1939 and 1950. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 21, 1916 and died on July 5, 1988, aged 81. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Germany. He is well-known for being the greatest long-range passer of his era and the first modern T-formation quarterback. In 1943, he was named as the Most Valuable Player for NFL. In 1965, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Luckman was the joint winner of the Walter Camp Distinguished American Award in 1988. Even after he retired from professional football as a player, he continued his association with the sport by tutoring college coaches.

3. Mark Spitz - Swimming

Mark Spitz was a competitive swimmer who was born in Modesto, California, on February 10, 1950. He has won more medals than any other Jewish athlete in the history of the Olympics. He has been the Olympic champion nine times and has held former world-records in seven swimming events. In 1972, he won seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics. The only other competitive swimmer to surpass this achievement is Michael Phelps as he can boast that he won eight gold medals when he competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Spitz’s total haul of Olympic medals includes nine golds, one silver, and one bronze. Further to his success in the Olympics, he has won five Pan American gold medals and has held 31 Amateur Athletic Union titles. He has also set 35 world records, although two of these are unofficial as they were made during trials. Spitz retired from competitive swimming after the Munich Olympics even though he was only 22-years-old at that time.

2. Hank Greenberg - Baseball

Hank Greenberg is one of the most famous baseball players of Jewish descent and was also the first Jewish superstar in American team sports. He was often known as ‘The Hebrew Hammer’,’Hankus Pankus’, or Hammerin’ Hank’. Greenberg was born in New York on January 1, 1911. He died on September 4, 1986, in Beverley Hills, California. He showed talent for several sports from an early age, but baseball was his favorite. He began his career in 1930 and played for both the Detroit Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He retired from professional baseball in 1947 and he then became a successful manager and baseball team owner. He was known for sitting out games on Yom Kippur. He was the first Jewish baseball player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1954.

1. Sandy Koufax - Baseball

Sandy Koufax has been described by many as the greatest Jewish athlete of all-time. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 30, 1935. He was raised in a Jewish family and was involved in the local Jewish community. From a young age, he showed a talent for basketball which was the sport he showed talent for before he became a baseball player. His school did not offer extracurricular activities due to problems with funding, so he played basketball for the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst. He made ahis debut as a professional baseball player in 1955 and was at the height of his career between 1961 and 1966. He played for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Some of his career highlights included three pitching triple crown awards, four World Series wins, and winning three NL MVPs. He was forced to retire early at 30 due to arthritis in his left elbow. In 1972, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As he was 36 at the time, he was the youngest person to achieve this accolade.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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