Josh Berkman is the associate director of communications in North America for The Jewish Agency for Israel, a co-sponsor of this weekend’s Celebrate Israel Run in New York City. In advance of the event, he has compiled a list of 18 “fast” Jews.
Jews are known for a lot of things: Nobel prizes, great comedy, beautiful music, literature, and the sometimes-vigorous debate. Generally speaking, we are not known for our foot speed. But perhaps this characterization is unfair. In memory of Fred Lebow, who built the New York City Marathon onto one of the largest races in the world and served 20 years as president of the New York Roadrunners Club (the host of this Sunday’s run), we’ve assembled a list of 18 fast Jews.
Why 18? In Judaism, 18 is the numeric symbol for life. The Jewish Agency is focused on securing the Jewish future for generations, which requires celebrating the proud and strong. In the words of Isaiah, we shall run without growing weary and walk without growing faint. And in that spirit, it is our honor to present—in no particular order (why not debate it?)—The Fast 18.
1. Abel Kiviat: There were few faster middle distance runners, back in the day. In 1908, Kiviat ran the fastest leg of the 2,000-yard relay ever recorded (1:16), and he broke the world record in the 1,500 (3:55.8) in 1912. Later that year, at the Stockholm Olympics, this fast Jew won gold in the 3,000 meter relay and silver in the 1,500 meter.
2. Fanny Rosenfeld: Oh Canada, indeed. At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, this Ukraine-born, Canada–bred speedstress was golden in the 4X100-meter relay and won silver in the 100-meter dash. She also laced up the skates for Toronto Patterson Pats and was named the superwoman of ladies hockey.
3. Lon Myers: The Usain Bolt of the 1880s. The Lon Myers legend is as follows: At one point or another, he held every American record for races from 50 yards to one mile and set world records at 11 different distances. With a flair for the moment, Myers finished off one 440-meter race running sideways taunting his English opponent and, in 1879, ran the last 120 yards of his record-setting quarter-mile (45.2) with one shoe.
4. Elias Katz: After winning the gold (3,000-meter relay) and the silver (3,000-meter steeplechase) at the 1924 Paris Olympics, this flying Finn joined the Bar Kochba Jewish sports club in Berlin, but fled to Palestine in 1933. In 1948 he returned to the Olympics, this time as the coach of Israel’s track team at the London games.
5. Maria Itkina: Running for the Soviet Union in 1960, Itkina’s mark of 11.4 seconds in the 100 meters remains one of the fastest times ever recorded. She also set world records in five other distances and was named a Merited Master of Sports, the highest possible honor for a Soviet athlete.
6. Johanna Zeiger: In the first-ever Olympic triathlon, Zeiger finished fourth at the 2000 Sydney games. Eight years later, she won the Ironman World Championship, completing her run in 0:36:01.86. With a PhD in public health form Johns Hopkins, it’s clear she has a Yiddisher kup as well.
7. Gerry Ashworth: In 1961, Ashworth tied the world record in the 60-yard dash with a blistering 6.1. Three years later, at the Tokyo games, he ran the second leg of the gold medal winning US 4X100 relay team, anchored by “Bullet” Bob Hayes.
8. Milton Green: A world class hurdler who ran a world record-tying heat at Madison Square Garden Olympic trials in 1936, Green was a lock to make the US team. But he, along with Harvard teammate, Norman Cahners, chose not to go to Berlin. Need we say more?
9. Irina Szewinska: One of the most decorated Jewish Olympians ever, Szewinska was a gold medal sprinter for Poland in Tokyo (1964), Mexico City (1968) and Montreal (1976).Today she heads the Polish Federation for Athletics and is a member of the International Olympic Committee.
10. Shaul Ladany: Walking for Israel in the 60s and 70s, Ladany—a survivor of Bergen Belsen—set the record for the 50-mile walk. In fact his time (7:23:50) is still the best ever. A member of the ’72 Israeli team in Munich, he escaped out the back door of Block 2 at the Olympic compound after Palestinian terrorists stormed Blocks 1 and 3 and later killed 11 of his fellow Israelis. A professor emeritus and Ben Gurion University, 75-year-old Ladany still walks at least 15 kilometers a day.
11. Eddie Hamel: An American-born footballer, who was raised in Amsterdam, Hamel was a first team right winger for Ajax in the 1920s, and the first-ever Jew to start for the legendary Dutch side. After retiring in 1930, he managed Alcmaria Victirix for three years. Hamel died in Auschwitz in April, 1943.
12. Yossi Benayoun: Benayoun, an Israeli, currently plays for Arsenal on loan from Chelsea. After breaking into the premiership with West Ham in 2005, he signed a four-year contract with the Hammers in 2007 and was then transferred to Liverpool later that year. In 2009, Benayoun became the first-ever player to notch hat tricks in the Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League. He captained the Gunners during their 1-0 League Cup match this year against eventual champion Manchester City. Benyoun also plays for Israel and has 85 caps to his record.
13. Ronnie Rosenthal: After three underwhelming seasons for Liverpool, Rosenthal found a home at White Hart Lane, where he appeared 100 matches for Tottenham and scored 11 goals. (Including a hat trick that led a Spurs comeback against Southampton in 1994-95 in the FA Cup.). Rosenthal also played 14 years for Israel, earning 60 caps.
14. Greg Camarillo: You don’t play wide receiver in the NFL as an undrafted free agent if you’re not an extremely fast Jew. The son of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant mother, this sure-handed Viking has caught 142 passes for over 1,686 yards and five touchdowns. He was traded to the Vikings last year from the Dolphins, where he went the entire 2009 season without dropping a single pass.
15. Herb Rich: This former Colt, Ram and Giant was a fast AND fearless Jew. A two-time All-Pro, he played safety and returned punts for six years in the 1950’s. As a rookie, in fact, he set the NFL record for the highest single-season punt return average (23 yards per return).
16. Lipman Pike: Lip Pike was a merchant: a speed merchant that is. He played in the majors for 16 years and stole 25 bases in 1875 as member of the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Ballplayers did anything they could in those days to earn extra money. Pike raced horses. Literally. According to Jewish Sports Legends, he ran against a Baltimore quarter horse in a 100-yard sprint in 1873. He pocketed $250 that day.
17. Shawn Green: Arguably one of the top five Jewish ball players of all time, this two-time all star knew what to do on the base paths. He stole 20 bases four years in a row and in 1998, as Blue Jay, became just the 10th major leaguer to hit 35 homeruns and swipe 35 bags. He did hit a homerun on Kol Nidre, one year, but sat out the next day. Perhaps the Jewish guilt got to this fast Jew.
18. Ian Kinsler: The heir to Green’s throne as the fastest Jew on the diamond, Kinsler is a threat to run whenever he gets on base, which is roughly 40 percent of the time. A two-time all star, he is only the fourth infielder with multiple 30-30 seasons and is the youngest major leaguer ever to do so. In 2011, he stole 28 consecutive bases without getting nailed, and he has the third highest stolen base percentage of all active players with more than 120 career attempts.
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