MEET some of the best currently active Jewish athletes from Australia and around the world including canoeist Jessica Fox, baseball star Ryan Braun and Australian 400m champion Steve Solomon.
Ryan Braun (USA)
Better known in some circles as the “Hebrew Hammer”, Major League Baseball (MLB) star Braun, 30, is doing his bit to continue a long line of Jewish baseball legends.
As Milwaukee Brewers’ fifth pick in the 2005 amateur draft, the Los Angeles-born right-hander, whose father was born in Israel, entered the league with high hopes. And hasn’t Braun hit those expectations out of the park. A five time All-Star, 2007 National League Rookie of the Year, Braun was also the first Jew since Sandy Koufax in 1963 to win the League MVP award.
Braun’s career was marred in 2013 when he was indicted as part of the MLB’s Biogenesis scandal and suspended for 65 games for violating the league’s drug policy. Despite this, Braun has since returned looking to add to his 225 career home runs.
Jessica Fox (Australia)
The 20-year-old French-born, Penrith-raised slalom canoeist paddled into the record books recently when she became the first woman in history to win the K1/C1 double at a world championship. (For the uninitiated, the K1 involves a kayak and the C1 a canoe, a slightly smaller vessel).
Fox’s momentous achievement has essentially catapulted her to the top of slalom canoe’s watery world.
Carrying on a family tradition as the daughter of former canoe champions, Richard and Myriam, Fox grabbed silver at the 2012 London Olympics and since then she has cruised to an incredible run of form. Fox was dominant at the Under-23 Championships in Perth this year, and is churning through the international circuit, all which promises there is plenty of success ahead for the young champ.
Taylor Mays (USA)
The National Football League (NFL) is not known as a bastion for Jews, probably because it’s dominated by men more Goliath than David and the ball is colloquially known as a “pigskin”.
But Jewish African-American Mays, hailing from Irving, Texas, is one of a few making a name for himself. The 191cm, 100kg Mays enjoyed a glittering high school and college player career, including three first team All-American honours for the University of Southern California, which are awarded to the best collegiate footballers in the nation.
Drafted 49th overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 to big expectations, the athletic defender fell short of the hype and was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals after two seasons, where he has become an impact player off the bench.
Todd Goldstein (Australia)
In an AFL era where mobile ruckmen are a rare and precious commodity, the 26-year-old Kangaroos big man is among the best going around. He played in every game bar one in 2014, and was on the pitch for 95 per cent of match time, taking his game to the next level and helping his side to a preliminary final.
The towering left-footer was controversially snubbed from the All-Australian team after enjoying his finest season to date, with career-high averages in hit-outs (37 per game) and tackles (114 for the year). An improved fitness base has been the major factor in Goldstein’s improvement; his bigger engine helps him to exhaust opponents with relentless runs and multiple efforts. Still young by ruckman standards, there’s no telling how high Goldstein can leap.
Walter Samuel (Argentina)
Capped 56 times for Argentina, Samuel, 36, has been a powerful presence on some of football’s biggest stages for the past two decades.
Born in 1978 and raised by a single Jewish mother, Samuel began his footballing career at legendary Argentinian club Boca Juniors, before moving to Italian team Roma, which he then left for Spain’s Real Madrid.
Earning the nickname Il Muro (The Wall), for his defensive tenacity, Samuel became known as one of the best backmen in the game during the 2000s. This resulted in a move to Italian giant Internazionale, where Samuel would make 172 appearances across nine seasons, anchoring the side on its way to five Serie A titles, the 2010 UEFA Champions League and the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup.
Walter currently takes the field for Swiss side Basel, putting the final touches on a dazzling career that would be the envy of any footballer, Jewish or otherwise.
Omri Casspi (Israel)
A first-quarter substation by the National Basketball League’s (NBA) Sacramento Kings during a clash against the Oklahoma City Thunder saw Casspi, 26, became the first Israeli to play in the NBA.
After being taken with pick 23 in the 2009 draft, Casspi quickly made a splash, with the 206cm sharpshooter recording 15 points in his debut game. He went on to average 10.3 points throughout the season, earning him a spot on the Rookie All-Star team. Common among European players in the League, Casspi earned a reputation for dead-eye shooting from beyond the arc.
Following the 2014 season with the Houston Rockets, Casspi signed back with the Kings, returning for a second stint and keen to recapture his sizzling rookie-season form.
Steve Solomon (Australia)
Since his fairytale run through to the 400m final at 2012’s London Olympics, Solomon, 21, has captured the hearts and minds of the Australian public with his long gait and will to succeed.
A devastating hamstring injury during this year’s Commonwealth Games derailed his medal campaign, but the Sydneysider has bounced back full of vigour, returning to his base at Stanford University in California to manage the road to recovery.
Two-time defending Australian 400m champion and multiple Maccabiah Games medallist, Australian and Jewish hopes overlap as we wait for Solomon to truly hit his stride.
REPORT by Adam Blau