Category Archives: World of Sport

Jews in the World of Sport

Jew of the Week: Eran Zahavi

Israel’s (and China’s) Greatest Footballer

Eran Zahavi (Photo Credit: Nir Keidar)

Eran Zahavi (b. 1987) was born in Rishon LeZion, Israel, to a French-Jewish father and Israeli mother. He began playing soccer with the Hapoel Tel Aviv club when he was just 6 years old. After completing his IDF service, he started to play for Hapoel Tel Aviv’s senior team. In the 2009-10 season, he helped lead the team to an Israel State Cup, and an Israeli Premier League championship, scoring the winning goal in the 92nd minute of the final. Two years later, he signed a five-year deal with Italian club Palermo, but transferred to Maccabi Tel Aviv half way through the contract. He became the captain during the 2015-16 season, and set an Israeli record scoring 35 goals in 36 games. The following year, he signed with Guangzhou R&F in the Chinese Super League. Zahavi quickly became a top scorer, and was nicknamed “King of Yuexiushan”. Rival team Shandong Luneng Taishan F.C. wanted him badly and offered $20 million for a trade—the most ever for an Israeli football player. In 2017, he was China’s MVP and won a Golden Boot Award. Two years later, he set a new Chinese Super League scoring record. In 2020, Zahavi returned to Europe, signing with Dutch team PSV Eindhoven. He tied the team record for goals that season. At the same time, during the 2020 Euro qualifiers, he was second only to Harry Kane in goals (and tied with Cristiano Ronaldo). In a game against Slovakia, Israel’s team was down 2-0 before Zahavi scored a hat-trick within 20 minutes, giving Israel the 3-2 win. After a couple of unfortunate incidents and attacks on his home in Amsterdam, Zahavi decided to return to Israel. A few weeks ago, he re-signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv for two years. Zahavi was Israeli Footballer of the Year twice, and is the national team’s all-time scoring leader.

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Words of the Week

This phase of existence is finite. Some people live 20 years, some people live 100 years – what’s the difference, really, from the perspective of that which transcends the infinite and the eternal? It’s equally insignificant. What is significant is what you actually do with the time that you do have.
Dr. Vladimir Zev Zelenko, ob”m

Jew of the Week: Harry Haft

“The Survivor” of Auschwitz

Herschel “Hertzko” Haft (1925-2007) was born in Poland and orphaned at the young age of 3. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he ran a smuggling ring with his brother in order to survive. In 1942, he was sent to Auschwitz. An SS officer noticed his muscular physique and decided to train him to be a boxer. Haft was forced to fight other inmates (at the neighbouring Jaworzno camp), often to the death, for the entertainment of the SS officers. He won and survived through a total of 76 fights. With the Soviet Army closing in, the Nazis forced all the inmates on a death march, which Haft also managed to survive. During his escape, he killed a Nazi soldier and put on his uniform. He eventually made it to an American DP camp, and finally settled in New Jersey in 1948. Haft became a light heavyweight boxer and had 21 fights, of which he won 13. His last fight was against a young and up-and-coming Rocky Marciano, who later became heavyweight champion and one of the most famous boxers in history. The Italian mafia threatened Haft and forced him to lose the fight to Marciano. Haft decided to end his boxing career. He got married and opened a small grocery store in Brooklyn, where he lived the rest of his life quietly. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. A film about his incredible story, The Survivor (starring Ben Foster, Danny DeVito, and John Leguizamo) was released yesterday in Israeli theatres and on HBO in honour of Yom HaShoah.

Words of the Week

We, the God-fearing, criticize and prosecute the secular state, while the secular Jews take action and create facts on the ground. I also used to think that this was the proper approach, and I would curse the heretics with great fervor, anticipating that my curses would be fulfilled. But that did not happen. On the contrary, I saw that they were becoming stronger and stronger. So, I said to myself, that perhaps it is better if we switch roles. I will build the land of Israel in holiness and the seculars can curse me!
– Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, renowned Hasidic leader and Holocaust survivor, on why he made aliyah.

Jews of the Week: Sherbatov and Hyman

Two Inspiring Pro Hockey Players

Eliezer “Eli” Sherbatov

Eliezer Sherbatov (b. 1991) was born in Rehovot, Israel to Jewish-Russian immigrants, and moved with his family to Quebec as a child. His father was a big fan of the Montreal Canadians hockey team, and Sherbatov grew up playing lots of hockey. At just 13, he returned to Israel to join the HC Metulla hockey team. He represented Israel at the 2005 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, becoming the youngest player in tournament history. A serious rollerblading injury nearly ended his career, and kept him off the ice for over two years. He eventually returned to Montreal for junior training camp, then headed to France to play in the Magnus League, where he was one of the top scorers. He has since played for a number of European teams, and was the first Israeli to play in the KHL. More recently, he played for Poland’s Oswiecim (ie. Auschwitz) of which he said: “I have a great deal of motivation because it is Auschwitz. I want to win the championship, the Polish Cup and the continental title, and then everyone will know the one who did this is a Jewish-Israeli.” Sherbatov has been most successful on the international stage, captaining Israel’s little-known hockey team to multiple victories. At the 2011 IIHF World Championships, Sherbatov stunned fans with a highlight-reel goal that ended up being ranked as the fourth greatest hockey goal of all time. In 2019, he led Israel’s team to its first gold medal at the IIHF World Championship (Division II). He was the tournament’s top scorer, and named “Best Forward”. Sherbatov currently plays for HC Mariupol in the Ukrainian Hockey League.

Zach Hyman (Credit: Michael Miller)

Zachary Martin Hyman (b. 1992) was born in Toronto, Canada. His father is the chairman of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and Hyman grew up immersed in hockey, together with his four brothers. He went to Jewish day school and graduated from Toronto’s Jewish high school, CHAT. Meanwhile, Hyman played for the Hamilton Red Wings junior team and became its captain and leading scorer. He was soon awarded junior Player of the Year by Hockey Canada, and the OJHL’s Most Gentlemanly Player. Hyman went to the University of Michigan on an athletic scholarship, and by his senior year was the team’s top scorer. A serious student, too, he graduated with a Distinguished Scholar Award. Hyman was drafted to the NHL by the Florida Panthers in 2010, but ended up playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first year, he set records for most shorthanded goals by a rookie and most consecutive games with an assist. He went on to play on the Leafs’ top line, and was an alternate captain. Aside from hockey, Hyman is a bestselling author of children’s books, and is currently working on his fourth book. He has also been praised for his extensive charity work. When the new NHL season begins next week, Hyman will suit up for the Edmonton Oilers, with whom he signed a 7-year, $38.5 million contract.

Words of the Week

Jews do not accept the world that is. They challenge it in the name of the world that ought to be.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks