Category Archives: World of Sport

Jews in the World of Sport

Jews of the Week: Oren Smadja & Sagi Muki

Judo World Champion

Oren Smadja

Shay Oren Smadja (b. 1970) was born to a Tunisian-Jewish family in Ofakim, Israel. He was the son of Israel’s first judo coach, Morris Smadja, who played a key role in introducing the sport to Israel. Trained by his father, Oren Smadja won his first gold medal in judo at the age of 12. Seven years later, he was Israel’s judo champion. Smadja went on to represent Israel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he won a bronze medal. Three years later, he won the silver medal at the 1995 World Judo Championships. In 2008 he was a participant in the Israeli TV version of “Dancing With the Stars”. Altogether, Smadja won a medal or championship in 14 professional tournaments. He retired after competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and turned to coaching judo full time.

Sagi Muki

One of Smadja’s first students was a four-year old Sagi Aharon Muki (b. 1992) from Netanya, Israel. At the young age of 8 he had to choose to pursue either soccer or judo, and went with the latter. Under Smadja’s tutelage, Muki went on to win the under-20 European Cup in Berlin in 2011. The following year, he was Israel’s judo champion in his weight class, a feat that he repeated in 2013. He continued to win in multiple international competitions, and was ranked second in the world by 2015. That year, he took gold at the European Games and the European Judo Championship. Muki represented Israel at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, he failed to win a medal after severely injuring his spine. Bedridden for months, it seemed that Muki’s career was over. Undeterred, he refused surgeries and instituted an intense healing and training regime. Muki got back into shape and returned to judo at the Grand Prix Tashkent in October 2017. Silencing all of his critics, Muki won gold. Half a year later, he took another gold in the European Championships. Earlier this year, Muki climbed back to the world number 2 spot. Last week he won gold at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, making him the first Israeli world champion. Muki also served in the IDF and carries the rank of sergeant. He takes great pride in representing Israel around the world, and is expected to bring home another gold at next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

How Many Soulmates Do You Have?  

21 Facts About Kosher Every Jew Should Know 

Words of the Week

Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.
– Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, Ottoman politician and Muslim scholar (1899)

Jews of the Week: Amy Alcott and Laetitia Beck

Two Great Women in Golf

Amy Alcott (Credit: World Golf Hall of Fame)

Amy Alcott (b. 1956) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She played golf for the first time when she was nine years old, and the golf club was so impressed they give her special access to their facilities. At age 18, Alcott decided to skip college and become a professional golfer. She joined the LPGA and won her first tournament shortly after, as well as the Rookie of the Year award. Alcott went on to win a whopping 29 LPGA tour championships, 5 of them majors. In 1983 she became only the sixth golfer ever to make a million dollars in winnings. Alcott donated much of those earnings, and was awarded the Founders Cup three years later for her philanthropic work. In 1986, she became the third golfer ever to make two million dollars. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999, as well as to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Since retiring from professional play, Alcott has turned to coaching girls golf, painting, and designing golf courses. Perhaps her most famous work is designing the golf course at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Laetitia Beck

Playing on that course and representing Israel in golf for the first time was Laetitia Beck (b. 1992). Beck was born in Belgium to a religious Jewish family which made aliyah to Israel when she was six years old. The family settled in Caesarea, near Israel’s only full golf course. Like Alcott, Beck first played golf at age 9. At just 12, she was the ladies champion at the Israel Open, and won again the following year. She then moved to the US for better opportunities and tougher competition. At 18, she returned to Israel and enlisted in the IDF. However, after completing all her exams she was given an exemption from service under the category of being a “sports prodigy”. She joined the LPGA Tour and became the first Israeli ever to do so. Beck always sports an Israeli flag somewhere on her uniform, and has said that “My goal is to represent Israel and the Jewish people.” She has done this extremely well, as she always keeps a kosher diet wherever in the world she plays, and never performs on Jewish holidays. When she declined an invitation to a golf tournament in October 2011 because it conflicted with Yom Kippur, she was compared to Sandy Koufax, who famously missed a game of the 1965 World Series for the same reason. Meanwhile, Beck earned an undergraduate degree from Duke University in 2014, where she had played for the school’s golf team, the Blue Devils. So far, Beck has won two golds at the Maccabiah Games, and five Israeli Opens (with the most recent ones played in the men’s division), as well as a Rookie of the Year award, and two appearances on the All-American golf team. She is teeing off tomorrow morning at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.

Words of the Week

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn…
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jew of the Week: Larry Tanenbaum

Owner of the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs

Lawrence M. Tanenbaum (b. 1945) was born in Toronto, the grandson of religious Polish-Jewish immigrants. His father was a real estate tycoon and the founder and owner of York Steel Construction. Tanenbaum studied economics at Cornell University, where he managed the school’s hockey team. Upon graduating, he became the general manager of Kilmer Van Nostrand, a construction company that his father had recently bought out. Tanenbaum expanded the company rapidly. Among their many projects across the Americas are the Toronto, Atlanta, Miami, and Calgary train and subway networks. After a merger with another company in 1984, Tanenbaum became the CEO of Canada’s largest road paving company. Meanwhile, he created two new subdivisions for Kilmer: its Developments wing which is a leading Canadian real estate firm, and Kilmer Sports, for which Tanenbaum is most famous. Kilmer Sports has a 25% share of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., and Tanenbaum is the chairman of both the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball team. The former is among the most valuable sports clubs in the world, while the latter won the NBA Championship last week for the first time in its history. In fact, Tanenbaum played an instrumental role in bringing a professional basketball team to Toronto. Although he lobbied the NBA for years, the contract was ultimately awarded to another businessman. Undeterred, Tanenbaum vowed to buy it out, and did so in 1998 with the team having struggled tremendously in its first years. Tanenbaum quickly turned its fortunes around (together with Vince Carter, who was drafted that same year.) Tanenbaum is a big sports fan himself, and goes to as many Leafs and Raptors games as he can. MLSE also owns the Toronto Argonauts, Toronto FC, and two more teams, making it Canada’s largest sports company, and one of the largest in the world. Last year, Tanenbaum (with a partner) bought the rights to bottle and distribute Coca-Cola in Canada. Tanenbaum and his family are huge philanthropists, donating countless millions to schools, hospitals, and charities. Among his largest donations are $60 million to Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, $20 million to Montreal’s Neurological Institute and Hospital, $5 million to the University of Toronto, and $50 million to the UJA. He is a co-founder of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Tanenbaum was awarded the Order of Canada in 2007. He plans to take the Toronto Raptors on an all-expenses paid trip to Israel as a victory present.

Words of the Week

Five thousand years of continuous history of the Jewish people have built an ethic. And the ethic has been built around family, the importance of learning and good behaviour. You build on those tenets. You never stop learning, whether that’s reading the Bible, the Talmud, the New Yorker or Engineering News Record. And ethical behaviour is about conducting your relationships on an ethical basis. You’re honest with people.

– Larry Tanenbaum