What’s a GOAT worth? On Passover, approximately two zuzim. But to Gabe and Jamie, hosts of The CJN’s preeminent Jewish sports podcast Menschwarmers, the GOAT Jewish athlete—the Greatest Of All Time—is worth far, far more. So, just in time for the seder, the Menschwarmers present a little Mensch Madness with their picks for the GADYA: the Greatest All-time Diaspora Yiddish Athlete.
For the month of April 2022, we ran a 16-person bracket pitting Jew against Jew. Hundreds of you voted. The winner, perhaps unsurprisingly: Sandy Koufax. (Gee, who saw that coming?)
See how your favourites fared in our breakdown below:
Five Olympic gold medals. Four WNBA titles. Twelve All-Star selections. The GOAT of women’s basketball is internationally acclaimed—and for good reason. Stewarding the WNBA and the U.S. national team through the last 20 years, Sue Bird is running it back this year with the Seattle Storm. There simply is no more decorated Jewish athlete, let alone with the stamina to do it 24 straight years and counting.
During the early 2000s, Amar’e Stoudemire and the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns changed the way basketball was played. Up-tempo and offence-focused, they created a new style of play that’s since become de rigueur in the NBA. In 2016, the six-time All-Star and former Mount Zion Christian Academy star signed with Hapoel Jerusalem; by 2019, he received Israeli citizenship, formally converting to Judaism in 2020 and adopting the Hebrew name Yehoshafat Ben Avraham. Stoudemire has since returned stateside to help coach the Brooklyn Nets—but not on Shabbat.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Sue Bird
In October 1965, Koufax became Everyone’s Favourite Jewish Athlete™ when he refused to pitch on Yom Kippur during the World Series. He’d later pitch a shutout in game 7 to win it all, along with the World Series MVP award, confirming the importance of repentance for Jewish baseball fans the world over. He’s the winner of three Cy Young Awards, spinner of four no-hitters and the second-most strikeouts for any lefty—ever. Realistically, if this debate was exclusively up to the rabbis of Los Angeles, it would be over before it started.
It wasn’t uncommon for young American soldiers to return from the Second World War and enjoy successful careers. What was extremely uncommon was for those men to play 10 years in the major leagues, win a World Series and MVP award, and later become president of the New York Yankees. But that’s Al Rosen’s life story. Legend has it, Rosen was so proud of his heritage that when rival players or fans would shout antisemitic slurs at him, he’d walk off the field and get into fist fights with them. As a former college scholarship boxer, he rarely lost.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Sandy Koufax
Until it was broken in 2008 by Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals in 1972 was considered one of the sport’s unbreakable records. Spitz was a national icon, a titan in a sport that got precious little TV time beyond the Olympics. His medals remain a shining light for Jewish sports fans that starkly contrasts the horror of the Munich massacre that same year.
Few remember who was actually behind the U.S. men’s relay swim team’s storybook come-from-behind victory in 2008. Even though celebrity teammate Michael Phelps got most of the glory, it was Lezak whose final stretch nudged the Americans into victory. Less than a year later, Lezak was competing at the Maccabiah games, where he lit the torch as the final torchbearer—a great kavod. The winner of eight Olympic medals, Lezak was a stable veteran who starred in one of the greatest moments in American sporting history.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Mark Spitz
There’s a long history of Jews in gymnastics, but few have enjoyed the cultural impact or championship longevity of Alexandra Raisman. The winner of six Olympic medals, including two golds, Raisman’s power and rhythm on the floor and beam have turned her into a global superstar. Her bravery in coming forward to describe how USA Gymnastics doctors had been abusing athletes for decades cements her legacy as a fearless trailblazer and international icon—and, thankfully, one who’s proudly Jewish.
At the 1996 Olympics, Strug suffered a third-degree ankle sprain and tore a tendon during her final event. But she knew her fellow Team USA athletes were relying on her: to win gold, she needed to land a second attempt on both feet. In one of the most iconic moments in modern Olympic history, Strug nailed her second jump, landing on her maligned leg, winning the hobble-off gold medal. Photos of her coach carrying her around the arena, so she could wave at her fans, remains a testament to both her grit and the endless tsuris of the gymnastic legend.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Aly Raisman
At 16, Schayes was playing basketball for New York University in the NCAA championship game while working toward an aeronautical engineering degree (which he’d later complete). By 35, he retired as the greatest scorer of his generation. A six-foot-seven kid from the Bronx, Schayes played almost his entire career in Syracuse, where he helped his team make the playoffs 14 out of 15 seasons. Schayes was recently named to the NBA’s list of the 75 greatest-ever players in recognition of his career double-double average and 12 All-Star appearances.
Before the AFL–NFL merger in 1970, the Chicago Bears were a dominant football team, winning four NFL championships in the 1940s. In that era, their quarterback and leader was Sid Luckman. Born in Brooklyn to Lithuanian immigrants, Luckman put himself through Columbia University washing dishes in a fraternity house. Drafted second in 1939, Luckman and coach George Halas went on to revolutionise pro football by implementing the T-formation offence. Luckman was awarded MVP in 1943 and elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Sid Luckman
With five major championships and 29 career wins under her belt, Amy Alcott was one of the greatest golfers in the world in the 1970s and ’80s. A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Alcott earned her own named tournament on tour in the 2000s. Three of her major wins came at the Dinah Shore Classic, where in 1988 she started the tradition of diving into the pond on the 18th green after sinking the winning putt.
The child of a Cuban-Jewish casino owner, Torres has gambled on herself several times—and it’s paid off, as she’s competed in an unprecedented five separate Olympic games. Torres’s longevity is so great, she became the oldest American swimmer at the Olympics—twice—in 2000, when she won five medals, and then again in 2008, when she set a national record in the 4x100m relay. She officially retired in 2012 as the most decorated female American swimmer of all time.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Dara Torres
On September 10, 1934, Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg hit two home runs to beat Boston and ring in the year 5695, after deciding last-minute to play on Rosh Hashanah and help his Detroit Tigers chase the pennant. (He got approval from his rabbi.) The following day, the Detroit Free Press ran, in Hebrew, a headline that read “L’shanah Tovah”. Considered the first Jewish-American sports superstar, Greenberg followed up his high holiday heroics with two World Series victories, two MVP awards, four years served in the Second World War and a well-earned retirement in 1947, having signed the richest contract the MLB had seen to that point.
If you were a Jewish baseball fan growing up in Toronto or Los Angeles in the 1990s and 2000s, Shawn Green was your idol. He hit dingers, threw guys out and went to shul. Rumours of Ira and Judy’s kid appearing at Rosh Hashanah or Kol Nidre services rippled through day school courtyards like news of a marriage from the local yente. While his years in Toronto were great, he really emerged as a power hitter in Los Angeles, where he followed Koufax’s lead and refused to play on Yom Kippur, instead donating that day’s salary to charity each year.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Hank Greenberg
Young Dov-Ber Rosovsky was on track to become a Talmudic scholar. But after growing up on the mean streets of Chicago, and losing his father in a brutal murder, Rosovky learned to daven with his fists. He started running errands and throwing muscle for Al Capone, who recognized Rosovsky’s talent and fostered his professional boxing career. To hide the violence from his family, he adopted an anglo name, Barney Ross—but kept funnelling his fight winnings to his mother, who remained oblivious to her son’s true profession until he became lightweight champion of the world in 1933.
For a good portion of the 1990s, Bill Goldberg was the biggest, scariest man on television. With a totally legit, not-at-all-scripted wrestling record of 173-0, it took chicanery and a taser to bring him down, finally losing after half a year as champion to Kevin Nash. Now in year 27 of his wrestling career after a brief stint in the NFL, Goldberg has embraced his heritage, even once being threatened by fellow member of the tribe Paul Heyman with the Mourner’s Kaddish on a recent episode of Monday Night Raw.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Bill Goldberg
Round 2 Winners
Sue Bird vs. Sandy Koufax
Mark Spitz vs. Aly Raisman
Sid Luckman vs. Dara Torres
Hank Greenberg vs. Bill Goldberg
Round 3 Winners
Sandy Koufax vs. Mark Spitz
Dara Torres vs. Hank Greenberg