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Where have you gone, Sandy Koufax? 

The Jewish-athlete-obsession business is red hot

It's not until after the game that Gabe Kapler's tattoos can be seen. The Boston Red Sox outfielder stands in front of his locker in the guts of Fenway Park peeled down to his shorts. A Star of David big as a giant chocolate chip cookie brands his bulging left calf. Bruise-blue Hebrew letters in a crescent around the star translate to "Strong Mind." The right leg is in English: "Never Again, 1933-1945."

Kapler, whose strong throw from the outfield fence helped seal a victory tonight, is touted as one of the most promising Jewish athletes in the world. "A Jewish rookie sensation," a writer for the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix gushed in 1999. One of three Jewish "potential all-stars," effused Slate in a 2001 article called "Jews on First," which pondered whether the day is nearly upon us when there would be a major league minyan -- 10 Jewish players in the big leagues.

Not yet. There are eight Jewish players currently in Major League Baseball. There are also -- as anyone can learn by reading one of the dozens of websites, magazines and books devoted to Jews in sports -- five sons of Abraham in the National Hockey League, six in the National Football League, and about a dozen playing world class soccer. Muscular, intense-eyed Kapler, 28, is a big deal in the world that hungrily tracks such things, a gung-ho Semitic slugger whose four home runs in the 2003 season and 55 since his 1998 debut are chronicled as assiduously as Shylock tallied each ill-gotten ducat.

Nevertheless, word of Kapler's stature in the hearts of Jews obsessed with Jews in sports has apparently not filtered down to the men he plays with every day, men who, in locker rooms and showers and weight rooms before and after their 162-games-together each year, have ample opportunity to see his giant Hebrew tattoos. When Pedro Martinez, the famous ace pitcher for the Red Sox, is asked if he ever stops to think that Kapler might be a symbol of pride to Jews just as Pedro is to people from his homeland of the Dominican Republic, the pitcher seems surprised and asks, "Kapler is Jewish? I didn't know that. I thought Kapler was just American."

Four decades after Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to pitch on Yom Kippur during the World Series and ignited Jewish pride, the Jewish-athlete-obsession business is red hot. But times have changed since 1965. Now every Jew who lifts a dumbbell at a Muscle Beach competition or warms a bench as a third-string professional is hailed by fanatic sports fans as a mini-Koufax.

There are 18 Jewish Sports Halls of Fame in the United States, dozens of websites on Jewish athletes, a bear market in Jewish sports memorabilia ($535 for a baseball signed by 1940s slugger Hank Greenberg), a newly issued set of Jewish Major Leaguers baseball cards covering the years 1870 through 2003, and a new Judaica Sports Collectibles Library from New York City-based S.p.i. Books which includes the forthcoming title The Big Book of Jewish Athletes: Biographies & Anecdotes of Great Jews in Sports.

This is serious business to many people. Nothing raises the ire of brissed-out ball fans more than the telling joke in the 1980 comedy Airplane:

"May I offer you anything to read, ma'am?"

"Do you have anything light?"

"How about this leaflet, "Famous Jewish Sports Legends'?"

They're worth the effort
There is nothing light about the Jewish Sports Review, a bi-monthly publication with 1,000 subscribers that seems to catalog every athletic feat by every Jew from junior high school through senior citizens' leagues.

Readers of the six-dollar, 24-page Sept/Oct issue of JSR can find among its hundreds of ratt-a-tatt-tatt tidbits of hard info:

"DAVID MANSOUR (Eng) captured the foil event of the 2003 British Fencing Association Championships. He is the first Jew to win the senior foils since ALAN JAY in 1963."

"We just learned that DEDE COHEN of Houston's (TX) Memorial H.S. enjoyed an outstanding sophomore season as a shooting guard.

CAROLYN WARHAFTIG (P) (Soph) -- Colgate -- from Wyckoff, NJ. Carolyn fed for an assist for one point as she started 17/17 contests." [This from the Women's 2003 College Soccer Preview.]

The (P) after a name means only an athlete's father is Jewish. If there's no (M), meaning only the mother is, or (C), indicating a conversion, the athlete is 100-percent full-blooded Yid.

Manhattan-based Shel Wallman, 66, a retired high school dean, and his co-publisher, Ephraim Moxson, a 61-year-old parole agent administrator in Los Angeles, pore over sports pages and every time a Stein, Rosenberg or Cohen last name appears engage in the "is he a Jew?" game with gusto, chalking up new members of the tribe like a marlin fisherman notches his rod to count catches.

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