The ProsenPeople

The Greatest Jewish Basketball Team

Monday, August 15, 2011 | Permalink

Douglas Stark’s The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team is now available. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

When I told friends and colleagues that I was researching and writing a book about a Jewish basketball team, I was often met with a hesitation or a stunned look. Why are you writing a book? Well, many people write books, I would often answer, and I wanted to take a crack at it myself.

No, the most common questions were the following: Did Jews play basketball? Was it a professional team? Was the team good? The answer is yes, yes, and most definitely yes.

Most sports fans today, whether they are serious or casual, hardly see any Jews participating at the highest level. But, Jews were an important part of the early history of sports in America, particularly basketball. Invented in 1891, basketball spread quickly and was soon played in YMCAs and gyms throughout the country.  One place where basketball caught on immediately was urban areas.

At the turn of the twentieth century, cities in the Northeast were dominated by immigrants, particularly Jews. Jews left a difficult life in Eastern Europe and immigrated to the United States where they settled in cities. Their lives were often difficult in this new country and many parents worked all the time to provide for their children. Conversely, these children were interested in becoming American and one way to do so was through sports.

Living in urban areas and tenements did not leave many options for sports. Neighborhoods and apartments were crowded. There were no ball fields to play baseball. But there was this new game of basketball. It did not require much, a ball and a peach basket. It was easy to improvise. One could roll up rags or newspapers to substitute for a ball. A post with a basket or the fire escape ladder could serve as a basket.

With that, basketball began in urban areas. Before long, Jews were participating and basketball was quickly becoming a Jewish game. Soon the game spread to Philadelphia, and in 1918, a group of high school friends wanted to keep playing after graduation. So they formed a team, which was named the SPHAS, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, after the association gave them uniforms in exchange for publicity. Little did they know, but their team would still be playing four decades later before ceasing operations in 1959.

Of all the Jewish basketball players and teams, none could match the SPHAS. They were simply the best Jewish basketball team. The team’s heyday was from 1933-1946 which coincided with a Depression, rise of anti-Semitism, and a World War. They played at the same time that Hank Greenberg was one of baseball’s best players, and Barney Ross was boxing’s top draw.

The SPHAS won 7 titles in thirteen years in the American Basketball League (1933-1946), which was the top professional basketball league in the country. They traveled across the East, South and Midwest, and the players challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity. In the 1950s, the team traveled with the famed Harlem Globetrotters. Their legacy was tremendous as they helped grow the game to what we know today.

When I reflect on those questions I received from friends five years ago, I could not have imagined the journey it took to write the book. And I can say with confidence, that Jews played basketball and the SPHAS were the greatest Jewish basketball team ever.

Check back all week to read more posts by Douglas Stark.

JLit Links

Monday, August 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

  • The August Jewish Book Carnival is here! The posts are hosted over at Needle in the Bookstacks and include a review of The Elected Member(Bernice Rubens), an interview with Joan Leegant, and literary tips on handling Shabbat services with a toddler. Read them all here.
  • NETWORK author Wayne Hoffman joins Vox Tablet to talk about his book, Sweet Like SugarHe talks about ”how his two careers—novelist and editor—influence one another, and his own experience finding acceptance as a gay Jew.”

Just Like Comrade Karl Marx

Friday, August 12, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese food and what Chinese people think about Jews. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Central China is a strange place.  Unlike the globalized, westernized cities on the coast, the land-locked, impoverished provinces of the interior rarely get foreign visitors.  These provinces are home to the laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” a euphemism for the billion-or-so Zhou Six Packs I got to know while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Among the laobaixing, foreigners are assumed to be missionaries.  This is because most of them aremissionaries: Mormon, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, you name it.  There’s not much reason to visit places like Guizhou, so most people go only if God tells them to.

The result is a blanket assumption among the locals that white folks are all Christian.  “Do you love Jesus?” was often the first thing a new friend would ask me.  This would be followed by “can you use chopsticks?”

I can use chopsticks.  But I do not love Jesus.  “Nope,” I would always reply when asked if I was Christian.    “I’m Jewish.”

This would always result in stunned silence.  The legend of the Jews has penetrated all parts of China.  “Ah!” I would hear.  “A Jew!  Just like Comrade Karl Marx!”  I would nod, and wait for the line that would always follow.  “And Einstein.”

So it was that I was imbued with a patina of Communist purity and mathematical genius.


These stereotypes earned me a lot of respect in China.  They earned nothing but a look of disgust when I mentioned them to my waiter in Buddha Bodai on Mott Street in the Manhattan Chinatown.  “Marx was as bad as Hitler,” he told me before heading off to place my order.  Buddha Boddai has a Kosher certification hung proudly in their window, and they do a surprisingly good job combining Jewish and Chinese traditions.  My Marx-hating waited brought me a delicious General Tsao’s “chicken,” a passable “shrimp” dumpling, and a wonderfully spicy “veg steak with Chinese broccoli.”

When I finished eating, my waiter offered some parting words:  “Marx really hurt China, but I don’t blame Jews.  Actually, you guys are my biggest tippers.”  He smiled and headed back towards the kitchen.

So keep tipping well, my Jewish brothers and sisters.  It will save us all a lot oftsuris.

Michael Levy’s Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion is now available.

Jewish Literary Treasures in SF

Friday, August 12, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Looking for any of these?

A history of Jewish New Orleans. A 1970 copy of “Israel on $5 a Day.” Crime novels such as “Murder on the Kibbutz.” A three-volume history of the Jews of Muslim Spain. A 17th-century Biblia Hebraica, printed in Hebrew and Latin. “The Bagel Bible for Bagel Lovers: A Complete Guide to Great Noshing” (second edition).

If so, Henry Hollander is your guy. Located in San Francisco, Hollander’s bookshop boasts some 15,000 volumes of Judaica, including many out-of-print titles.  Sounds like a Jewish book lover’s delight! Read more about Hollander over at  J.Weekly.

JLit Links

Thursday, August 11, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

What Chinese People Think about Jews

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese Food. He is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.

My last post began with a list of stereotypes about Jews. We tell jokes; we like Chinese food; etc. While living and teaching in central China a few years ago, I ran into a few stereotypes that were new to me. I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province teaching English at a university WAY off the beaten path. I was one of a small handful of foreigners –- and the only Jew — in a province of 40 million people. My students could be forgiven for a few strange ideas about their guests.

Thus, when one of my students handed in a paper with the title “GREAT JEW” I knew I was in for a few surprises. The letter summarized the status of world Jewry:

Jew in the world:

There are 14 million Jews in the world, 5 million of them are in the Israel, and 6 million in the USA. They have done so many great things for people in the world. They good at jokes, doing business and managing money so that there are a large number of Jewish tycoon in the world…. In the Wall Street which is the controlling financial interests of the United States, it is the world of Jews who dominate the “street.” Jews deserve careful study though their history is pitiful.

The student also included a bullet-point list of facts she had gleaned from her textbooks and from local newspapers:

Einstein is the greatest scientist in the world

*Every Jew has received high education for their family tradition

*Jews can begin law school in the second year in America, because they are advanced in law

Phelps, a swimming Jew, will win many gold medals in the Beijing Olympic Games

Chinese in rural Guizhou Province have some interesting ideas about Jews. What about Chinese in the slightly less bucolic neighborhoods of Manhattan? I decided to test the Jewish knowledge of the staff at Eden Wok on 34th Street, the self-proclaimed “finest Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant and sushi bar.”

First, a word on the food: meh. I really wanted to like the food more, if for no other reason than out of respect for the effort. Truly kosher Chinese food is as strange an idea as Phelps the swimming Jew.

Pork, after all, is to Chinese food what cheese is to Italian food. You take it away, and you’re left with nothing but starch. Still, Eden Wok makes a solid lo mein.

Next, a word on the staff: friendly and — happily — quite knowledgeable about Judaism. Vicky, my waitress, was from Guangdong province. She never met a Jew in China, but “loves Jewish customers.” I showed her my student’s letter and she giggled. “I hope you went easy on her,” she told me. She also gave me a free egg roll.

Michael Levy is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Home in the Morning: September Twitter Book Club

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

A powerful debut from a new literary talent, this novel tells the story of a Jewish family confronting the tumult of the 1960s—and the secrets that bind its members together.

Jackson Sassaport is a man who often finds himself in the middle. Whether torn between Stella, his beloved and opinionated Yankee wife, and Katherine Marie, the African American girl who first stole his teenage heart; or between standing up for his beliefs and acquiescing to his prominent Jewish family’s imperative to not stand out in the segregated South, Jackson learns to balance the secrets and deceptions of those around him. But one fateful night in 1960 will make the man in the middle reconsider his obligations to propriety and family, and will start a chain of events that will change his life and the lives of those around him forever.

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Mary Glickman to discuss Home in the Morning on Wednesday, September 14th, from 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST. Learn more about Mary before book club by checking out the video below!


**Congratulations go out to @robinec for winning the first of our Book Club Giveaways on 8/24! She’ll receive a free copy of Home in the Morning to read before book club!

The How-To, In Case You’re New:

What is a Twitter Book Club?
A twitter book club provides the opportunity for twitter users to engage in real time conversation about a particular, predetermined book. JBC’s book club aims to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss Jewish interest titles with other interested readers electronically.

To participate…

If you aren’t already a Twitter user, please join twitter here. (Confused about Twitter all together? Visit the twitter twitorial. Follow the Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook). During the designated time and date of the book club follow the conversation by searching for #JBCBooks. If you would like to actively participate, please include #JBCBooks at the end of any comments or questions you wish to contribute.

(Note: New twitter users may have to wait up to a week before their tweets get saved in hashtag searches. Open a twitter account at least a week and a half before this discussion in order to join us!)

We hope you’ll join and enjoy the conversation! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBooks at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.

Contending with Catastrophe

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by William Sudry

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, the scars left by that tragedy linger and continue to remind. Americans of every stripe will come together next month to grieve and to reflect.

These events force us to revisit some of the big questions – what to do in the face of paralyzing catastrophe? how to think about deepest evil? – that demand a response.

A forthcoming volume marks the 9/11 decennial and confronts these matters head-on: Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th, edited by Michael J. Broyde (Beth Din of America Press and K’hal Publishing).

Contending with Catastrophe is divided into two parts, bringing two aspects of Jewish tradition, the practical and the intellectual, to bear on the events and their aftermath. The first section reproduces a sampling of never-before-seen documents and discusses problems of Jewish law raised by the attacks, presenting the reality of a working religious legal system dealing with pressing issues. The second section is a collection of reflective essays on Jewish ethics and theology by leading Orthodox Jewish rabbis and lay leaders from the United States and Israel.

The book concludes by introducing prayers for the recovery and recognition of the emergency workers at Ground Zero and in memory of the victims of the attacks, both composed for this volume. A prayer for the safety of the United States Armed Forces stationed around the world is also included.

Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th, due out this month, can be pre-ordered here. (For free shipping and a 10% pre-publication discount, use the code AFK10 at checkout.)

Book Cover of the Week: Yiddishkeit

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Loving the orange, black, and beige combo on this one…

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land will be available September 1st from Abrams ComicArts

Exciting arrival

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Guess who showed up at our office today?


Ha, we wish.

Not Fran Drescher.

But the next best thing: Wendy!

Being Wendy, Fran Drescher’s new book for kids, is completely adorable and beautifully designed. It comes out in November.