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Exhibition opening: “The Game of their Lives"


Avinoam ArmoniBreaking Jewish Stereotypes: The “Game of their Lives” exhibition

“In Israel at least, the stereotype of Jews as puny and unathletic still prevails,” writes Ofer Aderet at Jewish World, but the new Beit Hatfutsot exhibition “Game of their Lives: Achievements in Spirit and Sport,” which features the tales of 19 pre-1948 Jewish champions, “aims to rectify that error.”

The January opening of “Game of their Lives”, introduced the exhibition’s unique attempt to paint a comprehensive picture of outstanding Jewish athletes throughout the world, one that crosses geographic and national boundaries and presents a wide range of sports. The exhibition covers leading Jewish athletes from around the world – from the United States, Tunisia, South Africa, Brazil and more – who dominated world boxing, introduced method into the game of soccer, and won Olympic medals along with Nobel Prizes. The exhibition showcases Jewish sports figures who achieved international recognition, whose Judaism played an important role in their lives, and whose achievements extended beyond the world of sports.  This story, a true story of might and ability, of admirable achievements and astonishing determination, lies at the core of this exhibition.

Exhibition initiator and curator Adi Rubenstein and curator-designer Yael Zeevi were at the opening. "Today, you never hear of soccer players who win the Nobel Prize," Rubenstein said. "Once upon a time, Jewish athletes had a hard time avoiding the stereotype that, despite everything, the most important muscle, as far as Jews are concerned, is the brain. It is no coincidence that very little has been heard up to now about the amazing story of the Jewish bullfighter who captured the Spanish people's heart," Rubenstein added. "He just did not fit in with the commonly accepted image of the weak, puny Jew from the ghetto who always gets beaten up by the gentiles."

The exhibition opens at the start of a year that will see the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, and that marks the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.

“The portraits presented here are of people and teams determined to succeed at all cost”, Aderet continued. “They loved and they hated, they rose to the top and sometimes crashed to the bottom. The careers and indeed life trajectories of some of them were marked by their Jewishness, but above all they were people among people, athletes among athletes. Some of them were idolized; others reviled and subjected to heaps of scorn. Either way, their talent, dedication, and perseverance made them unique individuals, and their achievements have helped shape the image of the Jew in the eyes of the world.”

Two of the athletes highlighted are the Bohr brothers, Niels and Harald, outstanding soccer players who played on the Danish national team and went on to make remarkable achievements in a field other than sports, in their case, science. Harald, the younger of the two, won a silver medal at the 1908 Olympic Games playing with Team Denmark. A few years later, he became a professor of mathematics. His brother Niels, who was goalkeeper on the team, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, and today is considered one of the fathers of quantum physics.

Attendees at the exhibition opening included diplomats, sports figures and business people, including: International Olympic Committee member Alex Giladi, Austrian Ambassador to Israel Franz-Josef Kuglitsch, Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy to Israel Stefan Kobsa, Cultural Attaché of the German Embassy to Israel Lionel Choukroun and many others.

“Beit Hatfutsot is committed to highlighting a strong Jewish tradition of excellence and achievement in all arenas, and the ways in which this tradition has profoundly impacted world events.” said Beit Hatfutsot CEO Avinoam Armoni.  “This exhibition firmly demonstrates that Beit Hatfutsot is a leading institution of modern, relevant Jewish culture.”

The exhibition was sponsored by The Rene and Susanne Braginsky Foundation, Switzerland, Israel Friends of Beit Hatfutsot, Austrian Culture Forum Tel Aviv, W. Rosenstein Ltd, Botschaft der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Tel Aviv, Steve Greenberg, USA. “Game of their Lives” will be on display through the end of 2012.  
Abe Saperstein and the Harlem Globetrotters International, 1940