Blog

Jews and the Olympic Rings

Hundreds of Medals: A Proud Jewish Tradition Since 1896

Learn about the great athletes like Alfred Hajos, Mark Spitz, Agnes Keleti, Harry Isaacs, Dara Torres and more

It has been another great Olympics for Jewish athletes worldwide. Gymnast Aly Raisman captured the hearts of millions winning gold with Team USA in gymnastics and a brilliant silver medal in the All-Around and Floor competitions. Anthony Ervin turned back the years winning the 50m freestyle swimming gold at age 35. Jo Aleh from New Zealand sailed to silver medal in the 470 class. Yarden Jerby and Uri Sasson captured Judo bronze medals for Israel.

They continue a proud Jewish tradition that include hundreds of medals. From the very first games in 1896, where Alfred Hajos was the first Olympic swimming champions to multiple champions such as Mark Spitz, Agnes Keleti and Dara Torres.

Here are some of the greatest Jewish Olympians of all time.

Agnes Keleti wins gold medal at Helsinki Olympic games, 1952. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Agnes Keleti

Agnes Keleti wins gold medal at Helsinki Olympic games, 1952. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Agnes Keleti

 

Harry Isaacs. Photo courtesy of Janna Helshtein

Harry Isaacs was a South African Bantamweight Boxer, won a Bronze Medal at the Olympic Games in 1928 in Amsterdam. He was born in Jeppe, a poor area in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1909.  He and his brothers learned to box in order to defend themselves against anti-Semitic taunts by other children. He went on to become an amateur boxer and won many local tournaments, finally reaching the Olympic games of Amsterdam in August 1928,  the largest games ever held, in which forty-six nations and three thousand athletes competed.  Harry Isaacs defeated Frank Traynor of Ireland and bon a bronze medal – one of three medals that the South African Team won. When he returned to South Africa, Harry Isaacs taught boxing to children at the Jewish Orphanage Arcadia in Johannesburg, so that they could defend themselves, always admonishing them not to use their skills aggressively.  He trained the well-known South African boxer, Alf James, and was a member of Maccabi Committee. He died in 1962 at the age of 53. Isaacs was survived by his wife Judith and his two daughters, Tanya and Evelyn. Photo courtesy of Janna Helshtein

 

Richard Weiss from Hungary, Olympic Heavyweight Wrestling Champion in Greco-Roman Style at the London Olympic games of 1908. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr.Moshe Scher, Haifa

Richard Weiss from Hungary, Olympic Heavyweight Wrestling Champion in Greco-Roman Style at the London Olympic games of 1908. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr.Moshe Scher, Haifa

Valentine Menkin, USSR. The only sailor who won three olympic gold medals in three different classes: in 1968 in the "solo" class, in 1972 in the "tempest" class and in 1980 in the "star" class. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of the photographer Lev Borodolin, Tel Aviv

Valentine Menkin, USSR. The only sailor who won three olympic gold medals in three
different classes: in 1968 in the “solo” class, in 1972 in the “tempest” class and in 1980 in the “star” class. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of the photographer Lev Borodolin, Tel Aviv

Mark Midler (second from left), Soviet Union. Olympic gold medalist in team foil contests. Rome, 1960 and Tokyo, 1964. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of the photographer Lev Borodolin, Tel Aviv

Mark Midler (second from left), Soviet Union. Olympic gold medalist in team foil contests. Rome, 1960 and Tokyo, 1964. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of the photographer Lev Borodolin, Tel Aviv

Irving Jaffe, Olympic champion in Ice skating. Los Angeles, 1932. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Doron Bacher

Irving Jaffe, Olympic champion in Ice skating. Los Angeles, 1932. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center.
Courtesy of Doron Bacher

5.Faina Melnik from the USSR, Olympic medalist in discus throwing during the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, 1972. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. courtesy of the Lev Borodolin, Tel Aviv

5. Faina Melnik from the USSR, Olympic medalist in discus throwing during the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, 1972. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. courtesy of the Lev Borodolin, Tel Aviv

6.Alfred Hajos-Guttmann - winner of Olympic gold medals for the 100m and 1200m swimming competition in 1896. He won an Olympic medal for designing sports facilities in 1924. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. courtesy of Dr. Moshe Scher, Haifa

6. Alfred Hajos-Guttmann – winner of Olympic gold medals for the 100m and 1200m swimming competition in 1896. He won an Olympic medal for designing sports facilities in 1924. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. courtesy of Dr. Moshe Scher, Haifa

7.Mark Spitz 'Superstar' - News Article, USA, 1972 American-Jewish swimmer, winner of seven Olympic medals in the Munich Olympic games of 1972. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

7. Mark Spitz ‘Superstar’ – News Article, USA, 1972
American-Jewish swimmer, winner of seven Olympic medals in the Munich Olympic games of 1972. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

8.Mitch Gaylord (center), gymnastic champion from the United States, wins first place in the Maccabiah, Israel, 1981. He won gold medal in the team championship at the Los Angeles Olympic games in 1984. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. COURTESY OF MARCEL BARASH, ISRAEL

8. Mitch Gaylord (center), gymnastic champion from the United States, wins first place in the Maccabiah, Israel, 1981. He won gold medal in the team championship at the Los Angeles Olympic games in 1984. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Marcel Barash, Israel

Beit Hatfutsot