The Jewish Sports Review is a “labor of love” by two dedicated guys: Ephraim Moxson, 79, and Shel Wallman, 83.
Jewish Sports Review is a print-only publication that puts out six, 24-page issues a year. There aren’t long profile articles and only a few photos. The biographical sketches of the listed athletes vary but are rarely more than a few sentences. What makes the publication great is the breadth of its coverage and its accuracy.
The listings are tied to the beginning of a sport’s season. For example, the May-June, 2021 issue listed all the Jews currently playing Major League Baseball. After each name, there is a short bio (hometown, previous season stats, etc.).
This list is followed by all the Jewish players in the minor leagues (some are former major leaguers, and that is noted).
The previous issue (April-May) covered all the Jews in college baseball.
The Review also creates Jewish, All-American College teams. In the May-June issue, there were three All-Star teams of Jewish players — women’s college basketball; men’s college basketball; and men’s college hockey. Also in the issue, there was coverage (lists) of Jewish college women who play, respectively, hockey and lacrosse, and college (male) wrestlers.
The May-June issue had a “bonus”— a list of every Jewish Olympic medal winner since 1968.
Near the end of every issue are several pages of brief updates on Jewish athletes in just about every sport.
At the end of every issue is a page or two of “fun facts” about Jewish athletes from any era and a fun quiz.
Naturally, the athletes mentioned in the Review get a bit of a thrill — as does their family and friends. If they make a JSR “All-American” team — that award often appears in their biography on their college team website.
I find it fun to see athletes from the area I grew up in, where I live now, and from my undergrad college. Sometimes I share “local” Jewish athletes with friends around the country, “Did you know your [insert college] starting quarterback is Jewish?” — that sort of thing.
The Review is a “labor of love” by two dedicated guys: Ephraim Moxson, 79, and Shel Wallman, 83. They have no staff. A yearly subscription is $36. The subscription revenue just about covers the cost of typesetting, printing and postage.
Moxson and Wallman live largely on their pensions. Now retired, Shel was a Queens, N.Y., social studies teacher, then a Dean of Students, and again a social studies teacher, Ephraim was a social worker who became a State of California parole officer. He, too, is retired.
Shel is a New York native, the son of immigrants. Ephraim was also born in New York. He lived in Cleveland from age 1 to 15. His family then moved to Los Angeles, where he currently resides. While in Cleveland, he delivered newspapers to Jewish baseball Hall-of-Famers Al Rosen and Hank Greenburg — but never met them.
Neither of the JSR editors played on athletic teams while in high school or college. But both played sports that guys do — like gym basketball — and both have long had an interest in who is Jewish in sports.
I’ll put it this way — they both have strong ties to their Jewish identity, and they take pride in being Jewish — and that’s part of why they do the Review. The hundreds of good athletes in every Review issue undermines the false belief that Jews, compared to most other groups, are not good athletes.
Moxson’s parents were born in what is now Belarus, but met and married in Warsaw. The moved to then-Mandate Palestine in the 1920s. It’s still a bit of a confused story — they made trips back and forth from America to Palestine. But, by the late 1930s, they were settled for good in America. Moxson’s father worked before and after Israel’s creation as a fundraiser for Zionist causes.
In 1972, Shel put a small ad in The Sporting News asking for subscribers to a newsletter about Jewish athletes he was writing called Jewish Sports Review. Ephraim replied and subscribed and they began writing back and forth about sports and other things. In 1974, Shel shut down the Review. For the next 20 years he wrote a column on Jews in sport for a now-defunct Indiana-based Jewish paper that had a national circulation.
Before internet research tools, it was very hard to determine if a “new on the scene” athlete was Jewish. But Shel did so by writing letters to the athlete, or his/her parents, or his or her coaches. He also made some phone calls. Ephraim was one of Shel’s unpaid “stringers.” He gathered West Coast info for Shel.
The two guys became great social friends over the years. They discovered that they had a lot in common besides sports. They had similar cultural interests and similar politics. They, and their Jewish wives, often vacationed together.
Both guys are fathers. Shel is still married to his “only” wife. Ephraim became a widower 17 years ago. Fortunately, he later found a great woman who has long been his romantic partner.
In 1997, the Indiana paper said it could no longer pay Shel even a modest fee for his column. So, with Ephraim, he revived Jewish Sports Review and the two of them, in effect, have been the Review since.
The internet was up and running by 1997 and the internet has helped research “who is Jewish.” You can easily access reliable articles that say an athlete is Jewish (especially pros and college stars). You can find addresses much more easily and you can e-mail a question instead of sending a paper letter.
But, to a surprising degree, the JSR guys rely on the phone. They cold call the homes of athletes they think are Jewish and ask them (or their parents, etc.) if they are Jewish.
Ephraim told me that once they explain why they are asking — virtually everyone is cooperative. If they aren’t Jewish, they say it and are not offended. If they are Jewish, they are usually happy to tell Shel or Ephraim that. Ephraim can only recall one time that a person was really angry at the question.
Ephraim told me that they constantly look for multiple, good sources to confirm that someone is Jewish.
Over the years, they developed the following criteria to include someone in the Review. If the athlete has at least one Jewish parent, and was raised Jewish or secular, they will include him in the Review. However, in almost all instances they contact the athlete or their representative (like a parent) and ask if the athlete is okay with identifying themself as a Jewish athlete in the Review. If they say “no”, they are not in the Review. Only about a dozen “otherwise qualified” athletes have ever asked not to be in the Review.
Both editors, I am told, devote about four hours a day to Review research. Of course, they don’t try to contact everyone on a team roster — but if there are rational clues (like a usually Jewish, or often Jewish, last name) — they try and contact the athlete.
I have been “running” down Jewish celebrities for a long time. First for a biographical website, and later for a Jewish newspaper column. I am pretty good at what I do — but I am in awe of these two guys — how hard they work and how much attention they pay to accuracy.
Before they were on the scene, articles and books about Jews in sports were almost all shot through with errors. Somebody who wasn’t Jewish would appear in a book on Jews in sport and other authors would repeat the same mistake for decades.
The saddest thing, to me, is the fact that these two guys long ago decided that the Review will end when one of them can no longer “do the work.” I wish they would train successors, but that’s not their plan.
I predict that within a few years after the Review ends, the “bad old days” will return. There will be more and more lists of famous “Jewish” athletes that erroneously include many non-Jews. These lists will be published/posted in the Jewish media, and elsewhere, because the persons creating these lists just doesn’t do the hard work.
There will also be lists in the Jewish media that are very incomplete. Many Jewish athletes, including Olympic athletes, will simply not be identified as Jewish in the Jewish community media.
But the good news is that the JSR guys are still here, working, and in pretty good shape. Please consider subscribing and take one worry away from them — where they will get the money to put out another issue.