The eight greatest Jewish sport miracles of all time
(JTA) This Chanukah, we’re celebrating Jewish sport miracles.
We picked one for each of the holiday’s eight nights, plus one for the shamash. Our only criteria? Each moment had to feel miraculous – think underdogs, defying all odds, and incredible feats of athletic skill.
Night one: Sue Bird at the buzzer in 2001.
Close your eyes. It’s the Big East Tournament Championship in March 2001, between two women’s college basketball powerhouses: the University of Connecticut Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With a few seconds left to play, star Jewish guard Sue Bird grabs the ball from a free throw rebound and sprints down the court. She stops inside the paint and shoots a fadeaway that gives the Huskies the win at the buzzer.
Bird’s buzzer-beater has gone down in history as one of the best shots of all time.
Night two: Diego Schwartzman defeats the “King of Clay” – on clay – in 2020.
On 19 September 2020, Jewish tennis player Diego Schwartzman achieved the nearly impossible, he defeated “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal on a clay court in the Italian Open quarterfinals.
In their tenth meeting, Schwartzman stunned Nadal in straight sets after losing his nine previous matches to the Spanish player who has dominated the surface like no other tennis player in history.
Night three: Linoy Ashram becomes the third Israeli to win gold at the Olympics – by 0.15 of a point in 2021.
At the postponed Tokyo Olympics, the 22-year-old won gold in the all-around rhythmic gymnastics competition, narrowly beating her Russian competitor, scoring just 0.15 of a point higher than Dina Averina. Ashram became the first Israeli woman to ever win a gold medal. If 0.15 of a point isn’t a miracle, what is?
Night four: Julian Edelman’s catch in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI in 2017.
With his New England Patriots down 28-20 with 2:28 left in the fourth quarter (they had been down 28-3), Julian Edelman reeled in one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history.
During what would become the game-tying drive, Edelman fought off three Atlanta Falcons defenders to make a miraculous catch in the middle of the field, one that seems more improbable with each replay. Tom Brady’s pass was swatted in the air by a Falcons cornerback, causing Edelman and three defenders to collide into a pile on the ground, limbs pointing in all directions, with each player trying to find the football. Edelman somehow kept his concentration and got his hands around the ball, weaving through the arms and legs of his opponents to grip Brady’s 23-yard pass. Even a last-second bobble wasn’t enough to break Edelman’s focus.
Night five: Aly Raisman makes an epic Olympic comeback as captain of the United States gymnastics Final Five team
At the 2012 London Olympics, gymnast Aly Raisman became a Jewish sports legend when she performed her floor routine to Hava Nagila and won gold.
After the Games, she took a break from competing, but in 2014, her comeback was swift. She was named to the 2016 US Olympic women’s gymnastics team, becoming one of only two US women – alongside Gabby Douglas – to make back-to-back Olympic gymnastics teams since 2000.
So why a miracle? There was her age – at 22 in Rio, she was the oldest member of Team USA. But as we found out a little over a year after the Rio Olympics, Raisman had also been a victim of sexual abuse by Olympic physician Larry Nassar. She became one of the strongest voices speaking out against Nassar in the years following.
Night six: Team Israel finishes sixth in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Entering the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Team Israel was ranked 41st in the world – the ultimate underdog. ESPN called the squad “the Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC”. The team’s odds to win the tournament were 200-1. Talk about David versus Goliath.
But the group, made up of mostly American Jewish ballplayers like Sam Fuld and Ty Kelly, pulled off an improbable four-game winning streak in the international tournament, beating several of the top-ranked teams in the world.
Night seven: Mark Spitz wins seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics.
In what is now commonly referred to as the Munich Massacre, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were held hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
But those summer games also witnessed one of the most dominant runs of any Olympic athlete: Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, setting a world record in each competition. He won the 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 4×100m freestyle relay, 4×200m freestyle relay, and 4×100m medley relay.
Spitz’s seven gold medals in one Olympics set a record which stood for a fitting 36 years until Michael Phelps’ eight golds in 2008.
Night eight: Annie Cohen Kopchovksy bikes around the world in 1894.
In June 1894, at the age of 23, Annie Cohen Kopchovksy set off from her home in Boston, leaving her husband and three small children, to journey around the world – by bicycle.
A Jewish immigrant from Latvia, she called herself Annie Londonderry after her sponsor, the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of New Hampshire. Her journey took her around the world and was a huge accomplishment for women’s athletics.
The shamash: Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series.
In the long and rich history of Jews and sports, there remains one player, one moment, one feat, that eclipses them all. The cherry on top. The icing on the cake. The shamash on our Jewish sports chanukiah: Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series.
Koufax is perhaps best known for that game he didn’t pitch. After a dominant 1965 season – for which he would win his second Cy Young Award – Koufax famously declined to pitch Game 1 of the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers because it fell on Yom Kippur.
Koufax would go on to pitch Game 2, holding the Minnesota Twins to two runs over six innings, while striking out nine. The oil didn’t run out from there. On just two days of rest, Koufax took the mound for Game 7, and boy, did he pitch! Koufax hurled a complete game shutout, giving up just three hits while striking out 10. He was named World Series MVP (Most Valuable Player).
The best moment of the best Jewish player’s astonishing career. A true miracle.