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April 14, 1998|ARA NAJARIAN

What: "Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame." A book by Joseph Siegman. Second Edition. Brassey's.

Price: $29.95 hardcover.

It may seem an odd, if not Homeric, endeavor to collect a list of the greatest athletes and sports contributors of a particular religion. After all, this is not a collection of the state of Israel's greatest sports legends.

Truly, most similar endeavors are based on the persons being involved in a certain sport either as an amateur or a professional--or from the same region. In that light, "Jewish Sports Legends" is a collection of the nation of Israel.

This book should not be dismissed as self-serving or political in nature.

As a piece of reference material, it is a fine accomplishment. It's exhaustive research (18 years, over 250 entries) into a myriad of sports and the accompanying biographies and pictures are done first class.

As a material of interest, it is an education.

Perhaps most sports fans know of Mark Spitz, Sandy Koufax, Red Auerbach and Howard Cosell. Perhaps we know of a few more. But Jewish Sports Legends opens a wide world of sports.

Some examples: Ed Sabol, who started NFL Films; Paul Ziffrin, who was the chair of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and of whom the best sports library/resource in L.A. is named; Barney Dreyfuss, who led the way for the creation of a commissioner for Major League Baseball and arranged the first World Series.

"Following the 1972 Olympics, I recall one writer labeling me 'The first great Jewish athlete.' A compliment was intended, but the statement was hardly accurate," says Mark Spitz in the foreword.

"Long before there was a Mark Spitz, in American sports alone there was a Koufax, a [Hank] Greenberg, a [Barney] Ross, a [Benny] Leonard, a [Nat] Holman, a [Sid] Luckman and so many others."

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