By David Scheinmann.
Jews And Football. Not two words that sit so obviously together. Other than a clutch of largely forgotten names throughout over the last 100 years, so few as to barely outnumber the size of the average premiership squad, it can safely be said that Jews are virtually absent from the football field.
But then I found this, and wondered if it might take up some of the slack; David Beckham’s maternal Grandmother is Jewish and he has been quoted as saying he is half Jewish. Obviously he’s not known for his mathematical prowess, and he appears to have carefully picked the moment to drop this twist in his tale on the media, with his playing days numbered and his brand nicely building.
Here in lies the crux of the matter; Jews more than make up for their lack of presence on the pitch in sheer numbers by being on the boards of football clubs, holding FC directorships, as players agents, club lawyers, accountants, team doctors and of course Jews are fanatical about football. So why is it like this.
The obvious answer looks to the class system with the generalisation that most footballers are working class. The middle classes tend to get busy with education, and Jews are middle class. Easy! I think it is more complicated than that. The theory might explain why Jews are just plain rubbish at football, throwing up the stereotype of the lily-livered bespectacled Barmitzvah boy being prepared for the high minded pursuits of the legal profession instead of the midfield. However, here is perhaps a controversial idea as to how the Jews wound up aspiring to run the show; It’s because no one said they couldn’t. Back when the doors of certain golf clubs remained firmly closed to Jews and the upper class elite protected its own from external dilution of its firmly closed social order, the turnstiles were happily and non judgementally open to Jews.
I first stumbled upon a similar notion in Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ in which he traced the origins of a very successful group of Jewish lawyers, themselves the children of 1930’s Bronx Jewish garment district workers with their sights set on an educated and better life for the next generation. However the WASP law firms remained off limit to these Jews who instead found their way into an area of the law the old guard considered beneath them. This area of law later evolved into corporate America’s hostile take over era resulting in this group of Jewish outliers becoming the most successful and powerful law firms in New York.
The movie business has offered many Jews a similar haven, and as a Jewish filmmaker I like to think we are also very well suited with a narrative heritage as old as the testament evolved through diaspora and humbled by all that pain and suffering along the way. My own tenuous qualification to riff on this subject is that I have written and directed a movie called Believe which is rooted in British football tradition and has a Jewish soul. Now there’s assimilation for you!