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How sport helped break anti-Semitic barriers

Jewish Man City fans1936

Jewish Manchester City fans 1936.

An engaging account delving into the impact Jewish sportsmen had on British sport and its role in integrating the migrant community is published this month.

Names such as Harold Abrahams, ‘Kid’ Lewis and ‘Kid’ Berg sit comfortably in Britain’s sporting elite but the way sport helped break down anti-Semitic barriers has been largely ignored in the past.

Manchester City Football Club, for example, has had a long connection to the Jewish community dating back to the start of the 20th century (photo courtesy of Manchester Jewish Museum).

The Jewish Lads’ Brigade boxing squads from Manchester and London were very successful, between 1919 and 1939 winning the Prince of Wales Shield 12 times – the shield was a national cadet competition organised initially by the future King Edward VIII.

In the first major study into the topic, history lecturer David Dee, from De Montfort University in Leicester, looks at the relationship between sport and the integration of the Jewish migrant communities in the 19th and 20th centuries, how it impacted on Jewish ethnicity and on anti-Semitism in sport.

“There’s a lot of debate at the moment about the Jewish community being assimilated into the wider community,” he said, “and about sectarianism within football, for example, such as with Tottenham’s Jewish support base.

“There are of course, some Jewish groups who are not assimilated because they made a conscious decision not to, for cultural reasons. But because of social mobility and because of changes which have seen the Jewish community become more middle class in nature, it has had an impact on their involvement in sport.

“Whereas pre-1950s and into the 60s the most notable Jewish names in sport were as athletes, players and competitors, nowadays, the key figures are more behind the scenes. The 60s was the end of the peak period for Jewish sport.

“In terms of Britain, apart from the odd research articles and recent pieces by sports journalists, my book is the first publication which really takes an in-depth look at this topic. It has been completely ignored in the past.

“It’s an extremely original approach and is looking at Jewish history from a new dimension.”

The book is a reworking of David’s PhD, which he completed at DMU in 2011. Originally from Earl Shilton, just outside Leicester, 27-year-old David will be giving a talk at University College London from 6.30pm on Tuesday, February 26, to mark the publication.

David Dee’s book, Sport and British Jewry: Integration, Ethnicity and Anti-Semitism 1890-1970, is being published by Manchester University Press on January 31 (hardback £65) and is available on Amazon.

Posted on Tuesday 8th January 2013

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