Jewish Pride Through Sport: Max Nordau and “Muscular Judaism”
The Maccabees, central figures in the Hanukkah saga, are thought to be the inspiration for what would become the worldwide Jewish sports association known as Maccabi. It is Max Nordau, right-hand man to Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl, who is typically credited with the creation of what would become the Maccabi organization.
His 1900 call for a “Muskel Judentom” (Muscular Judaism) which appears below, refers in passing to other influences on the creation of this movement. In actuality – and perhaps with some irony – it was the German gymnastics “Turnen” movement, begun a half century earlier, combining physical fitness, patriotism, and social causes, which served as a model for the emergence of Jewish pride through sport. The “Deutsche Turnerschaft” (German gymnastics movement) championed the idea of “mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body – and made gymnastics the basis of a political program fostering patriotism and social/political awakening, and already included Jewish members in the early 1800’s.
Nordau saw sport as serving the Zionist idea of “awakening Judaism to new life.” His critique concerning the poor physical condition of Europe’s Jews helped to spur on the creation of Jewish sports associations. The Bar Kochba club in Berlin, which Nordau looked to for his inspiration, actually came out of the German “Turnerschaft” movement.
As sports clubs in Germany and elsewhere in central Europe became a vehicle for the expression of patriotism, they began to adopt strong anti-Semitic policies, excluding Jews from participating. When the German gymnastics club in Istanbul formally voted to exclude Jews in 1895, the Jewish members formed their own club, calling it “Israelitische Turnverein”. Nordau’s push of sport as a critical component of Jewish life, coupled with the centrality of Istanbul as a hub of international Zionist activity, put the Istanbul club center stage, and it benefited from visits by and support from Zionist leaders. With the growth of gymnastics clubs promoting physical fitness and Jewish pride, the Union of Jewish Gymnastics Clubs (“Judische Turnerschaft) was founded in 1903, and its affiliate in Palestine, Maccabi of Eretz Yisrael, was founded in 1912. This, in turn, led to the World Maccabi Union, established in 1921.
Israel was founded by Socialists who got a foothold in Palestine via the Maccabi Sports Clubs that sprang from the German Turnverien, or, Turn Verein, Turner Societies, founded by Freiderich Jahn a Prussian, who is considered by some to be the Father of National-Sociialism, or, the Nazis.
I suspect my kin, Carl Janke, was a Turnverein and established a Turner Society in Belmont that later merged with the Oddfellows. William Ralston, whose home was in Belmont, provided the funds to spread the Oddfellows throughout Europe, beginning in Germany, where Jews and Gentiles met in Turnverien clubs, worked out together, talked business, and promoted the idea that their children should marry. Then the Germans wanted the Jews out, and they formed their own Turnverein clubs that became the Maccabi gymnasts who began to colonize Palastine.
After world war one there was a prejudice against Germans, and Turnverein was changed to Tanforan…
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