Two days before Jewish American Heritage Month begins, four athletes and two coaches will be inducted into the Jewish Sports Heritage Association and six others will honored with awards at Temple Israel of Lawrence on April 28.
The nonprofit education organization is dedicated to spreading awareness of the role Jewish men and women have played, and continue to have, in the athletic world. The ceremony dovetails with April being Jewish Sports Heritage Month that aims to celebrate the accomplishments of Jewish athletes and increase awareness of an overlooked area of Jewish achievement.
Alan Freedman, who runs the Jewish Sports Heritage Association and is the executive director of Temple Israel, noted the importance of recognizing Jewish athletes. “The public thinks Jews in sports is an oxymoron, and by focusing on sports, an aspect of Jewish accomplishments with which too many are unfamiliar, the Jewish Sports Heritage Association offers a starting point for discussions of stereotype and prejudice,” he said. “It may be asking a lot, but we are trying to break down barriers by looking at Jewish achievement in sports.”
The inductees: Former major league baseball pitcher Craig Breslow, now the Chicago Cubs director of Strategic Initiatives for Baseball Operations. He has a degree from Yale University, where he studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and was often referred to as the smartest man in baseball.
Swimmer Anthony Ervin is a four-time Olympic medalist. He claimed the title of fastest person on the planet in 2000, and 16 years later with gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the Rio Olympics.
Leah Goldstein was an Israeli commando and in the secret police for nine years. She won the 1989 world bantamweight kickboxing championship and was Israel’s Dualthlon. In 2011, she captured the women’s solo category of the Race Across America bicycle race and broke the previous record by 12 hours.
Mark Greenberg should feel right at home on Long Island, a hotbed for lacrosse. Considered one of the all-time great defensive players in the sport, he played on national championship teams at Johns Hopkins in 1978, ’79 and ’80. A first-team All American in 1979 and ’80, he won the Enners Award as the nation’s outstanding player. Named to the NCAA’s 25th anniversary team.
Josh Pastner has been the head coach of the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team for the past three seasons. Previously at Memphis, his head coaching record is 215-126. He is the second-winningest active coach under 40 in NCAA Division I.
Long Islander Marty Riger coached boys’ basketball at Brentwood High School from 1974 to ’81 and 1992 to ’02. Was League One Coach of the Year six times, Large School Coach of the Year three times, a three-time county champion, gained the Final Four eight times and earned county playoff berths 25 times. At the Maccabi Games helped to win four gold medals and one silver and one bronze.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Riger, who said he was a jock in high school and college and was aware there were not many Jewish athletes. Always aware of yiddishkeit — Jewish customs and practices — he said beginning with volunteering at the Suffolk Y in Commack in 1987 had him asking, “what can I do to help?”
“It’s kind of nice to know people know you’ve done a good job. The best part is the relationships that have been made. After the wins and losses, the ups and downs, I’m still friendly with [former players]. “Just the fact that you had a hand in the changes in some of the lives of the players is very gratifying.”
Jeff Bukhantz, president of Maccabi USA will receive the Dr. Bruno Lambert Good Guy in Sports Award. Commack’s Joey Slackman, Rachel Goldstein from Connecticut and Spencer Freedman from Santa Ana, Calif., are the Michael Freedman Outstanding Jewish high school athletes of the year.
“I feel that I represent the entire Jewish community through athletics,” said Slackman, who will wrestle at the University of Pennsylvania and was named one of the best wrestlers on Long Island by Newsday. “With there being so few successful Jewish athletes I feel as though I have an extra responsibility to succeed and perform at a higher level due to my heritage.” He added that football taught him how to be part of a team and wrestling gives him focus and discipline.
Remy Borinsky, Dartmouth soccer, and Eli Dershwitz, Harvard fencing, are the Jay Fiedler Outstanding Jewish college athletes of the year. Fiedler, an Oceanside native, who played 10 years in the NFL, was feted by the Jewish Sports Heritage Association in January.
The ceremony is at 10:30 a.m. and free and open to the public. Temple Israel is at 140 Central Ave. in Lawrence.