Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sunday Nov 9

Enjoyed game of Hakoah
won again Holland Belgium Club.


Matt's Notes

When I first transcribed this entry I figured Papa was pointing out, with the offhand satisfaction of a perennial champion, his supremacy at a parlor game called Hakoah -- I pictured a cross between Mah-Jong and backgammon -- played among old-country die-hards at a Lower East Side haunt called the Holland-Belgium Club, most likely a second-floor retreat from 20th Century Manhattan where Yiddish and dust motes mingled in the air and a mustachioed, fleshy-faced Galician squinted and frowned over the top of The Forward and made sure no one, not the bearded old ghetto refugees who never seemed to leave or the young interlopers like Papa who never seemed to lose, ever wagered anything more valuable than their own pride.

An amusing thought, but entirely inaccurate. Hakoah was, in fact, the Hebrew word for "the strength," a term made famous by the all-Jewish, Austrian athletic club, Hakoah Vienna, that fielded, among other outstanding teams,1 the 1924-1925 Austrian national soccer champions. As we've previously mentioned, a movement was afoot among Zionists of Papa's generation to replace the public impression of Jews as bookish, physically maladroit victims with the image of strong, competent "muscle Jews" who could defend themselves and control their own fate. (Recall how Papa insisted on nicknaming his chapter of the fraternal order B'nai Zion "The Maccabean" after the warrior heroes of the Hanukkah story, and how many of his friends gave their social clubs similar nicknames.) Papa undoubtedly followed Hakoah Vienna as avidly as he followed the Dodgers and Yankees and Giants, and I'd wager he went to see them when they played at the Polo Grounds during their 1926 American barnstorming tour.

Not surprisingly, "Hakoah" became a popular name for Jewish athletic clubs in the United States as well, and it looks like the Hakoah team Papa mentions above was part of the Empire State (soccer) League. The Empire State League held games in such places as the Steinway Oval in Astoria, Queens and the Oxford Oval in Hoboken, New Jersey, and fielded teams with names like the Young Workers Football Club, the Ezra Football Club, the Germania Football Club, and, of course, the Holland-Belgium Football Club.



  • Thanks to Ari Sclar, a sports historian and new friend of Papa's Diary Project, for his help with this post, especially for unearthing a November 24, 1924 New York Times listing of local soccer results.
  • 1 - As we've previously mentioned, Hakoah Vienna's women's swim team, a sensation in the 1930's until the Nazi ascendancy forced its dissolution, is the subject of a touching and very worthwhile documentary called Water Marks.

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