Try-mendous — Jewish heroes of rugby league are recalled


The contribution of Jews to rugby league was detailed by sports and social historian Professor Tony Collins at a session of Leeds Jewish literary festival Milim held at Headingley Carnegie Stadium.

He said that throughout the history of the sport, Jews had been involved as players or administrators.

The Hull-born professor explained that Jews from Eastern Europe who settled in Leeds in the 19th century and worked mainly in the tailoring industry became rugby league fans.

They could identify with Jewish stars such as Australian Albert Aaron Rosenfeld, who signed for Huddersfield after falling in love with a mill manager’s daughter and played until he was 39.

Rosenfeld “became the symbol of Jewish involvement in rugby league in the years before the First World War”, Prof Collins said. “In 1911-12, he set a try-scoring record for one season with 78 tries. He deserved his place in the rugby league hall of fame.”

Another rugby league icon was South African Wilf Rosenberg, the son of a rabbi, who made his Leeds debut in 1959. Nicknamed “the flying dentist”, he helped the club to its first championship in 1960-61.

Prof Collins also namechecked Eli Jacobson, a Leeds kosher butcher, who was given an award in 1897 by the Jewish community for services to rugby. Jacobson represented Yorkshire 12 times. He died in 1932 from injuries sustained after slipping on a cabbage leaf in his butcher’s shop.

“I am proud to be associated with a sport that proved so welcoming to those Jews who came over in the late 19th century,” Prof Collins concluded.

“Rugby league remains the most compelling sport to watch or play. But like sport in general, it’s in the process of adjusting to the very different world we live in today. The game’s obviously going through some difficult times — just look at what’s happened to Bradford. But it’s been through worse and survived.”

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