The ring's memorable Jewish Superstars
Through the course of 5,774 years, the Jewish people have developed the theory of relativity, come up with the polio vaccine, sat on the Supreme Court and served as the mayors of both Chicago and New York City. But did you know at least one Jewish person has won the World Heavyweight Championship?
Perhaps the most well-known Jewish wrestler was William Goldberg. The former defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons burst into WCW in late 1997 and became a phenomenon. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound monster refused to change his given name. He didn’t even go by “Goldberg the Great” or “The Terrifying Goldberg.” He was simply “Goldberg.”
But as common a name as that is in Jewish communities around the world, Goldberg was a tremendously uncommon athlete. He compiled the most impressive undefeated streak in the history of sports-entertainment en route to defeating Hollywood Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in front of more than 40,000 screaming fans at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Goldberg let his actions do the talking and became the most successful Jewish wrestler of all time.
Another Superstar known for his Jewish heritage was the fan favorite Barry Horowitz. The Tampa, Fla., native entered the ring to the traditional Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila” and wore a Star of David on his trunks.
“My parents both spoke Hebrew and Yiddish and were full-blooded Jewish parents,” Horowitz told WWE Classics. “My mom had a menorah from Israel and special Hanukkah candles.”
Horowitz didn’t win as often as Goldberg. In fact, Horowitz developed a very different kind of streak with the zero on the other end. But that didn’t bother him. “There’s gotta be a winner, there’s gotta be a loser. Not everybody can be a Superstar,” Horowitz said.
He didn’t always have the Jewish-themed music and outfit. For a while, Barry’s surname did the talking. There was an unspoken assumption that WWE fans were aware of his heritage. It wasn’t until Horowitz started picking up victories that he truly embraced his cultural identity. His first big win came against Skip of The Bodydonnas, which instantly became one of WWE’s most memorable moments as Jim Ross declared, “Horowitz wins! Horowitz wins!”
“I got a win on TV, beat Skip again at SummerSlam, I was captain of my Survivor Series team [The Underdogs] and was in the  Royal Rumble Match,” Horowitz recalled. “I fulfilled my dream of putting on my boots and getting in the ring.”
One of those WWE fans who followed along with Barry’s success was a young Colt Cabana, the best friend of CM Punk who briefly competed in WWE as Scotty Goldman. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Cabana admired Horowitz’s rise to prominence.
“Horowitz was a common name where I grew up,” Colt told WWE Classics. “So when I saw Barry Horowitz on television, it really helped guide me to realizing my lifelong dream. If he could do it, then sure, a Jewish kid like me could do it.”
A longtime WWE fan, the former Superstar recalled his childhood as “your typical fun Jewish upbringing.”
“My mom makes an unbelievable potato latke. They’re out of this world. But to this day, she still believes I should have wrestled as The Hebrew Hunk,” he said with a laugh.
In fact, Cabana’s heritage directly led to him being able to fulfill his dream.
“I paid for my wrestling training with gifts from my bar mitzvah,” Cabana revealed. “But one of my only regrets in this world was not having a wrestling-themed bar mitzvah.”
Cabana, who was famously greeted by his WWE Champion pal during Punk’s notorious first “pipe bomb,” has incorporated the self-deprecating Jewish humor in his wrestling style and critically-acclaimed podcast.
“I started realizing the power between being Jewish and comedy, which is a connection that goes back a long way in history,” Cabana said. “The Jewish people have always kept their spirits up through difficult times with self-deprecating comedy, and that’s what I try to do in the ring.”
Another of Punk’s close friends, Paul Heyman, was raised Jewish in the affluent New York suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y., and regularly acknowledges his heritage. In a recent interview, the mind behind ECW recalled sitting in synagogue as a young boy and has been credited as the “Creative Rabbi” of THQ’s “WWE ’13” after penning the hot video game’s narrative.
Two of Heyman’s ECW stars, Raven and Joel Gertner, were also Jewish, as were many other squared circle personalities throughout history. Abe Jacobs, not very well known today, was a big star in Vince McMahon Sr.’s predecessor to WWE in the 1950s and ’60s. The fan favorite was crowned the “Jewish Heavyweight Champion,” and battled the first-ever WWE Champion “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers many times in a heated rivalry. WWE Hall of Famers The Grand Wizard and Howard Finkel are both Jewish, and even the legendary “Macho Man” Randy Savage was half-Jewish on his mother’s side.
Much of WWE’s heritage emanated from Madison Square Garden in New York City, which has always had a prominent Jewish population and a hot stand-up comedy scene. Comic and screen star Larry Miller has discussed his sports-entertainment fandom, and has recalled going to watch a WWE show at The World’s Most Famous Arena alongside his close friend Jerry Seinfeld. The master of the “yada yada” famously incorporated many wrestling references into his sitcom, including mentions of Gorgeous George, Killer Kowalski and George “The Animal” Steele.
Andy Kaufman, another Jewish comedian, was also an enormous sports-entertainment fan and became notoriously entangled in a bitter rivalry with Jerry “The King” Lawler during the 1980s. The rivalry got its start after Kaufman met a Jewish wrestling magazine editor, Bill Apter, at the aforementioned Garden. Apter introduced Kaufman to “The King” and the rest is history.
These are just a few of many Jewish sports-entertainers who left their indelible mark on sports-entertainment, and that sure is something to celebrate for more than just eight nights.