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Po‘el, Ha-

The Jewish Socialist Zionist Workers Sports Federation. Ha-Po‘el (“the Worker”) sports clubs were established at a conference in Tel Aviv on 15 May 1926, under the aegis of the Histadrut labor union. The Ha-Po‘el federation considered itself part of the organized socialist workers’ movement and, by 1927, had joined the Socialist Workers Sports International (SWSI). The federation soon set up Ha-Po‘el organizations in Eastern Europe.

A representative from Ha-Po‘el in Palestine helped put together a Ha-Po‘el federation in Lithuania in 1932; just three years later, this branch had 1,500 members. The first Latvian Ha-Po‘el club was also founded in 1932, in Riga. All of the Zionist socialist youth organizations in Latvia then joined the group.

In Poland, the first national general meeting of Ha-Po‘el federations was held in 1935. The Polish federation quickly established itself within the wide-ranging organizational framework of Jewish sports organizations in Poland, and by 1936, Ha-Po‘el clubs in Poland had 5,700 members. Within the political spectrum of Polish Jews, Ha-Po‘el belonged to the less radical wing of the Po‘ale Tsiyon (Zionist Labor) party. Thus, Ha-Po‘el was particularly criticized by the Morgnshtern sports clubs run by the Bund, which were also part of SWSI—as were the Ha-Koaḥ (“strength”) clubs that belonged to Poland’s Jewish socialist right.

The line between Ha-Koaḥ and Ha-Po‘el was fluid. At the end of the 1930s, some Ha-Koaḥ clubs switched to the Ha-Po‘el federation. Ha-Po‘el organized young workers and tradesmen in Poland and, in the tradition of workers’ sport organizations, also addressed the educational and cultural interests of its members. As such, it was in direct competition with organizations belonging to the left wing of Po‘ale Tsiyon and the Bund.

On the sporting level, Ha-Po‘el first subscribed to the socialist workers’ concept of sports for the masses, using the slogan “Thousands and No Champions.” Unlike the more radical Morgnshtern association, however, Ha-Po‘el did not ban boxing or change the rules for soccer. Later, Ha-Po‘el changed its motto to “Thousands and Champions,” signaling a changed attitude toward competitive sports. Ha-Po‘el clubs then covered the entire spectrum of sports disciplines, blurring the distinction between its ideals and the “muscular Judaism” of the more bourgeois Maccabi federation. This universal approach led to pointed criticism from the left, particularly from Bundist associations. Although negotiations failed, during the 1930s there were talks about possible joint Ha-Po‘el–Maccabi sports festivals, and consideration of Ha-Po‘el athletes participating in the Maccabiah Games or of Ha-Po‘el joining the World Maccabi Union.

After the second Maccabiah Games in 1935, numerous participants remained in Palestine illegally to escape the worsening political situation in Europe. Those who stayed included athletes from Eastern Europe, some of whom subsequently joined Ha-Po‘el clubs in Palestine. World War II and the Holocaust put an end to Ha-Po‘el’s activities in Eastern Europe. But in May 1946, the Comité Sportif International du Travail met in Brussels to set up a successor organization to the Socialist Workers Sports International, and Palestine’s Ha-Po‘el federation was one of the 11 founding members.

Suggested Reading

Diethelm Blecking, “Marxism versus Muscular Judaism: Jewish Sports in Poland,” in Sport and Physical Education in Jewish History, ed. George Eisen, Haim Kaufman, and Manfred Lämmer (Netanyah, Isr., 2003); Marta Meducka, “Żydowskie stowarzyszenia sportowe w województwie Kieleckim w latach 1918–1939 [Jewish Sport Associations in the Kielce Voivodeship in 1918 to 1939],” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 155–156 (1990): 141–152, summary in English; Uriel Simri, “Israel’s Worker Sport Organisation,” in The Story of Worker Sport, ed. Arnd Krüger and James Riordan, pp. 157–165 (Champaign, Ill., 1996).



Translated from German by Rebecca Stuart