Celebrity jews

Oksana uncovers her Jewish roots

Last week, j. had an interesting piece on anti-Semitism in ice skating. The interview subject was Alina Sivorinovsky, who is a contributing editor to International Figure Skating Federation magazine and is donating the profits from her 2003 novel, “Murder on Ice,” to the Israeli Skating Federation.  Just before the 2002 Olympics, Alina told me that Russian skater Irina Slutskaya, who went on to win the silver medal, was Jewish on her father’s side. She also filled me in on the Jewish details about gold-medalist Sarah Hughes’ background. (Sarah is Jewish on her mother’s side.)

Thanks to Alina, another “Jew on ice” story can now be revealed here, and in the November issue of International Figure Skating Federation magazine. Oksana Baiul, 25, the 1994 Olympic figure skating gold medalist, is Jewish on her mother’s side. Oksana, herself, did not know this until recently.

As stated on her official Web site —www.Oksanastyle.com— “Oksana’s life reads with all the twists and turns of a Dickens’ novel. Born in Dnipropetrovs’k, Ukraine, she was the only child of parents who divorced when she was 2. Her father faded out of her life, leaving her mother and her grandparents to raise Oksana. When Oksana was 10, her grandparents died. Tragically, three years later, her mother died of ovarian cancer. Soon after, Oksana’s coach immigrated to Canada and Oksana was totally alone.”

Oksana’s athletic abilities were noticed by the Ukrainian Skating Federation when she was a small child, and she won her first competition at age 7.  She stunned the world by winning her gold medal at 16. She placed in the top six at the World Professional Championships in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.  Oksana’s rags-to-gold story was so dramatic that it was the subject of a TV movie and biographies on the A&E and Lifetime channels.

Starting in 2000, Oksana took some time off to focus on other ventures, including a clothing line. She has recently returned to skating. This season, Oksana will be skating in Katarina Witt’s “Beauty on Ice,” “Ice Wars” and the Hallmark Skaters’ Championship.

Meanwhile, Oksana became engaged to Gene Sunik, a Russian Jewish guy who settled in the New York area with his family when he was 5 years old. Gene is in the garment business and he works with Oksana on her clothing line. It was Gene’s Jewish background, Alina tells me, that prompted Oksana to make contact with her long-estranged father and try to find out about her family’s roots.

Oksana recently traveled to Ukraine and met with her father and paternal grandmother. They told her that her mother and maternal grandmother were Jewish. (Oksana’s trip home will be covered in a segment of ABC’s “20/20” later this season.) Both Oskana and her fiancé’s family were very happy about this news, and the skater is now quite interested in exploring her Jewish heritage.

Baseball and curses

By the time you read this, the World Series may be over. I was rooting for the Red Sox to make the Series, since they had the most Jewish connections of any of the four final contenders (Theo Epstein, Sox general manager; co-owner Tom Werner; player Gabe Kapler). But the Red Sox “curse,” which has denied them a championship since 1918, reared its head again this year. The curse supposedly started when the Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

Between the Yankees and the Marlins, the Jewish connections are very thin — only Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal stands out.

The Cubs, who lost to the Marlins, are even more “cursed.” They haven’t won a Series since 1908 and haven’t been in one since 1945. The Christian Science Monitor had an interesting piece about baseball and religion just before the Cubs’ final loss. Fans of many faiths were interviewed and asked whether God favored their team.

Jewish Cubs fan Arnold Kantner, the Monitor reports, has studied this issue for decades and is the author of “Is God a Cubs Fan?” (I think you can guess his conclusion.) Kantner offers these insights: “Teams with domed stadiums are not in the running…the fancy roofs block access to heaven. …God wouldn’t choose a newer team, because he’d have been rooting for years before they were around, and the Almighty is too politically correct to opt for teams that offend Native Americans.”

By the way, some friends and I have determined the origin of the Cubs curse. An unknown kabbalist put a powerful hex on Chicago following a 1935 World Series game that saw the Cubs manager and five players thrown out for shouting anti-Semitic slurs at Jewish star Hank Greenberg of Detroit. Greenberg got out of the Army just in time to lead Detroit to another win over Chicago in 1945.

Nate Bloom is the Oakland-based editor of www.Jewhoo.com.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.