(dedicated to our friend Benji, 2nd runner up in the 1994 Southwestern US Gaga Championship tournament)
There are a handful of Jewish sports figures that have truly become household names over the years: Mark Spitz, Sandy Koufax, Max Baer, and Kerry Strug to name a few. But for Jewish Young Adults, there are also countless unsung sports heroes scattered across the globe that will probably never get the credit they deserve for their prowess, agility, and dexterity, and will spend the rest of their days relegated to the unfortunate abyss of memories and legends. The reason these unseen athletes will never see the spotlight is not because they lack physical ability when compared to their Non-Jewish counterparts, but rather because they play a sport that nobody knows but JYAs: Gaga.
The game of Gaga, aka Israeli Dodgeball, is typically played in an octagonal enclosure, but any other completely enclosed space also works. The point of the game is to eliminate other players by hitting a ball with an open hand or fist into the region at or below his/her knees. That player is subsequently “out” and must leave the Gaga playing area, or “pit”. The winner is the last one standing, and is rewarding with bountiful bragging rights.
There are a number of reasons why Gaga is popular with JYAs. First, the sport became popular in Jewish summer camps across the Globe sometime in the late 70s, and has remained a steadfast pastime ever since. Secondly, Gaga is non-discriminatory, non-denominational, and pluralistic, meaning that every type of person can play. Indeed, many summer camps quickly formed Girls-only, Boys-only, and Counselors-Only leagues accordingly. Finally, JYAs like Gaga because, unlike other Jewishly inclined sports like Ultimate Frisbee, Gaga has remained completely insulated from Non-Jews, meaning there is never any fear that Chris, the huge WASPY football player, will show up and wallop you.
The sport of Gaga apparently peaked in the mid/late nineties, followed by nearly a decade of decline. But many sources have shown a recent resurgence of interest, including the first ever indoor arena (no joke), and there are even rumors that major sports brands are looking for star talent to sponsor. Unfortunately, the sport of Gaga is not currently slated for the upcoming Olympic Games, but if current trends continue there is some hope that the Maccabiah games will offer the sport in 2025.
(Gaga at its finest)