Invictus: Genealogy, Rugby and Joel Stransky

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

“Invictus”, the Movie

The soon to be released movie “Invictus”, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, features the story of Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in South Africa.  Of particular interest to genealogists is the star of that World Cup game, who was Joel Stransky, a fly-half, who provided the winning drop goal of the game.  Stransky, was Jewish, born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and was the son of Barry and Isabel Stransky.  After his career in South Africa, he later played for the Leicester Tigers in England. 

An amazing athlete, he was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, which is a great resource and primarily sponsored by Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel and the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports, Netanya, Israel, as well as other interested sports authorities and contributors.  More details about Stransky’s career can be found there. 

Joel Stransky

In 1999, he was considered for England’s 1999 World Cup team.  As a South African, although living in England, he had to provide verification of his origins.  This was due to regulations which required that England’s team players have, at least, grandparents who were born in England.

This is where genealogy came into play.  He thought his grandparents had possibly been born in England and he proceeded to inquire about them.  He found that they had been born in South Africa not England.  Further investigation revealed that it was his great grandparents who were the ones who had left England for South Africa.  Unfortunately, this information disqualified him for participation in the World Cup. 

Nowadays, Stransky could have looked at a number of on-line resources for information about his family.  Primarily, these are the South African Jewish RootsWeb site, the South African National Archives,, and The Jewish Chronicle.

  • South African Jewish RootsWeb - The site allows the researcher to plug in their family name and pull up many different kinds of records.  In regard to the Stransky family there are two records, one is a burial record for Joel Stransky’s mother, Isabel.  This provides her father’s first name, although not his last.  The other record only has a last name. 
  • National Archives of South Africa - This has quite a number of records for the Stransky family.  Actually, there are twelve which cover estate records, immigration, and business transactions. 
  • - The emigration database which allows the researcher to plug in the family name as well as the destination was of great help as it listed four Stransky entries.  For instance, one of these was Dr. Theodore Stransky, born 1902, who left Southampton, England, in 1933, for South Africa.
  • The Jewish Chronicle - Here, there are listings for the Stransky family name back to 1888.  Most of the listings are for Jews of Czechoslovakian origins such as Rabbi Hugo Stransky, who first came to England in 1938.  Another Stransky mentioned was Josef Stransky (1872-1936).
Apparently, Josef Stransky was born in Humpolec, Czechoslovakia, the son of Herman Stransky.  The family later moved to Prague, and then Josef moved to Berlin for his musical career.  Shortly after, he went to New York where he succeeded the great Gustav Mahler as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  Later, he became an art dealer.  

Josef Stransky

An interesting aside about Josef Stransky which is found in The New York Times issues of June 15 and 25, 1912, is that he married Norwegian-born Marie Johanna Doxrud, the daughter of Hans Doxrud, Captain of the Red Star Liner “Lapland”.  Captain Doxrud was one of the individuals who warned of the icebergs in the shipping lanes during the crossing of the Titanic as his ship was heading for New York.  He was later Vice-President and Director of the Norwegian American Line Agency, Inc. 

Two weeks after he had arrived in New York to take over the reins of the New York orchestra, Stransky met Marie, fell in love, and they became engaged six months later.  They married in the German Church in Kensington, London, England, with only an aunt of the bride, Mrs. Adela L. Loomis, attending the ceremony.  Captain Doxrud was commanding his ship, at the time of the wedding, and sent a congratulatory telegram to the happy couple before the ceremony.

Enough of Josef Stransky, back to rugby . . .

South African Jews and Rugby

Another aspect of researching a sports figure such as Joel Stransky, apart from his specific family genealogy, is that the country he represented, South Africa, has a disproportionate share of great Jewish rugby players.  This is in comparison to the percentage of Jews in the population.  This accomplishment was celebrated with a recent exhibition supported by the late Mendel Kaplan entitled “The Glory of the Game-Rugby and the Jewish Springbok Minyan” at the South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.  The “Springbok Minyan” refers to the ten Jews who were on the South African Springbok Team.

Four out of ten (From left to right): Jewish Boks; Joe Kaminer, Syd Nomis, Professor Alan Menter and Doctor Cecil Moss, 2009


  • Morris Zimerman (four Tests)
  • Louis Babrow (five Tests)
  • Fred Smollan (three Tests)
  • Dr Cecil Moss (four Tests)
  • Professor Alan Menter (two tour matches)
  • Joseph 'Joe' Kaminer (one Test)
  • Okey Geffin (seven Tests)
  • Syd Nomis (25 Tests)
  • Dr Wilf Rosenberg (five Tests)
  • Joel Stransky (22 Tests)
Utilizing various on-line newspaper resources can be quite helpful in filling out the particulars of these “minyan” members.

Researching the sports activities of one’s relatives is an important facet of their history and that of their communities.  Very often, connecting with the other players (or their families) who participated on the same team(s) as your relatives can be a means of learning more about your family.  This is particularly true of small communities or those where there were few Jews.

I learned this myself when I set out to find more information on the basketball and soccer/rugby teams my father had played on in high school in Plainfield, New Jersey.  It all started when I attended a meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Palm Beach County, Inc.  There, I met Dorothy Lurie who asked me where my family was from in that time-honored “Jewish geography” conversational opener.  It turned out that she was from Plainfield, NJ, as was my father’s family.  As we continued chatting, I mentioned that my father, William, had played sports and it turned out that her father, William, had also played sports.  In fact, they had been classmates, although her father had been two years ahead of mine.

After further discussion, we determined that they had played together and had both served as captains of the team in different years.  I was able to learn too that one of my father’s relatives, who I had not known about previously, had also played on the team and been a captain, but some years before.
We exchanged photos of the teams, newspaper articles, and discussed various aspects about the participation of Jews in the 1920’s who had played in various sports.  It was very enlightening and I learned a lot more about my father’s activities whilst in high school.  Who would have thought that such an initially commonplace conversation would have turned out to be a genealogical goldmine?

Remember that when you are researching your ancestors don’t forget to look into their sports activities.  This can provide you with an entirely new viewpoint on their personalities and accomplishments.  Don’t forget to look at the JewishGen shtetlink sites as many of these include photographs of Maccabi and other sporting events which your relatives may have participated in. 

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