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Jewish Culture & IdeasPop Culture

The Ping Pong Project

Apr 7, 2011–Aug 28, 2011

Ping pong—it saved the life of Polish Jewish champion Alojzy Ehrlich, when a Nazi guard at Auschwitz recognized his lanky frame and pulled him to safety. In fact, what began as an upper-crust amusement in 1880s England became a game dominated by Jewish champions after World War I when its competitive focus shifted to Central and Eastern Europe. For the next few decades, it was players like Ehrlich, Austrian Richard Bergmann (who played in double-breasted suits), and Hungarian hardbats Viktor Barna and Lazlo Bellak that ruled the game.


Ping Pong player in the Koret Taube Grand Lobby during the run of The Ping Pong Project, on view Apr 7, 2011–Aug 28, 2011 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum celebrates this curious footnote in sports history withThe Ping Pong Project—a free, temporary installation of regulation tables and equipment that allows anyone to take a shot at table tennis triumph during regular Museum hours. Admission to The Museum is not required, but a photo ID must be left with the front desk in order to check out equipment (youth and children under 18 must also have a parent’s signature).

The installation, inspired by the book Everything You Know is Pong by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz, kicks off with a special opening event on Thursday, Apr 14, 2011 from 7–9pm. The evening combines an opportunity to witness ferocious competition between reigning Bay Area champs, the chance to smash your own way to glory and a multimedia history of Jewish table tennis champions presented by Bennett and Horowitz. 

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The Ping Pong Project has been made possible by the generous support of the David B. Gold Foundation, Koret Foundation, and The Toole Charitable Foundation.