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Its less than two months until Yuri Foreman brings his personal dream to this town where dreamers rarely beat The House.
On Nov. 14, Foreman, 29, will become the first Israeli fighter to compete for the World Boxing Association’s junior middleweight title against current champion Danny Santos at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
It will be Foreman’s ticket to ride on a whirlwind cycle as old as Ellis Island itself.
He is the hungry outsider, in the renewal of a cycle of hope driven by visions of streets of gold and days of milk and honey, of the courage to break the bonds of despair and leave them an ocean behind.
Boxing has always belonged to the economically depressed. Between 1903 and 1938, there were 26 Jewish world champions. They came out of ghettos without walls, mainly from New York and Chicago. They had names like Benny Leonard, Ruby Goldstein, “Corporal Izzy” Schwartz, Barney Ross and, from London’s dirt-poor East End, Jackie “Kid” Berg.
They were the children of the Great Depression; and since economics fuel the boxing ring, when the faces changed, so did the ethnicity. It was no surprise that the Irish, the Poles and the Italians began to flood the roster of champions. And then they moved on. For more than a few decades, the African-Americans and the Latinos became the soul of this home-based kind of army. Now, their numbers have been augmented by newcomers from the Caribbean, Central and South America and Eastern Europe.
A single common denominator marks the bottom line: they fight because they are hungry.
Nobody knows that story better than the undefeated (27-0) Foreman.
He is a throwback to the classic immigrants’ dream. His opponent is Santos, a world champion (33-2-1 with 23 knockouts) who hits harder than Foreman and is the WBA’s 154-pound champion.
Welcome to the strange odyssey of a bicycle-riding, yeshiva-shaped Orthodox Jew who breaks every stereotype you ever heard about his ethnicity.
But there is so much more to Foreman’s story than his long-shot chances. Never — David vs. Goliath doesn’t count — has a would-be rabbi taken time off from Talmud study to come to a place where victory goes not necessarily to the guy who can quote the Psalms but to the guy with the strongest left hook.
He was born in Belarus and his family immigrated to Israel when he was 11. Later, determined to follow the yellow brick road that traditionally beckons all boxers everywhere to find their pot of gold in America, he moved to Brooklyn.
“It’s hard to be an immigrant,” he says. “In Russia, I was a Jew because that’s what they wanted to think of me as. In Israel, I was a Russian because I was an outsider. Well, finally, I am what I really am:
a Talmud-studying boxer from Brooklyn, just another New Yorker — and I love it.”
In Israel, he learned to box under the tutelage of another Russian immigrant who held class for 15 newly arrived Russians in a street-level schoolyard — no ring, no heavy bag, no sparring.
“They wouldn’t give us a gym,” he explained. “We went to Haifa City Hall and begged for a little place — any place — for a Russian Jew to hang a bag and put up a ring. They told us, `Go box with the Arabs.”‘
There were two national teams that sponsored Israeli boxing teams for international competition. One was called Maccabi; it was primarily Jewish. The other was called Golden Glovers. It was primarily Arab.
He wound up choosing the Golden Glovers, remembering what the secretary at City Hall had derisively told him. He went to “box with the Arabs.” And when he walked into the gym in the town of Kfar Yasif, he was alone.
“I saw the stares. Some of them were stares of hatred. But I needed to box and, boy, did they all want to box me. I won almost all the time. The wall that was between us melted. I traveled with them as teammates. …We broke down barriers of language, culture and lack of understanding.”
He won medals for Israel. And then, as it came to so many a century earlier in the villages and cities of Eastern Europe, the vision came to him and whispered seductively in his ear: follow your dream to America.
His first job in New York was at a Garment Center store on Seventh Avenue. He worked all day and, at night, ran home from Seventh Avenue across the Brooklyn Bridge to Gleason’s Gym.
On a day he never will forget, the boxer and his fashion-model wife happened into a synagogue where Rabbi DovBer Pinson was preaching about the eternal struggle between good and evil and likened it to a boxing match. Afterward, Foreman told the rabbi he was a boxer. The connection was made and grew.
Now, each day, Foreman rides his bicycle to Yeshiva Iyyun to study Torah with his rabbi. After a long lesson, he rides about 15 minutes away to Gleason’s and boxes. At night, he rides the bike over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, turns around and rides it across the Manhattan Bridge back home.
How does an aspiring rabbi beat a stronger, more experienced and clearly favored, harder-hitting champion?
“When I study, when I meditate, I think like a rabbi,” he said.
“When the bell rings, I am not so nice.”
(Jerry Izenberg writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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