Tuesday, May 11th, 2010...7:53 am
I’ve been a sap for Jewish professional athletes ever since I first got my hands on the book Great Jews in Sports (pre-Bar Mitzvah era). I was pretty certain that the most fascinating historical event was Sandy Koufax’s decision to pass up pitching in the World Series to observe Yom Kippur. I knew all about the heroic accomplishments of Mark Spitz, Hank Greenberg, and Dolph Schayes. Some of my favorite athletes as a kid were Aaron Krickstein, Amos Mandsorf, Shawn Green and Yuri Foreman. Along with Dmitri Salita and Roman Greenberg, it was cutesy to hear about Jews having a modicum of success in the ring. Las November, Foreman took that to the next level by upsetting Daniel Santos to win the WBA super Welterweight championship and become the first Israeli world boxing champion.
Foreman’s name started to pop up as a potential opponent for Manny Pacquiao after his mega fight with Mayweather. Instead, Yuri will fight the former champion and well-known Puerto Rican fighter Miguel Cotto on June 5th at the new Yankee Stadium (first boxing event ever) in an event that is being dubbed “Stadium Showdown” but could easily be called a Jewish Puerto Rican Block Party.
Cotto is a heavy favorite (but so was Santos). Foreman doesn’t pack much punching power (only 8 knockouts in 28 fights) but is technically sound and disciplined in his boxing style.
Foreman is represented by Boxing promoter Bob Arum. Foreman’s appeal goes well beyond his undefeated record and championship belt. The kid has a heck of a story to tell and does a great job telling it. (ESPN show E:60 also does a good job profiling Foreman).
Foreman was born in Belarus but moved to Israel with his family at the age of 7. He started to train as a boxer at an Arab gym. To further his boxing career, he moved to Brooklyn and began training at Gleason’s Gym.
While his boxing career has taken off, Foreman has begun to study to become an orthodox rabbi. Foreman studies the Talmud and Kabala at IYYUN Institute in Gowanus. Yuri observes Shabbat and wears tefillin and tzizit. He also wears the Star of David…on his boxing trunks.
You might be wondering how it’s possible that a boxer wants to become a rabbi. Yuri explains “Boxing is sometimes spiritual in its own way. You have the physical and mental challenges in boxing, just like you have lots of challenges in exploring different levels of Judaism. They are different but the same.” Yuri admits that boxing is his job and priority right now since a rabbi salary is not that big!
Foreman looks a bit like “E” from Entourage (but with more style) married Hungarian fashion model Leyla Leidecker, who herself is a former amateur boxer (and is pretty darn hot). Like any good rabbi, Foreman has the knack to work a room. Here he is sharing barbs with Jimmy Kimmel.
I’m hoping to be at the Stadium on June 5th cheering Yuri on. Let me know if you want in.
(In doing research for this blog post I found a neat blog about jews and sports called The Great Rabbino. Check it out at http://www.thegreatrabbino.com)