Herschel “Hertzko” Haft (1925-2007) was born in Poland and orphaned at the young age of 3. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he ran a smuggling ring with his brother in order to survive. In 1942, he was sent to Auschwitz. An SS officer noticed his muscular physique and decided to train him to be a boxer. Haft was forced to fight other inmates (at the neighbouring Jaworzno camp), often to the death, for the entertainment of the SS officers. He won and survived through a total of 76 fights. With the Soviet Army closing in, the Nazis forced all the inmates on a death march, which Haft also managed to survive. During his escape, he killed a Nazi soldier and put on his uniform. He eventually made it to an American DP camp, and finally settled in New Jersey in 1948. Haft became a light heavyweight boxer and had 21 fights, of which he won 13. His last fight was against a young and up-and-coming Rocky Marciano, who later became heavyweight champion and one of the most famous boxers in history. The Italian mafia threatened Haft and forced him to lose the fight to Marciano. Haft decided to end his boxing career. He got married and opened a small grocery store in Brooklyn, where he lived the rest of his life quietly. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. A film about his incredible story, The Survivor (starring Ben Foster, Danny DeVito, and John Leguizamo) was released yesterday in Israeli theatres and on HBO in honour of Yom HaShoah.
Words of the Week
We, the God-fearing, criticize and prosecute the secular state, while the secular Jews take action and create facts on the ground. I also used to think that this was the proper approach, and I would curse the heretics with great fervor, anticipating that my curses would be fulfilled. But that did not happen. On the contrary, I saw that they were becoming stronger and stronger. So, I said to myself, that perhaps it is better if we switch roles. I will build the land of Israel in holiness and the seculars can curse me!
– Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, renowned Hasidic leader and Holocaust survivor, on why he made aliyah.
Carolina Raquel Duer (b. 1978) was born in Argentina, the daughter of Syrian-Jewish immigrants. She went to a Jewish school growing up, spent time on an Israeli kibbutz, and frequented the Buenos Aires Maccabi club. When once visiting a gym with a friend, she was spotted by a boxing coach, and agreed to be trained by him. She soon became an amateur boxer, winning 19 of 20 matches, while also working as a waitress in her family’s restaurant. By 2010, Duer had become a professional boxer and won the world’s super flyweight championship. This made her the first female Jewish boxing champion. She defended the title six times before moving on to the bantamweight division in 2013 and winning that world title, too. After defending her title yet again in 2014, Duer took time off to focus on her family. She became a boxing announcer on Argentine television in the mean time. Incredibly, not long after having a baby, Duer returned to the ring earlier this year and won the International Boxing Federation’s bantamweight title. She is now among the greatest Jewish boxers (male or female) of all time. Duer has been nicknamed “The Turk” and “Iron Barbie”. In her spare time, she often volunteers with disadvantaged youth, and has said, “I do a lot of work with kids on the street. I explain to them that boxing isn’t violent. It can be used to give them focus. It’s good for both body and mind.”
Words of the Week
Transgressions of man towards God – Yom Kippur atones for them. Transgressions of man towards man – Yom Kippur does not atone for them until one seeks forgiveness from one’s fellow – Talmud, Yoma 85b
From the beginnings of professional boxing early in the last century, Jews have played an enormous role in the sport. The tradition continues with today’s two young stars Dmitry Salita and Yuri Foreman. Most amazingly, both are practising Orthodox Jews! Salita was born Dmitry Lekhtman in Odessa, Ukraine (he uses the maiden name of his mother, who passed away from breast cancer). His family immigrated to Brooklyn where he began his career at age 13, building an amateur record of 59 wins to just 5 losses. At 19 he began his professional career, and his record stands at 33 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss, with 17 KOs. Salita has said, “I will never compromise my beliefs. Never. It’s not a question. I have a personal relationship with God… My boxing is such a big part of my life, but it won’t get in the way of my religion.” Meanwhile, Yuri Foreman was born in Belarus, where his mother signed him up to boxing so that he can stand up to anti-Semites. The family moved to Israel, then Brooklyn. Foreman recorded 75 wins to 5 losses in his amateur career, and since going pro has 28 wins and 2 losses. He is also studying to become an Orthodox Rabbi, and has said, “You have the physical and mental challenges in boxing, just like you have lots of challenges in exploring the different levels of Judaism. They are different but the same.” Final mention goes to rising star Roman Greenberg, nicknamed “the Lion from Zion”, a Moldovan-Israeli who was the youngest ever to win Israel’s heavyweight title. His record stands at 27-1. He says: “I represent Israel and myself. All through history, the Jews have always had to fight for their freedom and for their lives. When I come out wearing the Star of David, it shows the whole world that the Jews are still here and that they are successful.” Amen.
Kosher Boxer Dmitry Salita
Words of the Week
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. – Plato