Orthodox Rabbi fights for title – plus, how a Jewish boxer helped save a Catholic school 50 years ago

yuri-foreman-boxers-photo-1Former World Boxing Association (WBA) Super Welterweight champion and ordained Orthodox Rabbi, Yuri Foreman will seek to regain his title by taking on Cuban refugee Erislandy Lara on January 13 at the Hialeah Park Racing and Casino in Miami.

“Yuri Foreman is a former world champion who is dedicated to this sport and will be looking to win another world title,” Lara said in a prepared statement.

“I expect nothing but the best from him. On fight night, I’m making another statement and going for the knockout! After this fight, it’s time to unify the division, then move up to win the middleweight titles. Everyone should tune-in because it’s going to be a great night of boxing” Lara added. Foreman, an Israeli who trains in Park Slope, Brooklyn, said:

 “I’m really looking forward to showcasing my skills and talent and becoming a two-time world champion. At this stage of my career, it would be a tremendous accomplishment. Lara is very crafty and many elite fighters have had trouble dealing with his style, but I have studied him and am very confident that I will defeat him by presenting him with something he’s never seen before.”

Ring Magazine said Foreman hasn’t fought anyone as good as Lara, since he took the 154-pound title from Daniel Santos in 2009 “in a virtuoso performance that showcased his boxing ability against a veteran who wouldn’t fight again.” Foreman lost the title in his next bout to Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium, and took nearly two years off before coming back to defeat Lenwood Dozier on November of 2015 .

Ranker Magazine puts Foreman at #12 of the greatest Jewish boxers of all time.

News of this fighting Rabbi sparked memory of another Jewish boxing champion I met some 50 years ago – Benny Bass, ranked #2 by Ranker, just behind Max Baer.

My encounter with Bass in the mid 60s was after my nephew, John, had been admitted to the newly-opened Archbishop Damiano School in Westville Grove, NJ. Their website explains the school’s origin.:

Archbishop Damiano, the Bishop of Camden, invited five Hospitaller Brothers from Ireland to found a school for children with Down Syndrome. At that time in the United States, a child with a disability did not have the right to an education. The idea of a free and appropriate public education for all children did not become law until the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. Ahead of its time, Archbishop Damiano School became a special place for children and their families to learn, grow, and prosper.

As I volunteered with the school (which was tuition-free), increasing problems with funding became threatening. The shortfall for annual operations was nearly $100,000 a year – real money in the mid 60s.

A board was formed to raise money for the school, and I volunteered. We quickly decided that the sum needed was massive, far beyond bake sales and Bingo.

Benny Bass

But one member had a outstanding idea. Our group included Joey Giardello, middleweight boxing champion (101 wins), who suggested we rent Cherry Hill (NJ) Arena, which held about 4,500. He promised to convince ten former boxing champions to stage exhibition bouts, and at $10 a ticket and more for ringside, we would slash the school’s deficit.

That’s when I met Benny Bass, who became the world featherweight and lightweight champion in two bouts at Madison Square Garden in 1928 and 1929. Like the others, this famous Jewish boxer happily volunteered to show his boxing skills, even at age 62, before a sold-out arena to save a Catholic school for special needs children.

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