Film Tries to Make Jewish Boxing a Hit Again

December 27, 2012 3:01 am 3 comments

Jewish boxer Yuri Foreman (on the left) and Miguel Cotto at an official weigh-in on June 4, 2010. Photo: Akira Kouchiyama.

These days, the once-proud sport of boxing has fallen on hard times. With so many weight classes and (corrupt) managers, the fighters may make millions—yet often lose their way.

Simple put, the “sweet science” is no longer a “haimische” (homey) activity.

There was a time when strong young men from quality families entered the ring—not so much for the fame and glory, but to show they could fight to help themselves and their families make it in the world. Those men had names like Leonard, Ross, Goldstein, and Rosenbloom, and in the 1920s they ruled boxing as few other groups of boxers from the same cultural group have.

Today more Jews are in management and promotion than in the ring itself, but there are a few exceptions like Yuri Foreman and Dmitry Salita (both of whom refuse to fight on Shabbat), former World Boxing Council (WBC) champ Dana Rosenblatt, and Ron Aurit (who went by the name “The Yid Kid” when he fought Sugar Ray Leonard).

James Ford Nussbaum is seeking to uphold the legacy of Jewish boxing not in the ring itself, but through the big screen. The award-winning film producer is about to release “Impact: Jewish Boxers in America”.

Nussbaum says his grandfather, Newton Ford, a candy salesman and avid boxing fan in Philadelphia, was the inspiration for the film. But while Nussbaum had an affinity for boxing in his Jewish blood, few others seemed to share that.

“The amazing thing about doing this film was that many people, when told about this project, would react in awe asking, ‘There were Jews who boxed?’” the director tells JNS.org. “It’s a part of our Jewish history that not many people recognize and accept.”

In fact, Nussbaum suggests, in some circles Jews boxing  is considered to be “almost a taboo topic.” He says that, despite their good upbringings, many Jewish boxers historically fell in with organized crime and other less-kosher activities, as many of their gentile fellow sportsmen did.

“Most Jews got involved with this sport to make a name for themselves,” Nussbaum points out, “and the thing that they all share in common with Irish, black, and Italian boxers and other ethnicities is poverty. They all came up from nothing and used the sport to promote themselves in a way that would excel them to a new socioeconomic level.”

As such, the director/producer poses his piece not as a film about the dark side of a dimming sport, but rather as “an incredible American Dream story of being able to come up from nothing in this country and be able to become a success.”

Over the course of two years, Nussbaum delved into the worlds of some of the best Jewish boxers from today and yesterday, including Cletus Seldin, Ron Lipton and Ed Gersh, by making time with them at home, in the gym and in the ring.

“The Jewish aspect of the sport is something out of the ordinary,” Nussbaum says, noting how many Jewish boxers still display the Jewish star somewhere on their trunks or robes.

Even so, he says, there has been what he sees as “an impressive number of boxers in the sport as well… a real diverse group with names like Bummy Davis, Slapsie Maxie Rosenthal and Barney Ross.”

Some Jewish boxers changed their names to protect their families. Many Jewish parents still look down on the sport, even if they had participated in it themselves.

“Most Jewish boxers like Barney Ross and Benny Leonard didn’t want their kids involved in the sport,” Nussbaum explains. “There are very few if any boxers that have children that continued in the sport of boxing. Most of them went on to become lawyers and doctors.”

Nussbaum got so involved in the lives of his subjects while shooting that he even required medical attention.

“One year into shooting… I injured my eye,” he recalls, detailing that his detached retina became one of his “favorite” parts of shooting the film because it was a typical “boxer’s injury.”

“It seems that I not only produced the film and directed it, but also lived a firsthand account of what the boxers go through on a day to day basis,” he says.

As he regained his own sight, Nussbaum gained even more insight into what the professional fighters he was featuring need to do to make it in their brutal, but still at times beautiful, sport.

“I had become a boxer myself,” he says, “determined to make this film and living a life that was very similar to them. I regained my sight and lived through an injury that made me feel exactly how some of these fighters feel… struggling to make this film as real and poignant as possible.”

Such experiences also drew Nussbaum’s subjects closer to him and encouraged others to seek him out and participate in the film.

“Many of the boxers in the film came to me after hearing what I was attempting to do,” he says. “They loved the idea and were so happy to learn that someone was interested in telling their stories the right way… from their perspectives.”

The finished film is set to air in more than 300,000 homes through Cablevision Systems in Morris County, NJ, and will possibly be distributed through The Jewish Channel on pay-per-view cable, but Nussbaum is also working to get it into film festivals and theaters nationwide.

“It is our hope to show and use the Jewish boxer as an example for accomplishing the American dream,” Nussbaum explains, “and proving once again that anyone can succeed in our great nation.”

Nussbaum also hopes that the film will “put an end to so much of the hatred that exists right now towards Jews and other minorities.”

“This is a part of Jewish and national history that many people are unaware of, and it is our hope to give viewers a behind-the-lens, honest rendition of what it is like to be Jewish and box in the USA,” he says.

3 Comments

  • Nice job on the film James. Your passion is obvious! Keep up the wonderful work. Your story telling is a great way to keep an important part of history and Jewish culture alive. I wish you every success in your new venture.

  • Didn’t Woody Allen star in a boxing movie? Or was that slapstick?

  • What makes boxing a “proud sport”? The promoters who cash in? The trainers who cash in? The boxers who get their brains bashed in and are maimed for life, if they don’t die first?

    Boxing is a blood sport. There’s nothing proud about it. It’s one step above the gladiator fights to the death.

    It might be an honest way of making money, but don’t make it something it’s not. Just because desparate poor Jews boxed as a way of earning money doesn’t make it something to be proud of.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.