Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →