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June 8, 2010 6:56 pm

Lessons from a Jewish Champion

avatar by Dovid Efune

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Foreman addresses reporters following the fight. Photo: Eliezer Cohen.

Once in a rare while, the story of one man captures the story of a people and a small moment in time reflects the journey of an era.

One might think that nowadays boxing would be unlikely to provide a platform for a Jewish narrative but on Saturday night June 5th Yuri “Lion of Zion” Foreman, former WBA Light Middleweight Champion captured the hearts, minds and perhaps souls of millions of Jews around the world when he valiantly defended his title against Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto in an epic drama that left Puerto Rican fans cheering for the Jewish fighter.

Yuri entered the ring at the new Yankee Stadium to the Israeli national anthem, sounds of the shofar blast and chanting from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the atmosphere was electric and Jewish fans came out in throngs to support the people’s champion.

Following a riveting 6 rounds of near even trading of fists, the 7th round of the bout took a bizarre twist as Foreman slipped on water on the edge of the ring, twisting his knee and painfully aggravating an old injury.

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What happened next is quite remarkable; refusing to bow out of the fight, Foreman showed the immense heart of a champion and continued to evade punches while hobbling on one knee, even landing a number of solid punches of his own. Battling through the pain Foreman soldiered on, spitting defiance with every step, turning the crowd in his favor and winning the respect and admiration of everyone present.

This week Israelis and Jews around the world have been engaged in a collective bout of their own.  News broke of the Gaza flotilla incident and Israel was bombarded with condemnations as moral boundaries were blurred and irresponsible and sometimes malicious newsroom editors failed to deliver truth to their audiences. At times it appeared that the small Jewish country truly had its back against the ropes.

The parallels that can be drawn and more importantly the lessons that can be learned from Yuri should act as an inspiration to Jews around the globe. When faced with adversity, challenges and threats to our very existence we must fight back with everything we have. Whether we win or not, whether we are able to turn back the sometimes overpowering tide of hate our duty and our responsibility is to challenge it with everything we have.

Around the world Jews mobilized to defend Israel from its enemies in the war of words, and the collective Jewish mood was grim, it seemed that the damage had already been done.

Yes, we have been hurt.  Yes, damage has been done, and yes perhaps as a people our world status seems to be somewhat diminished. What we can learn from Yuri is how to respond to crisis and to the tribulations that we are handed, only then will our dignity remain intact, and as with Yuri we can hold our heads up high and know that there is no shame in our loss.

As we get knocked down and then get back up again, the story of the ring is the story of the Jewish people. Foreman’s heart is a reflection of the Jewish heart and the trademark stubborn resilience that has been the hallmark of Jewish continuity for the last 3000 years.

If we are able to learn to never bow our heads, to never give in, then like Foreman we will be respected by friend and foe alike, because to secure the safety of our Jewish future, Jews don’t need to be loved, only respected.

The Author is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com.

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