Brooklyn Boro

Yuri Foreman: A fighter in and out of the ring

April 25, 2022 Andy Furman
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Yuri Foreman doesn’t hesitate a bit when asked to credit his role models.

“I started boxing in Israel,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle, “by watching Rocky movies on TV. “Bruce Lee is my role model.”

And what about Mike Tyson?

“I saw Mike fight when I was about eight,” he said. “I was in awe of him; of his power. I wanted to be like Mike.”

And Yuri Foreman did.

Today Yuri Foreman is a boxing champion, Crown Heights resident and will be inducted into the Jewish Heritage Association on May 1st.

The Jewish Sports Heritage Association is a not-for-profit education organization whose mission is to educate the public about the role Jewish men and women have played, and continue to play, in the world of sports, an area of Jewish accomplishment often overlooked.

It’s a good thing May 1st falls on Sunday – Yuri doubles as a rabbi and wouldn’t attend the celebration on the Jewish sabbath – sundown Friday till sundown Saturday.

Fighting? Rabbi?

“In Israel I was an immigrant, that’s what immigrants do,” he said.

Things didn’t start out smoothly, he remembers.

“I was about seven or eight, going into the ring in extra short-shorts,” he said. “Everyone was laughing. I lost. It was my first experience of public defeat.”

Born in Gomel, Belarus – then part of the Soviet Union – he was put in a swimming program at an early age but it was his mother who signed him up for boxing lessons due to bullying and physical altercations in the locker room.

Boxing wasn’t popular in Haifa, Israel when Yuri was about 10.

“Boxing gyms were sparse, I trained in an Arab gym,” he said.

Not a real problem, he recalled – he earned the respect of his peers with his skill and passion.

He won three national championships in Israel, “but New York City is considered the Boxing Capital of the World. New York was my first choice when I decided to move.”

In 2001 he won the New York Golden Gloves – as an amateur he compiled a record of 75-5.

Brooklyn may have been Foreman’s new home – but the world-famous Gleason’s Gym was his hangout.

He was ranked eighth-best super welterweight challenger by the World Boxing Association after defeating Anthony Thompson on June 9, 2007. In his next victory – December, 2007 – over Audrey Tsurken, he took the North American Boxing Federation super welterweight title.

In the post-fight interview, Foreman raised his hands and wished the television audience a happy Chanukah. He wears a Star of David on his boxing trunks. “Boxing,” he says, “is sometimes spiritual in its own way. 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.”

In 2008, to balance his spiritual and physical attributes, he learned and studied Torah and Halacha in the morning and boxing in the afternoon.

On November 14, 2009, Foreman defeated Daniel Santos by a 12-round unanimous decision to become the new WBA super welterweight champion of the world – and Israel’s first world champion. On the same day – his dream came true — becoming the first Orthodox Jew to own a world title since Barney Ross held championships in two divisions in 1935.

He was ordained a rabbi in 2014 and has since traveled to synagogues across the United States for speaking engagements, telling his inspirational life’s story.

His biggest fight these days might be against antisemitism, using his boxing expertise to teach the Jewish people self-defense in the wake of rising attacks on Jews in New York.

Foreman recently turned 41, yet he said, “George Foreman became a second-time world champion at the age of 45, so the way I see it is, I have about four or five more years.”

Yuri Foreman will always be a fighter – in or out of the ring — in the world of antisemitism.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR

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