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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

World champion boxer finds Judaism

Published: February 11, 2011
Section: Front Page

cHAMPION: Yuri Foreman, an Orthodox Jew , says boxing and Judaism are related.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Yuri Foreman, the first orthodox Jew to become a world champion boxer in nearly 80 years, said during a reception Tuesday evening in Rapaporte Treasure Hall that professional boxing and religious studies can overlap in one’s life.

Foreman, a native of Belarus, who moved to Israel as a child and now lives in Brooklyn, New York won the WBA super-welterweight world title in 2009.

During the nine years that he lived in Israel, Foreman did not live a religious life.

“I was in a Jewish country, a Jew, but spirituality was not my thing,” he said during an interview before his talk “Boxing, Judaism and Life.” He continued, “My balance of physicality outweighed my spiritual [side].”

Growing up, Foreman said that his family was so unfamiliar with Jewish traditions that his parents thought Kiddush cups were shot glasses for drinking vodka.

“I never had questions about my roots,” Foreman said. “I came to Israel—I was not searching for my roots.”

But that quickly changed when Foreman moved to Brooklyn in 2003 and met Rabbi Dovber Pinson four years later. During a Shabbat dinner one night, Pinson inspired Foreman to reconnect with his heritage.

“You can pursue your dreams and at the same time be spiritually connected,” Foreman said. Foreman is now studying to become a rabbi himself.

Daniel Terris, the director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, praised Foreman for living up to Brandeis’ values.

“In the best Brandeis tradition, he also lives the life of the mind and the soul,” Terris said.

Foreman said that he began his athletic career as a swimmer, but at a young age, other children bullied him, and his mother asked him if he wanted to go to the gym and try boxing.

After living in Israel, Foreman realized that in the United States he would be presented with new opportunities to improve his boxing career. From boxing, Foreman said that he has learned to accept that not everything will turn out as expected.

Last summer, Foreman lost his first professional match at Yankee Stadium and, despite a knee injury, continued to fight until the end.

“Everything that happens in our life—good or bad—it happens for the good,” Foreman said. “Life don’t have to be silky smooth and perhaps it’s good that way.”

When Foreman went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, he said he wrote three things on his note before placing it in the Kotel. He said he wanted to be a world champion, marry a model and receive guidance from God.

Before his fight for the world championship, he said he continually prayed to God to allow him to persevere through pain and appear confident in the ring.

“In order for me to be a world champion, I had to first find Judaism,” Foreman said.

Contrary to his belief while growing up that life could either be about boxing or about Judaism, Foreman now said he knows that a life can feature both passions.