One of world’s best boxers is training to be a rabbi

CNN   September 16, 2011
By Eric Marrapodi and Ali Velshi

 

Cutting the thick summer air, an industrial fan struggles to cool Gleason’s Gym.

Two women trade punches to the face in a morning sparring session before heading off to work.

Boxing gloves snap and thump, keeping the rhythm with the grunts and shouts. There is no music, no TVs, no smoothie bar. It smells like a boxing gym should: awful.

In walks the rabbi in training.

“Yuri!” a boxer calls out in greeting.

The champ is here.

Winning a belt does wonders for your popularity at the gym.

Yuri Foreman, right, is training to become a rabbi.

Thirty-one-year-old Yuri Foreman has a tight schedule today. He kissed his wife and son goodbye early and then pedaled over to the gym to train. From here, he will bike over to see a rabbi.

Yuri Foreman studies with Rabbi DovBer Pinson.

Foreman is hitting the books, studying to be a rabbi with the same determination that helped him become a world championship boxer.

One goal: to be the best

He immigrated to the United States by himself over a decade ago by way of Israel but was raised in Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union.

“I came to New York just so I could experience in my own skin the American dream,” he said.

On his second day on U.S. soil, he found his way to into a boxing gym. He arrived with a singular goal.

“I came here and I told the owner, ‘I want to be a world champion.’ ”

Bruce Silverglade gets that a lot. He owns Gleason’s Gym.

Gleason’s opened its doors in 1937. Silverglade said it’s the oldest operating boxing gym in the United States.

It has trained 132 champions. The first was Jake LaMotta, “The Raging Bull.” When Robert DeNiro studied to play LaMotta in the iconic boxing film, he came to Gleason’s to learn the sweet science.

Dozens of other Hollywood productions have followed. On this day, a sheet of paper taped to the front door says the gym will be closing early because Warner Bros. is filming that morning.

Fighters come from all over the world with pronouncements to Silverglade of their greatness.

“I was impressed with Yuri because instead of coming from (around the corner), he came from halfway around the world with no support team,” Silverglade said. “He didn’t come with a father or a mother for support. He didn’t come with any money.”

Silverglade enrolled Foreman in his Give a Kid a Dream program, which provides free training to disadvantaged children.

You’re the champ, so now what?

Foreman had what it takes. He worked his way through the ranks and got a title shot.

He won the World Boxing Association Super Welterweight title and was the best boxer in the world.

But along the way, something changed.

As he was climbing in the boxing ranks, he found something he had left behind in Belarus: his Jewish faith.

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