Yuri Foreman: Immigrant, boxer and would-be rabbi

From Belarus to Israel to America, he found fame and became frum

Yuri Foreman

Did'ja hear the one about the boxer who's studying to be a rabbi? They call him Mazel Tough.

Actually, this is not really a joke. Yuri Foreman, the once and possibly future super welterweight champion of the world, is studying to be a rabbi. "Mazel Tough" was the headline that appeared in a New York Magazine article about him.

A native of Belarus who moved to Haifa as a child and now lives in New York, Foreman is the first Orthodox champion in 75 years. He will be on campus Tuesday, Feb. 8, speaking in Rapaporte Treasure Hall beginning at 7 p.m. in a program sponsored by the Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry.

horizontal blue bar

See Foreman on film

ESPN profile of Foreman 

Watch Foreman fight 

Foreman does Jimmy Kimmel

horizontal blue bar

"Boxing, Judaism and Life," the subjects of his talk, are tightly related in the story Foreman has told often to the media since his rise to fame as a three-time champion in Israel, a member of the Israeli national boxing team and, most recently, a world champion with the Star of David on his trunks.

Foreman, now 30, started out as a swimmer, but was bullied by Russian youth who derided him for being a Jew. His mother's response was to take him to a gym in Gomel, the family's home town, to learn to box.

Moving to Haifa at age 10, he again encountered hostility. As he told one interviewer, "in Russia you are a Jew, in Israel you are Russian." In consequence, he often trained and worked with Arabs until he won national recognition and respect. Eventually he moved to New York, won the Golden Gloves and turned pro, along the way meeting and marrying Leyla Leidecker, a Hungarian model and amateur featherweight boxer, and becoming engrossed in religious studies with a rabbi whom he heard describe life as a boxing match.

Foreman won the WBA super-welterweight world title in November 2009 with a unanimous decision over defending champion Daniel Santos. He suffered his first professional defeat last summer in the first boxing match to be held in the new Yankee Stadium, when a previously injured knee, which he had in a brace, gave out in the seventh round. Foreman gamely continued to fight for two rounds, though he was barely able to stand or walk.

Historians of boxing point out that while there have not been Jewish champions for decades, Jews were highly successful in the sport earlier in their immigrant experience. According to one authority, there were 26 Jewish world champions between 1903 and 1938. Statistics about boxers who became rabbis were not immediately available.

About the Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry

The Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry (BGI) provides financial support, mentoring, and educational programming to Russian-speaking Jewish students at Brandeis University. BGI offers scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students at Brandeis as well as financial aid to high school students who participate in the BIMA/Genesis non-credit summer program at Brandeis. The Institute is dedicated to helping qualified fellows preserve their Russian Jewish identity through special programming, volunteer outreach projects in the Russian Jewish community, and required course work. The Institute also helps BGI fellows connect with other Russian-speaking Jewish students at universities in the Boston area as well as the Russian-speaking community in the Boston area.

Categories: General

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage