Monday, April 6, 2009
Unbeaten welterweight boxer Dmitriy Salita coming to Dallas
Dmitriy Salita is unique in Jewish boxing history in becoming more religious during his career.
Dmitriy Salita is the unbeaten Light welterweight champion of the WBA. He is also an immigrant to this country, and an Orthodox Jew. He will be in Dallas on Sunday, April 19, to tell his dramatic and inspiring story at the Chabad Shul on Levelland Road.
Boxing is an underdog, immigrant sport, a traditional pathway out of the ghetto. Salita immigrated from the Ukraine to Brooklyn in 1992, when he was 9. Following the path of many immigrants, the family struggled to make ends meet, and Salita remembers being embarrassed because they used food stamps. When he got into fights in the rough neighborhood, his brother began to teach him boxing. He says, “That is how it all started. I got called into the principal’s office. I got suspended a few times, but I got my respect.”
He began working out at the Starrett City Gym, where manager Jimmy O’Pharrow, now 83, has mentored the kids of East Brooklyn for 30 years. Dmitry worked hard, and began to win; in 2001, he won the New York Golden Gloves. For Dmitriy, it was the first time he felt validated as an American.
When Dmitriy was 16, his mother, Lyudmila, lost her two-year battle with breast cancer. When she was hospitalized, Salita divided his time between high school, the Starrett gym, and the hospital. He relates, “I’d spend the night sleeping in a chair at the hospital and wake up to do my roadwork.” At the hospital, his mother shared a room with an Orthodox Jewish woman, who impressed Dmitriy, and after his mother’s death, he gradually became involved with the Jewish Orthodox Chabad movement.
Dmitriy’s family is Jewish, and proud of it, but they are not rigorously observant. And, while dabbling in Orthodoxy is popular with many young Jews today, living a completely observant life is not easy for a professional boxer. For one thing, he can’t fight on Saturday. Orthodox observance prohibits working on the Jewish Sabbath. Dmitriy claims on his website, “If anyone wants a whuppin’ from me, they have to wait until after sundown”. Dmitriy adheres to a strictly kosher diet, not easy on the road and in training, and his prayer schedule is as unrelenting as his workout schedule.
Fans familiar with the history of boxing may be familiar with famous Jewish boxers from the 1920s, the “Gangs of New York” era. Benny Leonard, “The Ghetto Wizard”, known for his dapper appearance and scientific style, had the longest title reign ever for a lightweight. Barney Ross, the “Pride of the Ghetto” was first to hold lightweight and welterweight crowns simultaneously. Jewish boxers were so popular that even boxers who were not Jewish, claimed to be: Max Baer may be the most well-known. But Dmitriy Salita is unique in Jewish boxing history in becoming more religious during his career.
In Dallas, Dmitry Salita will speak at 6:30pm, April 19, at a dinner to benefit the Chabad Kesher Foundation, an organization founded seven years ago to aid the local Russian immigrant population. The organization, headed by Rabbi Asher Goldschmidt, today offers connection and community to new Jewish immigrants, many of whom arrive still with little more than the clothes on their backs. For further information, call the Chabad Kesher Foundation, 972-381-1101, or email email@example.com. Tickets are available online at www.salitaindallas.eventbrite.com
This article was submitted by a member of the Pegasus News community.