Fighting for the Jewish Soul: Yuri Foreman


For Yuri Foreman, boxing, like Judaism, is about sparking one’s inner fire.

“The main person you are struggling with is yourself,” said the former World Boxing Association super welterweight champion, 33. “You need to conquer lack of motivation. You feel pain, but still have to spark this force within to keep going. With Judaism it’s the same thing — you have to master yourself and your emotions, and in the ring it is vital. ”

The first time Foreman, who is studying to be a Chabad rabbi, entered a synagogue, it reminded him of the first time he entered a boxing gym; he was, he says, “a deer in the headlights” encountering the unfamiliar and determined to conquer his fear.

His quest to become a world champion boxer — a dream he realized and will seek to repeat in a much-heralded comeback fight on June 7 against Jorge Melendez at Madison Square Garden — springs from his roots in the former Soviet Union: Foreman’s mother signed him up for boxing when he was seven because he was bullied for being Jewish.

Despite the beatings, he said, and despite immigrating to Israel at age 9, he didn’t really know what being Jewish meant until many years later in the U.S., when his then fiancée, now wife, Leyla Leidecker, took a passionate interest in the religion, and converted.

“If I hadn’t met her, I’d be a Russian non-observant person,” he said.

For the past several years, he has studied in Brooklyn with Rabbi DovBer Pinson, a scholar of Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah, to become a rabbi. He and his wife observe Shabbat with their two young boys, Lev, 3, and Elijah, 1.

Would he want his sons to box when they are older?

“A kid will either like it or hate it,” he said. “If he wants it, fine. But if it’s not his thing, that is OK because there’s a whole world out there.”

Glove story: An avid reader who loves music, among Foreman’s favorite artists are Simon and Garfunkel, especially their song — you guessed it — “The Boxer.” “Pure poetry,” he said. “On a daily basis, we are all getting hit with punches life throws us. Certain things, like loss, you can’t duck. You need strength to just keep going.”