Larry Fine – Reuters
Yuri Foreman has been working towards becoming a rabbi and a boxing champion and is closing in on both targets.
The 28-year-old, a native Belarussian and Brooklynite by way of Israel, is a year and a half from earning a degree in rabbinical studies and one fight away from his childhood dream of winning a world title.
On Saturday, Foreman (27-0) meets American Cornelius Bundrage (29-4) in an International Boxing Federation light middleweight eliminator in Atlantic City with the winner getting a title shot against Cory Spinks.
He was 11 when his parents emigrated to Israel looking for a better life and four years later he resumed boxing.
“I have wanted to be world champion since 15. Now I’m coming very close and the next one is one step from my dream,” said Foreman.
The desire to delve into Judaism came much later.
Foreman said he was not raised to be religious and his family’s move to Israel was for economic reasons.
“My parents are completely secular, to the bone. They moved to Israel for no Jewish reason,” he said.
“I started to get interested in Judaism when I got here,” he said about leaving Haifa for New York after he had won three national titles and exhausted his boxing opportunities.
Foreman and his wife, filmmaker, model and former boxer Leyla Leidecker, began to explore Judaism.
“For the first time I started experiencing Judaism. Even though I lived in Israel for eight years, I didn’t know what Yom Kippur meant,” he said about the Jewish holy day.
“Two and a half years ago my rabbi offered me to sign up for rabbinical programme and this is how I started.
“The yeshiva (school) is two blocks from Gleason’s Gym where I train. So in the morning I would go there for about two hours and study.
“I trained my body right after that. The whole day I felt like I covered two areas, spiritual and physical.”
Foreman now has rabbinical dreams following completion of his studies at Iyyun yeshiva of the Chabad (Hebrew acronym for wisdom, knowledge and understanding) Hasidic sect.
“Perhaps I can have my own congregation and bring Russian Jews closer to Judaism,” said Foreman.
“In Israel it might be interesting. Israel to me is like a holy land and I definitely like to have my base there.”
Foreman said he had been embraced by synagogue members.
“My congegation supports me all the way. When I went there I was already a boxer,” he said. “Rabbi would not advise anybody to do boxing.”
He said, though, that he encountered some negativity in the community.
“They are always saying, ‘you cannot hurt your fellow man’. But when you actually do it for a living and your fellow man signed a contract, he’s aware he’s going to get hit.”
Foreman, a slick boxer who relies on technique rather than punching power, can hardly believe his own journey.
“When I saw recently I was the World Boxing Association number one contender, I looked at it and said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’.
“But after so much work and so much sweat and blood I deserve it.”