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Old 09-22-2009, 09:57 AM   #1
janitor
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Default "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Ring

"American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Ring, 1890–1940

Stephen H. Norwood

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American Jews enjoyed striking success in the prize ring in the three decades prior to World War II, a period when twenty six of them won world boxing titles. By 1928, Jews had more contenders in the eight weight categories than any other ethnic group. In the leading American boxing centers, like New York, world capital of the sport, and Chicago, Jews and Italian-Americans comprised the majority of fight fans. The 1923 lightweight title fight between champion Benny Leonard and challenger Lew Tendler, whom the Boston Globe described as "smart Jewish boys," attracted 70,000 spectators, which set a record for a boxing match in New York City, at the time surpassed by only two heavyweight bouts.

Jewish boxers grew up in environments where they were in serious danger of attack from gentile youths whenever they stepped out of their Jewish neighborhood. They invariably cited this as important when explaining how they became involved in pugilism. Jackie Fields and Barney Ross, both from Chicago's Maxwell Street ghetto, recalled that Jewish boys had to fight their way to the swimming pool every time they wanted to use it, "because the Italians, the Polish, the Irish, the Lithuanians" would violently resist Jews’ presence. Ross remembered that Polish-American youths "would come marching into our neighborhood with blood in their eye and start screaming, ‘Piss on you, you dirty sheenies.’ " Lightweight contender Leach Cross (born Louis Wallach), whose professional boxing career spanned the years from 1906 to 1921, remembered that every day as a child, he "had to fight my way through many of the streets where the Jews were looked upon as outcasts." Returning home from his first day at City College of New York, he and a few Jewish friends were surrounded by about thirty gentile youths, who attacked them with "bats and limbs of trees." Their assailants hurled bricks at them "from all angles," and the Jews "were mighty happy to escape with our lives." Boxing authority Nat Fleischer called the streets inhabited by non-Jews that surrounded the Lower East Side neighborhood in which Benny Leonard spent his childhood "No Man's Land," and said entering them "was a mission fraught with danger."

The Jewish boxer, often sporting a large Star of David on his trunks, became an important, highly visible symbol of vigorous American Jewish opposition to Nazism as soon as Hitler came to power. In Newark, New Jersey, Abner Zwillman, a Jewish organized crime boss, employed Jewish boxers in "an anti-Nazi fighting force," known as the Minutemen, which violently disrupted meetings of the pro-Hitler Friends of the New Germany and its successor, the German-American Bund, groups with large followings in northern New Jersey. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Zwillman as a youth had formed a gang to combat antisemites. Peddlers on Prince Street, in the heart of Newark's ghetto, when attacked by Irish-American marauders, called for Zwillman's gang to protect them. Zwillman appointed Nat Arno (born Sidney Abramowitz), son of Rumanian-Jewish immigrants and a prominent boxer in the 1920s and 1930s, to head the Minutemen, which included other Jewish prizefighters like Lou Halper, Moe Fischer, Benny Levine, Al Fisher, Max Hinkes, and Abie Bain, who fought Maxie Rosenbloom for the world light heavyweight title in 1930. The Minutemen attacked pro-Nazi meetings with iron pipes, baseball bats, rubber truncheons, and their fists. According to ****** Grover, the historian of Newark's Nazi movement, the domestic fascists "were usually no match for the former boxers." The Jewish boxers’ eagerness to forcefully confront antisemites in meeting halls and on the streets made Newark's Jewish citizens and businesses more secure, and undermined support for the Nazi movement in northern New Jersey.

In Germany, the Nazis, upon coming to power, immediately began a purge of Jewish fighters, and they introduced a compulsory boxing program for boys in the schools. By April 1933 the Nazis had expelled Jews from both the German amateur and professional boxing associations, and had stripped Erich Seelig, a Jew, of the German light heavyweight and middleweight titles. Nazi officials informed Seelig that if he did not immediately leave Germany, they would have his family executed. Seelig had no choice but to get out of the country, resuming his career in France and the United States.

The success of Baer and other leading Jewish boxers, many of whom were outspoken in denouncing Nazism, rankled the Hitler regime. In early 1934 the Nazi government banned the MGM film "The Prizefighter and the Lady," in which Baer starred, because he was a Jew.78 It was widely believed in the United States that Maxie Rosenbloom's victory over German light heavyweight champion Adolf Heuser in March 1933, along with Baer's defeat of Schmeling in June, were responsible for the Nazis’ decision to no longer permit German boxers to fight Jews. Baer ridiculed Hitler as a "sissy" and "stuffed shirt," and boasted that if he had the Führer "in the ring just for one minute," he would "settle the whole German trouble in two punches." As champion, Baer clamored for another opportunity to fight Schmeling, even offering to hold the bout in Germany. Taunting the Nazis, he proclaimed that "every punch in the eye I give Schmeling is one for Adolf Hitler." But Hitler would not permit such a bout.

Erich Seelig, the German Jew stripped of his German light heavyweight and middleweight titles by the Nazis, publicly denounced the Hitler regime while continuing his boxing career in the United States. In 1935, the day after Seelig knocked out former world middleweight champion Mickey Walker, he joined Pennsylvania governor George Earle and New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia in a call for the United States to boycott the upcoming Olympic Games in Berlin before an audience of 2,500 at a meeting set up by the Committee on Fair Play in Sports.

Last edited by janitor; 09-22-2009 at 10:15 AM.
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Old 09-22-2009, 12:22 PM   #2
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

wow as a russian jew....this was great to read.....jew power lol
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Old 09-22-2009, 01:09 PM   #3
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

Great read, Janitor. I love reading stuff that zooms out and in for perspective. Thanks for the reminder that boxing, more than any other sport is reflective of the society at large. We can now look forward to all the great fighters that will be coming out of the Little Kabuls and Baghdads of New York and L.A. in the years and decades to come.
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Old 09-22-2009, 03:10 PM   #4
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

great post janitor
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Old 09-22-2009, 03:13 PM   #5
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

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Originally Posted by Chinxkid View Post
Great read, Janitor. I love reading stuff that zooms out and in for perspective. Thanks for the reminder that boxing, more than any other sport is reflective of the society at large. We can now look forward to all the great fighters that will be coming out of the Little Kabuls and Baghdads of New York and L.A. in the years and decades to come.
For boxing to thrive the only things needed are:

Poverty

Social inequality

Ethnic tensions

A lot of money in another sector of the economy to finance it.
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Old 09-22-2009, 03:24 PM   #6
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

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Originally Posted by janitor View Post
For boxing to thrive the only things needed are:

Poverty

Social inequality

Ethnic tensions

A lot of money in another sector of the economy to finance it.
Definitely. It's always been a poor man's out. In some cases, a desperate man's out. That's why the Irish had their turn, as did the Italians and the Blacks, and now the Latinos.

And you're right, there will always be the guys in the suits, whether three piece Brooks Brothers or tailor made, high fashion silk to pull the strings, if there's profit in it.
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Old 09-22-2009, 09:36 PM   #7
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

Fascinating...and I never knew of that Baer said those things...man if happened that way and he went to Germany to fight Schmeling..first of all, it would have never been allowed to happen..if Baer had been a successful champion, and had beaten Braddock...the Nazis would have banned him from Germany on the basis of his being a Jew (supposedly that is)..it would have been a fascinating situation.
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Old 09-22-2009, 10:49 PM   #8
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

Interesting post, seems like most of the Jewish prize fighters of the late 20's and 30's were tough as nails in and out of the ring. I guess you You can tell they didn't get an easy ride growing up on the Lower East Side. Probably the numbers guys became Meyer Lansky's and the fighter types became Maxie Rosenblooms.
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Old 09-23-2009, 02:00 AM   #9
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

Fascinating reading
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Old 09-23-2009, 04:50 AM   #10
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

Quote:
Originally Posted by janitor View Post
For boxing to thrive the only things needed are:

Poverty

Social inequality

Ethnic tensions

A lot of money in another sector of the economy to finance it.



Short but pregnant. Just how I like it. Good post. Would read again.
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Old 09-23-2009, 06:15 AM   #11
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

Nice read. Are there any Jewish boxers currently active?
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Old 09-24-2009, 05:28 PM   #12
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

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Nice read. Are there any Jewish boxers currently active?
I don't know but the incentive is gone.

Some posters here are rightly fascinated by the relevance of boxing to black social history and the should look at its relevance to jewish social history in America.
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Old 09-24-2009, 05:56 PM   #13
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

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Nice read. Are there any Jewish boxers currently active?
Dmitry Salita and Yuri Foreman, fof. Both want to be rabbis when they retire.
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Old 09-24-2009, 06:07 PM   #14
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

A few years ago there was Dana Rosenblatt..a pretty good boxer, IMO.
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Old 09-24-2009, 06:56 PM   #15
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Default Re: "American Jewish Muscle": Forging a New Masculinity in the Streets and in the Rin

The curent Jewish boxers of note that I know about are Yuri Foreman Who is sechulded to face Daniel Santos for the WBA 154 tittle., Dmitriy Salita and Ran Nakash
For a compersive list of Jewish boxers
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