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Dmitriy Salita weighs his boxing future in Israel

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Salita at Ha Kotel
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JERUSALEM (Press Release)—World renowned Orthodox Jewish American boxer Dmitriy Salita – “the Star of David” – visited Israel for the first time with his wife as a guest of the Aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh.

The 27 year old North American Light Welterweight Champion from Brooklyn, NY, has been enjoying his trip so much that he decided to extend his stay for another week, and is even considering making Aliyah.

“After fighting for the world title, this trip to Israel gives me an opportunity to gather my thoughts and decide on my next steps. It has been a very powerful experience, and I am very excited to be able to walk in the land of our forefathers,” Salita said. “Israelis are the real heroes, they fight every day for the land of the Jews. I feel that in essence every Jew is an Israeli and therefore has a connection to the Land.”

“Individuals look to Nefesh B’Nefesh, not only for Aliyah facilitation but also for Israel inspiration,” said Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. “Dmitriy has captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world. It is an honor for us to be a part of his first visit to Israel and help him explore all that this country has to offer.”

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Preceding provided by Nefesh b’Nefesh

Salita taken out in seventy-six seconds by the mighty Khan

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

By Joey Seymour

SAN CLEMENTE, California–It only took WBA Light Welterweight Champion, Amir “King” Khan seventy-six seconds to take out “Star of David” Dmitriy Salita this past Saturday night in a fight conducted in Newcastle, England.

Ten thousand spectators witnessed an overpowering performance by Khan, which was nothing short of remarkable. In a blink of an eye, Khan was raising his hands in victory as Salita was simply attempting to remember where he was. The loss is by far the worst suffered by Salita in his short professional career and is one that will certainly continue to sting.

Previous to this bout, Salita was undefeated. His record was an incredible 30-0-1 with 16 knockouts. The buzz around Salita was palpable. A full length documentary was made in 2007 entitled “Orthodox Stance.” HBO followed up with a documentary of its own and many in the Jewish community saw Salita’s rise as the return of the dominant Jewish boxer. However, the boxing world was not as quick to anoint Salita to the upper echelons of the sport, despite the media craze surrounding him, because he had yet to fight anyone of note. On Saturday night, Salita earned his first title shot and in a New York minute, learned that he still has quite a way to go to compete with those in his weight class which include not only Khan, but also Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

The question then becomes, why did Salita garner so much attention before actually breaking out? Why is Disney currently working on a movie about Salita’s life that is set to star rapper Eminem as Dmitriy? The plain answer is because his story is unique.

Not since the days of Abe “The Little Hebrew” Attell, Maxie Rosenbloom, and Max Baer to name just a few, has there been a Jewish boxer with so much promise and talent. Like his predecessors, Salita is Orthodox and strictly follows Orthodox rules, even refusing to fight during the Sabbath or any of the 70 Jewish holy days. His long time trainer and mentor, Jimmy O’Pharrow said of Dmitriy, “My gym is like a league of nations. I seen every kind of kid come through the doors, but I ain’t never seen one like this Dmitriy. Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black.”

Salita began working with Jimmy O (as he is affectionately known) when he was thirteen years old. His parents moved their family from Odessa, Ukraine in 1991 when Dmitriy was nine years old, due to an escalation of Jewish hate crimes in the region, and in an effort to provide a better life for their children (Dmitriy has a brother, Mikhail).

Things started out rough for the young Salita in America (whose actual name is Dmitriy Alexandrovich Lekhtman, he fights under his mother’s maiden name). He was picked on in school for not wearing the right clothes or fitting in. It was not until he stumbled into Jimmy O’Pharrow’s gym, Starrett City Boxing Club, that Dmitriy began to develop his identity and a feeling of self worth.

Even though hesitant at first, his parents (Aleksander and Lyudmila) began to notice the talent and passion that Dmitriy had for boxing. As an amateur, Salita won astonishing 59 matches, only losing 5. Yet, Salita’s worse loss came in January 1999, when his beloved mother lost her battle with breast cancer. After her death, Dmitriy went to Chabad of Flatbush every day to say Kaddish for her. He became a prominent member of the center in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Today, Salita’s charity, Shield of David, donates funds to both the Chabad of Flatbush and the Starrett City Boxing Club.

At the center, he met several men who would assist in his career spiritually and monetarily. Israel Liberow, brother of the center’s Rabbi, has since become Salita’s spiritual advisor, traveling with him and being a member of his entourage, which has also included at times, Jewish reggae artist, Matisyahu. Bob Arum was Salita’s first promoter.

Arum told the Washington Post in 2002 that, “The fact that he’s Jewish is secondary to the fact that he’s the kind of Jewish kid that he is, with the story he has to tell. If he was an ordinary Jewish kid, we wouldn’t have made that kind of deal with him. He’s Jewish and an observant Jew. He came from an assimilated family in Odessa, and became involved in the ultra-Orthodox community. That makes him a potential attraction.”

Attraction came quickly for Dmitriy. He turned professional in the summer of 2001 at the age of 19. Word of his boxing prowess as well as strict faith and family story, not to mention his boy-ish good looks and charm, led to an onslaught of public interest, especially in the Jewish community. He backed up his praise by winning. In 2004, Salita signed Lou DiBella to be his new promoter and fought his first match in front of his home town fans in Brighton Beach, New York. His opponent, Ruben Galvan lost to Salita in the 8th round by unanimous decision.

In 2005, he won the North American Boxing Association Light Welterweight title, defeating Shawn Gallegos by TKO in the 9th round. Yet, it would take four more years before Salita earned his chance at a WBA title. In the mean time, he continued to fight, to win, and to build public intrigue, but he could not escape the fact that his opponents were merely average. Prior to his fight with Khan, Salita’s thirty-one opponents win average was a combined 49.3% (456); loss average of 47.5% (438), and a draw average of 3.3% (31). Even though Salita was enjoying a 30-0-1 record, many critics questioned his ability against a competitor the likes of Khan.

Now, with this difficult loss behind him, Dmitriy Salita has two paths, either fade into obscurity or overcome the defeat and come back faster, stronger, and more mentally prepared for the new level of fighter that he will be facing. A return to winning ways and a possible championship would be perfect for the Salita script. We’ll just have to wait and see if Hollywood gets its wish.

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Joey Seymour, Sports Historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives.” Now Available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.

Contact Joey Seymour at joeyseymour1@aol.com

The Jews Down Under

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

A roundup by Garry Fabian of Australian news of Jewish interest
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Neo-Nazi meeting prompts statement of regret from club owners

MELBOURNE  – Representatives  of  Victoria’s German Club Tivoli have expressed
regret at news of a Neo-Nazi gathering held at  their headquarters in Dandenong Road in September.

Blood & Honour, a white supremacist group with  ties to Neo-Nazi organisations, is said to have  met in a private room at the club, where they  reportedly discussed their issues with non-white  immigration, multiculturalism and the Australian
schooling system, while showing off newly tattooed swastikas.

A spokesperson for the German Club Tivoli said a  dinner booking was made over the phone for a  group of 30 people, who were placed in a private
dining room as per the club’s usual approach to large bookings.

The group caused no ruckus, ate dinner quietly  and paid the bill, even being served by staff  members of Indian descent with no issue.

While they appeared “like bikies”, heavily  tattooed and many wearing leather jackets, the  club had no knowledge of possible Neo-Nazi ties.

“We are so apologetic,” the committee member told  The AJN. “We have lots of Jewish [customers] and  it is a friendship. It hurts because we have a
long history and we are totally against any Neo-Nazism.”

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president  John Searle expressed concern at news of the  meeting just minutes from the heart of the Jewish community.

“I’m sure members of our own community and  members of other minority groups would be  distressed to read of recent meetings held in  Melbourne by members of Neo-Nazi hate groups,” Searle said.

“There is no place in our multicultural community  for such groups or the incitement to racial hatred they spread.”

The executive director of the B’nai B’rith  Anti-Defamation Commission, Deborah Stone,  agreed, stressing the group is not representative  of the wider Australian community.

“Most Australians are not racist; they enjoy and celebrate our diversity. But, as often happens at  times of economic stress, we are seeing a few  ignorant thugs looking for scapegoats. It is  absolutely essential that Australians stand up
against racism and consciously support a cohesive  but diverse society that embraces everyone,” she said.

“We should never forget that the Nazis started  out as a marginal group of crackpots and were  able to ride a tide of disaffection at a time  when people were looking for scapegoats.”

A spokesperson for Victoria Police moved to quell  concerns that such activity is condoned.

“Right-wing activism is monitored. Victoria  Police does not tolerate unlawful racial and  religious vilification and will use available  legislation to pursue anyone who commits or incites such behaviour.”

Searle said he was relieved by the response  issued by the police, adding that it is up to venues to refuse such bookings, something with which Stone agreed.

The German Club Tivoli said while they cannot be  discriminatory in the bookings they turn away,  they will be sure to ask more questions when taking bookings in the future.

Taking its name from the motto of the Hitler  Youth “Blut und Ehre”, Blood & Honour was  originally founded in the United Kingdom in 1987.  The group states that it promotes “white resistance” through music.

“We believe there is a need to ­provide white  youth with an alternative to the ‘hip-hop’  culture so eagerly promoted by the  Zionist-controlled media,” the website declares.

The group has been outlawed in Germany and Spain  and there have been recordings of violent  incidents and arrests in Britain and Argentina,  where earlier this years 36 members of the group  were charged with hate crimes after an event  celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

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United Church changes policy on Jewish stance

MELBOURNE- In a landmark reversal,  the Uniting Church in Australia has dropped its  longstanding policy of supporting conversion of Jews to Christianity.

At its 12th conference held recently in Sydney,  the Uniting Church’s National Assembly — the  church’s supreme decision-making body — issued a  statement setting out new principles on Jews and Judaism.

The change was driven by a small group headed by  the Reverend Dr Lorraine Parkinson, chair of the  church’s working group on Christian-Jewish  relations, and her husband, the Reverend Dr John Bodycomb.

The new policy states the church “does not accept  Christian teaching that is derogatory towards  Jews and Judaism [or] the belief that God has abolished the covenant with the Jewish people”.

It also rejects “supercessionism, the belief that  Christians have replaced Jews in the love and  purpose of God”. It repudiates “relationships with Jews that require them to become Christian, including coercion and manipulation that violate
their humanity, dignity and freedom”.

The document encourages church members to “seek opportunities to meet with Jews and to learn about modern Judaism”.

It urges them to visit synagogue services where possible, invite rabbis to speak, and become involved with the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ).

“Christianity emerged from Judaism of the first century and cannot be understood apart from it,” the policy states.

“The Uniting Church acknowledges with repentance  a history of interpretation of New Testament texts, which has often failed to appreciate the  context from which these texts emerged.”

The statement laments the historical rift between  the two faiths, as well as “bitterness and antagonism, resulting in deeply rooted anti-Jewish misunderstandings”.

It speaks of “an anti-Judaism which developed in  Christianity, creating fertile ground for the spread of anti-Semitism culminating in the Shoah (Holocaust)”.

Rev Bodycomb said the new direction, promoted by  “pluralists” within the church, might disturb “exclusivists” who “believe they and no others  are right with God”, and “inclusivists” who tend to see Jews as “anonymous Christians”.

Rabbi John Levi, a founding member of the CCJ, said  “Jews will be astonished to know that this resolution is the end result of many years of  hard work by a small group of people who appreciate Judaism.”

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Closure of Tibby’s restaurant ends an era

SYDNEY- For more than 48 years, Tibby Genadt has spent most of his days standing
in the heat of the kitchen, cooking up kosher fare for his loyal clientele, who for
generations have flocked to his restaurant located within Bondi’s Hakoah Club.

Over the years, he has become an iconic figure on Sydney’s kosher scene – a fifth-generation kosher chef who relocated to Australia from Romania in the mid-1960s to reopen the family restaurant.

But after decades as one of Sydney’s only fine-dining kosher restaurants, the family dynasty has come to an end.

With Hakoah’s Bondi premises set to close next  month, Mr Genadt, 80, has decided it is also the  right time to shut the doors on the business.

Tibby’s, also known as Jaffa’s Kosher Restaurant, served its last meal on Thursday, October 29.

“My used-by date has expired,” he joked philosophically. “If the club would have found other premises, we would have kept on going. But probably not for long.”

Mr Genadt’s great-grandparents, Malka and Tibby  Genadt, opened the restaurant in what is now  Romania, in 1848. But when the country fell  under Nazi and later communist rule, the family was forced to close for nearly two decades.

Mr Genadt later moved to Israel where he worked in kosher catering, and finally settled with his parents and family in Australia in 1965.  Together, they opened Tibby’s at the B’nai Brith Centre in East Sydney, where it remained for more than 20 years.

It found a new home at Hakoah in the late 1980s  where, apart from a few intervals, it had remained ever since.

For the most part, the menu had stayed the same.  There was a mix of Continental dishes – cabbage rolls and rice, langosh (Hungarian potato cakes)  and bauernschmaus (a dish the Germans and Austrians call “a farmer’s feast”) – and,
perhaps surprisingly, an extensive offering of kosher Chinese entrees.

“We were the first to offer kosher Chinese not  only in Australia, but in the world,” Mr Genadt boasted. “We started in 1966. Everybody told me  I was crazy. But for us, it was always important to satisfy the customers.

“Whatever they wanted, we made it for them. My daughter said they took advantage. But I loved  them. I did it for pleasure,” he smiled.

With Tibby’s closing, only a handful of kosher venues remain in Sydney. Most of them are either cafes or pizzerias, such as Katzy’s Food Factory, Bondi Pizza Gallery and Lewis’ Continental Kitchen.

NSW Kashrut Authority president Baron Revelman said he believes Sydney’s kosher community is well served “given [its] relatively small size”.

“There are certainly places now that many of the community are not at all ashamed to take their business colleagues for lunch or dinner.”

But he admitted it could always be better. “We’ve had plenty [kosher restaurants] close down over the last several years. The primary  reason, I believe, is that they don’t get enough support from the community,” he said

Meanwhile, Mr Genadt admitted he had mixed  feelings about closing, but was looking forward to enjoying his new life. He plans to play golf and perhaps write a kosher cookbook.

“For the first time in my life, I will do what I want to do, not what I have to do,” he said.

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Champion Jewish boxer inducted into boxing Hall of Fame

MELBOURNE – Australian boxing paid tribute to the glittering career of champion
Henry Nissen with his induction into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame at the MCG last month.

Nissen’s induction came after three official nominations, and he was feted by the legendary Jeff Fenech at the gala event.

Nissen said the honour was equal to that of receiving his Order of Australia Medal in 2002.

“I was so happy,” Nissen said. “It was a wonderful, beautiful night. People were coming up to me asking for my autograph, the girls were  kissing me and the guys were shaking my hand . It was just such a phenomenal night. It all makes you feel very humble, very special and very happy.

“Jeff Fenech said wonderful things about me and  they tell me I got the biggest cheer when I went  up, so obviously I’m a warm crowd favourite,” Nissen joked.

After a self-confessed mediocre amateur career — Nissen maintains his identical twin brother Leon was a better amateur — Nissen captured the flyweight commonwealth belt and was offered a shot at the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) world title soon after.

Believing he wasn’t ready, Nissen turned the  fight down and shot up the contender rankings from 10 to 3, at which point the incumbent decided it wasn’t a risk he wanted to take.

Nissen never got another opportunity and it is a decision he still regrets today.

“I knocked it back because I thought ‘I’m not a shmuck, they’ll knock me off on my way up and I’ll never get another chance, I’ll be finished’. The shmuck that I was, I blew my opportunity.”

Nissen grew up in “various children’s homes” because his mother was sick and his father worked constantly. He began boxing after being beaten up at school and then falling in with a gang as a teenager.

It was this tough upbringing that inspired him  to mentor street kids for the past 30 years.

Since his social work has been mostly unpaid, Nissen works on the docks as a stevedore to supplement his income.

“Feeling a failure in life and then getting bashed up at school, and being very scared of life . I was a very insecure young man. I didn’t know what the future was going to hold and nothing was good in my life,” Nissen recalled.

But boxing changed all that, and while Nissen concedes there have been hard times since, he takes nothing for granted.

“We’re not wealthy, but we’re wealthy in spirit and experience. We’ve been desperate at times too, but we’ve always got through. Something’s always come up,” he said.

“I’ve been a very fortunate person to have the hard knocks and wonderful successes in my life to help formulate my thinking and help make life a nicer place to live. While there is life there is hope, no matter how hopeless it seems. And that’s why I live in service to humanity.”

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Tireless community worker to be honoured

MELBOURNE- Community icon Nina Bassat is being honoured for her outstanding
service to the Victorian Jewish community.

Bassat, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), said she felt “extremely honoured and excited” to receive this year’s JCCV General Sir John Monash Award for outstanding service to the Victorian Jewish community.

Bassat’s communal career was woven around her leadership roles ­ the JCCV in 1997-98 and the ECAJ in 1999-2001 ­ and she said she feels “sad” she has been the only female president of a state Jewish roof organisation, something she hopes will change soon.

She was a tireless campaigner and facilitator for Holocaust restitution, for resettling Jews from the former Soviet Union, and for dealing with the aftermath of the Maccabiah bridge disaster.

A Polish-born child survivor who spent time in a displaced persons camp, Bassat arrived in Melbourne with her mother in 1949. She attended
public schools before studying law at The University of Melbourne, completing her degree in 1965.

In the late 1990s, her volunteer work with the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia caught the eye of then-JCCV chair Robert Redlich, who urged her to become involved with the state body.

At first she baulked at adding more to a life already dedicated to raising three children and running a solo legal practice. But when her husband Bob lamented there were not enough women in Jewish communal leadership, she had a change of heart.

“Community structures are just an extension of family,” she reflected to The AJN, adding that perhaps this was a woman’s perspective on leadership.

As a board member of the Claims Conference,Bassat became involved in Holocaust restitution, and said it was a “powerful, emotional . complex” experience.

“To lose not only your family, to be deprived of your property and denied even a basic education. I couldn’t know how older survivors felt, but I could get just a glimmer.”

When slave labour restitution was announced, she called for volunteer case workers to head off a staff shortage at the JCCV, setting up a telephone hotline for applicants.

After the 1997 Maccabiah tragedy, she met survivors of the bridge collapse and travelled to Israel where she liaised with the Attorney-General’s Department, as part of the Australian campaign for compensation.

“I met with every Knesset member who made themselves available . I thumped tables and screamed.”

After her JCCV presidency, outgoing ECAJ president Diane Shteinman persuaded her to take on the ECAJ presidency. “She lulled me into a false sense of security,” quipped Bassat.

In 2003, Bassat, who has an Order of Australia medal, was added to the Victorian Women’s Roll of Honour, and Caulfield MLA Helen Shardey paid tribute to her in Parliament.

Bassat remains involved in several volunteer organisations, and is Melbourne deputy chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, but said her retirement has let her focus on family.

JCCV president John Searle said: “The Victorian Jewish community is blessed with many wonderful, giving volunteers, but Nina Bassat is a prominent member of a very small group that really stands out. She is a most deserving recipient and I am thrilled to be making this announcement.”

Bassat will receive her Monash Award at the JCCV’s annual Volunteer Awards presentation on November 9.

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Indian wedding a family tradition

NEW DELHI, India — Newlyweds Bianca Burd and Daniel Monheit chose to follow family tradition, getting married earlier this month in the same Indian shul where Bianca’s parents were married 32 years ago.

What’s more, with only 10 Jewish families in New Delhi, the couple were the first to be married at the Judah Hyam Synagogue since their parents in 1977.

Rabbi Benjamin Abraham, the only Indian-born rabbi in the country and the local mashgiach for Israeli El Al airlines, travelled from Mumbai to perform the ceremony,

Wedding guests included Israeli Ambassador to India Mark Sofer and his wife, 15 local Indian congregants and 25 guests who especially made the trip from Melbourne.

A pool-side lunch on the lawn of the nearby Taj Mahal Hotel -­ streamed live on facebook -­ immediately followed the chuppah, where guests danced the horah to the bemusement of passers-by.

Continuing the Indian tradition, Bianca wore a pink asymmetric cocktail dress, reminiscent of a sari, and her hands and feet were painted with henna patterns in a ceremony the night before the wedding.

With only a small Jewish community in India, the Judah Hyam Synagogue survives entirely on donations given mostly by tourists.

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Following a family tradition of service

CANBERRA– Jewish Australian soldiers will be better catered for with Rabbi Dovid
Gutnick officially being inducted into the chaplaincy ranks.

Rabbi Gutnick, the rabbi of East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, was toasted at a small function last month hosted by Rabbi Ralph Genende, the senior rabbi to the
Australian Defence Force (ADF) and attended by Rabbi Yossi Segelman, also an ADF chaplain.

Rabbi Gutnick is following a family tradition, with his father, Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, having previously held the role.

Australia’s highest-ranking Jewish military officer, Major General Jeffrey Rosenfeld, paid tribute to the role chaplains play in the ADF.

Major General Rosenfeld, who has seen active service as a surgeon in Iraq, Rwanda and East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomons, said chaplains provide support and can help with soldiers’ mental health issues.

“Soldiers know they can go and speak openly to a chaplain and it will be a confidential matter,” Major General Rosenfeld said.

On a personal note, he said he had always enjoyed the company of a military chaplain, no matter which religion they belonged to.

“The doctors and the chaplains seem to form a close alliance in the unit,” he said. “We have a very responsible and very unique role in the unit and we do have some things in common as chaplains and doctors.”

In addition to ADF and Jewish community representatives, Yvonne and Felix Sher also attended the celebration for Rabbi Gutnick’s induction. The Shers are the parents of Private Greg Sher, who was killed in action earlier this year in Afghanistan.