Former boxing champ Yuri Foreman has a message for the heads of Jewish schools in Monsey and Brooklyn: “It’s the responsibility of rosh yeshivas and rabbis to teach martial arts.”
In a phone interview with The Jewish Week in the wake of a series of violent anti-Semitic attacks, Foreman said, “They can also teach krav maga [an Israeli martial art] and boxing, but it is crucial to teach students how to defend themselves. You can’t just hope Hashem [God] will rescue you. It’s like the joke where someone is drowning and Hashem sends a helicopter and a boat, and the person refuses [saying God will protect him]. Hashem has given us bodies, so we need to be trained to use them.”
The 39-year-old, originally from Belarus, said when he moved to Crown Heights a year ago, he never expected there would be a rash of assaults against fellow Jews. He said he is angry, and talk from politicians is not enough. If schools don’t have enough money in the budget to hire experts to teach, administrators should make an urgent call for funds from parents, he said.
Foreman said he isn’t sure what rabbis are saying about whether or not Jews should fight back if attacked. But he said they need to give good advice.
“You have to be smart,” he said. “If someone has a gun or a weapon and you can get away, you should get away. But sometimes you can’t get away. Telling people not to fight back is bad advice. Every father is supposed to teach his kid to swim so he doesn’t drown. … But today, Brooklyn is dangerous. There are a lot of people who are sick in the head. You need to learn how to fight.”
He said that at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, he will be coordinating a free boxing class on Sundays for Jews but the details have not yet been ironed out.
Foreman, who is an ordained rabbi, became the WBA super welterweight champion in 2009 but lost the title the following year, going down fighting after his right knee had buckled.
“We Jews are experts at being attacked since the first Jew living on earth,” Foreman said. “We’ve had ringside seats to hate. But we need to be experts at fighting back. Bullies always attack someone who is weaker.”
Foreman said he’s seen non-Jews who were bullied change after learning to box.
“When someone learns how to fight, it changes their DNA,” he said. “There’s like a switch. The person becomes a little taller. He looks a little more confident.”