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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Five Star Jewish Boxers Fight to Help the Palestine Relief Fund

Five Jewish boxing stars fought at Madison Square Garden on October 21, 1929 on a card that was designed to help raise money for the Palestine Relief Fund. "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom, Jack "Kid" Berg, Al Singer, Yale Okun, and Ruby Goldstein all appeared on the card. Rosenbloom, Berg, and Singer would all became world champions the following year.

The Violence
During the mid-1920s British-controlled Palestine saw peace between Arabs and Jews. An economic recession slowed Jewish immigration to the region. As a result, a nascent Arab nationalist movement shifted focus away from its aversion to Jewish immigration and pivoted towards anti-British sentiment.  The High Commissioner, Lord Plumer, a no-nonsense military man, also helped ease tensions. That tenuous calm frayed in 1928 over a dispute involving the Western Wall.

On September 23, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a screen was brought to the Western Wall to separate male and female Jewish worshippers. The Wall was technically under the control of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini. The next day, he asked British police to remove the screen. As it was Yom Kippur, the Jews refused. The police removed it against Jewish objections as one old woman began hitting a police officer on the head with her umbrella.

In the diasporic Jewish press, the event was viewed as a big insult. Meanwhile, the Mufti stoked the ire of his followers by claiming the Jews' true intentions were to attack and conquer al-Aqsa mosque, a holy site for Muslims. His rationale for having the screen removed was that Jews could visit the Wall as guests but not as worshippers. This ran counter to tradition; Jews and local Arab residents had an informal agreement in place that not only could Jews worship at the Wall, but a screen could be brought. Tensions persisted into the summer of 1929.

At that time, the Mufti ordered construction in the vicinity of the Wall. This angered many Jews. On August 14, 6,000 Jewish youths marched around the Old City in protest. The next day, a violent protest was led by Haganah and Betar, militant Jewish groups. The Arab-Muslim protest on August 16 turned ugly as well.

A rumor began to spread within Arab Muslim communities in Palestine of an impending Jewish attack on al-Aqsa on August 23. When the date arrived, an angry mob formed and soon headed to the nearby Jewish communities of Meah She'arim and Yemin Moshe. Residents of the latter fought back, but 17 Jews were killed in Jerusalem on that day.

The violence spread to Hebron. Sixty-four Jews were killed on August 24 although the death toll could have been worse had some Arabs not courageously hid their Jewish neighbors. After some skirmishes in Haifa and Jaffa, 45 Jews were killed in Safad on August 29. Jews killed some Arabs too, but most Arab casualties came at the hands of the British, who violently putdown the riot.

In the end, 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded; 116 Arabs were killed and 232 wounded. Phillip Mattar calls it "up to then the worst violence between Jews and Arabs in Palestine in modern times." Alex Winder asserts it "marked a turning point in Arab-Jewish relations in the country." In the aftermath of the bloodshed, Theodore Herzl's grand vision of Jewish-Arab cooperation in the Holy Land, laid out in his 1886 book Der Judenstaadt, disappeared.

An Idea to Help

Attitudes among Diasporic Jews of the Palestine cause quickly changed. Abba Eban explains, "Before that time, the response of wealthy Jews to the Zionist appeal had been grudging." Several well-to-do American Jews soon worked to rectify that perception.

Samuel Rosoff, Dr. William Sirovich, David A. Brown, and Walter Weinstein came together to form the Palestine Relief Fund with the goal of helping Jews in British Palestine. One idea was to stage a charity event of boxing matches featuring well-regarded Jewish pugilists in showcase bouts. Two prominent non-Jews, Mayor Jimmy Walker and James A. Farley, Chairman of NYSAC, were brought on board.

The boxing event would be held on October 21, 1929 at the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden in New York. Some of the leaders of the event would later reconvene to help elect Franklin D. Roosevelt the 32nd President of the United States. Rosoff, the initial chairman of the Palestine Relief Fund, was known as "Subway Sam" because he had built a significant percentage of New York's subway system. He obtained contracts through his connections to Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party machine in the city.

Sirovich would serve in the U.S. Congress beginning in 1927. Representing parts of Manhattan, he was a Democrat. Brown, who would eventually become the chairman of the Palestine Relief Fund, was a new transplant to New York in 1929. A noted fund-raiser for various causes, the Scottish-born Brown had founded the General Necessities Corporation with his brothers in Detroit. Upon relocating to New York, Brown established the Brooklyn National Bank and Trust and the Broadway National Company.

Weinstein was later named to the Executive Finance Committee of the Democratic Party by Roosevelt. After his first presidential nomination, the committee's goal was to raise the unconscionable sum of $1.5 million for the general election against President Herbert Hoover. After his tenure heading the New York State Athletic Commission, Farley would become FDR's presidential campaign manager and later appointed postmaster general.

The Fighters
At first, the organizers of the October 21 event hoped they would sell out the Garden. By the 18th, the event was sure to bring in over $100,000. Including popular Jewish boxers on the New York card proved to be a key to success.

Between Maxie Rosenbloom, Jack "Kid" Berg, Al Singer, Yale Okun, and Ruby Goldstein, Singer was unquestionably the headliner of the show. Slated for the main event, the "Bronx Beauty" stood at 5'5" and would be known as a "short king" in today's lexicon. The lightweight had battled Tony Canzoneri to a draw the previous December and lost a split decision to the undefeated Cuban sensation, Kid Chocolate, two months earlier. Handsome, charismatic, and billed as the next Benny Leonard, Singer was a big draw.

In March of '29, Rosenbloom had developed a reputation as a "trial horse," but by October he was "Harlem's candidate for light heavyweight honors." A light-punching fighter with loads of skill, he had beaten Ted "Kid" Lewis the year before. Extremely active, the October 21 bout would be Rosenbloom's 21st of 1929 including a win over Jimmy Slattery in Philadelphia just one week earlier.

The lone non-New Yorker of the bunch, Berg wasn't even from the Tristate area. He had been born in London, England and first came States-side for a fight in May of 1928 at the age of 18. At the outset, Berg fought in the Midwest. His first fight in New York came against Bruce Flowers on May 10, 1929 in a thrilling duel and the "Whitechapel Windmill" quickly became a fan favorite among Jewish New Yorkers.

"No fighter ever came to this city to earn such plaudits as were those for Berg after he had fought those first three minutes," cooed a reporter for the New York Amsterdam. After beating Flowers, Berg went on to win seven more bouts in various New York boroughs in the six months leading up to October 21. In July, he decisioned junior welterweight world champion Mushy Callahan in a non-title over-the-weight bout at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

Light heavyweight Yale Okun, a six-year pro, lost a decision to Leo Lomski in May of '29. After knocking out Dick Daniels twice, he bested future heavyweight champion Jim Braddock in August by decision. Known at the time as "an all-'round performer," the Los Angeles Times claimed, "He is ring smart. He can sock. He sidesteps like a master. His gloves carve furrows in the opposition like a hay knife." In defeating Braddock, who many experts felt the natural successor to Tommy Loughran as light heavyweight champ, Okun seemed to have finally overcome a "sparring-partner complex." Both Okun and Rosenbloom were considered top contenders to replace Loughran, who had recently vacated the title to move up to heavyweight.

Ruby Goldstein, nicknamed "The Jewel of the Ghetto," had already experienced a rapid rise and dramatic fall during his brief career. On June 15, 1927, Goldstein held a five and half pound advantage when Sid Terris knocked him out in the first round. In November of '28, Jack Farrell of The Washington Post reported on a new law in New York banning one-sided bouts. "The ruling was aimed particularly at the fighters of the type of Kid Chocolate and Ruby Goldstein."

By the summer of '29, Goldstein's career had stalled and pundits referred to him as a "former lightweight contender." He hadn't made the lightweight limit in three years and hadn't fought anyone of note since the Terris disaster. On August 12, Goldstein knocked out Cuddy DeMarco in the fourth round in the midst of revitalizing his career. He scored two more knockouts before October 21 to increase his KO streak to six.
Al Singer
courtesy of Cyber Boxing Zone

The Night of Fights
A total of 16,431 fans watched the night's five fights at Madison Square Garden. The crowd featured quite a few local politicians, each evidentially angling to create a connection in the voters' minds between themselves and the night's cause.

Maxie Rosenbloom took on Joe Sekyra, a blonde-haired 22 year old from Dayton, Ohio. Sekyra vacillated between light heavyweight and heavyweight and had beaten Okun and Braddock, fought no-decision bouts against Loughran and Young Stribling, and lost a decision to Max Schmeling in January at the Garden.

Sekyra aggressively came out of the gate and maintained pressure throughout the bout. The two fighters covered every inch of the ring as Rosenbloom boxed and Sekyra attacked. Maxie proved too slick. One newspaper described Rosenbloom's style as "free-swinging, freak tactics." He often slapped Sekyra to keep Joe off balance, but Rosenbloom closed his hands as well. In the fifth, he opened up a bad cut over Sekyra's right eye. Though Sekyra never stopped trying to catch Rosenbloom, who must've seemed like a greased-up rabbit to Joe from Ohio, Rosenbloom won by decision.

Yale Okun faced Matt Adgie, a 23 year old from Philadelphia. Nicknamed "The Iceman," Adgie held a majority decision win over an elderly Battling Levinsky in 1927.  Okun had already beaten Adgie twice. In their third matchup, Okun served up a one-sided beating. Adgie was defensive from the get-go, so it eventually became the night's most monotonous affair because, though Okun landed regularly, a decision victory for Yale was inevitable.

Ruby Goldstein's opponent was veteran Joe Reno. Born in Italy, the rugged 26 year old was based in Trenton, New Jersey. Reno fought many quality fighters including several losses to Lew Tendler. Goldstein started the fight quickly, landing with both hands and changing levels. Ruby opened the third round with left hooks to the body followed by another up top. A right followed and smashed into Reno's jaw. Reno rose at the count of nine. Another flush Goldstein right forced referee Arthur Donovan to jump in and stop the fight. The crowd screamed with delight.

In the co-main, Jack "Kid" Berg faced Bruce Flowers for the third time. Flowers, a 24 year old black man from New Rochelle, New York, had lost eight of his last nine fights beginning with two defeats to Berg in May. All were against tough competition. In his lone win, Flowers upset Ray Miller in August.

The bout was as exciting as the first two Berg-Flowers affairs. It was a typical Berg performance. Ray Arcel, his legendary trainer, described the Whitechapel Windmill's style, "He never stopped moving his arms- I mean, he never held or anything- he was perpetual motion. Punch to the body, then bang bang to the head and back to the body and keep going." James P. Dawson of the New York Times thought he heard some boos when Berg was announced the winner, but The Baltimore Sun asserted Berg won convincingly "by whipping Bruce Flowers."

The crowd unquestionably backed Al Singer over Davey Abad in the main event. Abad, a few days shy of his 22nd birthday, was from Panama and based in Cleveland, Ohio. He had turned pro at the age of 14 in late 1921 and battled many quality lightweights including Benny Bass. He proved an awkward and tricky customer against Singer.

Frustrated by Abad's craftiness, Singer missed wildly on occasion. In the seventh round, Abad managed to get inside and landed effectively to the body before coming up to the Bronx Beauty's head. In the ninth, Singer's right finally connected cleanly, and Abad toppled to the canvas. He rose at the count of eight and quickly retreated to the ropes. Once there, he leaned back and fired wildly, which slowed Singer's attack enough to save Abad. It wasn't his most impressive performance by any means, but Singer won nine of the ten rounds.

After the fight, Abad was arrested at the behest of Cleveland's chief of police for violating his parole terms.

The Aftermath
The cheapest ticket that night came in at $2.10 while the most expensive one was $26.25. The event brought in a total of $101,173, a profit of about $75,000 for the fund. The fund accepted additional donations connected to the boxing event; The Forward, a popular Jewish newspaper, led the pack by donating $2,600. The fund ultimately raised $2,019,017 (nearly $35 million in 2022 dollars), not including the money from the Garden card, when it was closed on November 2.

On October 25, a committee chaired by Sir Walter Shaw began investigating the August riots. Finished in December and released in March of 1930, the Shaw Report assigned blame to Arab rioters for the majority of violence in August of '29. The report noted that the violence was in reaction to Arab fears of Jewish immigration and found that Jewish immigration to British Palestine should thus be limited. For many Jews, it felt like the Shaw Commission had blamed the victims.

Three days before the Shaw Commission began its investigation, members of Maxie Rosenbloom's team and those representing Yale Okun walked into NYSAC's offices and declared their interest in claiming the vacant light heavyweight world title. After beating Braddock on November 15 and losing a majority decision to Slattery ten days later, Rosenbloom faced Okun on December 9 at the Garden. Rosenbloom won a twelve-round decision and then beat Lomski as part of an eight-fight win streak. On June 25, 1930 Rosenbloom beat Slattery by split decision to win the undisputed light heavyweight world championship. He held the crown until 1934. Rosenbloom was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993. 

On October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed causing a worldwide depression. Many who had come together just eight days earlier at the Garden lost everything.

Al Singer was one of the few to find more success in the immediate aftermath of the crash. On July 17, 1930 Singer stopped champion Sammy Mandell in the first round to win the lightweight world championship. But four short months later, Tony Canzoneri knocked out Singer in the first to take his title.

On February 18, 1930, Jack "Kid" Berg, having traveled back to England, took Mushy Callahan's 140 pound world championship. Berg held the title until April 24, 1931 when Canzoneri stopped him in the fourth round with both the lightweight and junior welterweight championships on the line. Berg was elected to the IBHOF in 1994.

Ruby Goldstein fought Jimmy McLarnin on December 13 in the Garden. Goldstein's career momentum fizzled in the second when McLarnin KOed him. Goldstein fought until 1937, but never again faced a true contender. In 1942, Goldstein embarked on a new career as a boxing referee. Over the next two decades, he was one of the best. In 1994, for his work as a referee, he became the third of the five Jewish boxers who fought on October 21, 1929 to enter the Hall of Fame.

"$100,000 Ticket Sale for Benefit Bouts." New York Times. Oct. 18, 1929. Pg. 40.
"A Look Back: Al Singer." The Jewish Boxing Blog. Jan. 18, 2021.
"Berg Flowers in Return Bout." New York Amsterdam. May 22, 1929. Pg. 8.
"Big Ring Card Set for Week" The Baltimore Sun. Mar. 18, 1929. Pg. 13.
"Construction, the Big Digger.Time. Apr. 7, 1947.
Dawson. James P. "Singer Boxes Abad in Garden Tonight." New York Times. Oct. 21, 1929. Pg. 39.
Dawson, James P. "Singer Outpoints Abad in the Garden." New York Times. Oct 22, 1929. Pg. 38.
Dawson, James P. "Boxers are Ready for Garden Bouts." New York Times. Oct. 20, 1929. Pg S9.
Ebban, Abba. My People: The Story of the Jews. 1968. Pgs. 373-381.
Farrell, Jack. "Top-Notchers Must Meet Good Men." The Washington Post. Nov 14, 1928. Pg. 17.
Gilbert, Martin. Israel: A History. 1998, 2008. Pgs. 59-65.
Harding with Jack Berg. Jack Kid Berg: Whitechapel Windmill. 1987. Pgs. 97-109.
"Light-Heavyweights Here in Natural Here Tuesday." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 25, 1929. Pg. F12.
Mattar, Philip. "the Role of the Mufti of Jerusalem in the Political Struggle over the Western Wall, 1928-29." Middle East Studies. Vol. 19, No. 1. Jan. 1983. Pgs. 104-118.
"Maxie Rosenbloom Wins Over Payne." The Chicago Defender. Oct 5, 1929. Pg. 8.
"Palestine Relief Fund Reaches Total of $2,019,017." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Nov. 11, 1929.
"Rosenbloom Beats Sekyra." The Baltimore Sun. Oct 22, 1929. Pg. 22.
"Rosenbloom, Okun Apply for Light Heavy Crown." Los Angeles Times. Oct. 23, 1929. Pg. A12.
"Sacher, Howard M. A History of Israel: From the Rise to Zionism to Our Time. 1979. Pgs. 167-178.
"Seven Jews on Finance Committee of Democrats." Jewish Telegraph Agency. Sep. 18, 1932.
"Singer Defeats Abad in N.Y. Charity Bout." Chicago Daily Tribune. Oct 22, 1929. Pg. 27.
The David A. Brown Papers. AmericanJewishArchives.org.
Winder, Alex. "The 'Western Wall' Riots of 1929: Religious Boundaries and Communal Violence." Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. XLII, No. 1. Autumn 2012. Pgs 6-23.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Kaminsky Coaches, Lazarev Acts

David Kaminsky has been coaching rapper Blueface for a celebrity boxing match against former NBA player Nick Young, also known as "Swaggy P." Kaminsky, a 21 year old southpaw middleweight, has trained Blueface before. David guided the emcee to a victory in a bareknuckle match last year.

Kaminsky hasn't been in the ring for two years. He had a few fights scheduled over the past few months, but they fell through. The Blueface-Swaggy P match is scheduled for July 30 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Look for Blueface to come away with the victory.

Igor Lazarev, a lightweight based in Israel, recently played a bodyguard in an Israeli television show. The 36 year old has lost his last three pro fights although that streak is misleading. Against Dominik Harwankowski in March, Igor had a career-best performance. But the Polish judges backed the local boy in a horrendous decision. it turned out that one of the judges had been Harwankowski's mentor in a clear conflict of interest.

Update: The entire celebrity boxing card scheduled for July 30 has been postponed because of an injury to one of the main event fighters.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Cohen Drops Decision to Cuevas

Dr. Stefi Cohen suffered her first loss tonight. She dropped a unanimous decision to Devany Cuevas Torres at the Airport Hilton in Miami, Florida, USA.

Wearing all black, Cohen entered something called the quadragon- a regulation boxing ring inside a steel cage- intent on showing what she’s been working on with her coach, Dr. Pedro Diaz. At the outset, Stefi showed good upperbody movement, and she expertly slipped Cuevas’s jabs. But Cohen couldn’t maintain her newfound defensive skills for very long.

Cohen unleashed explosive left hooks, but they missed; only a short check hook landed. Her jab was sharp and the straight right crashed into Cuevas’s face a few times.

The opening round was razor close. Cuevas boxed well and landed some eye-catching counters. She was busier, but Stefi connected with the harder blows. Cuevas comfortably carried the second round with her in-and-out style and the jab. She bloodied Stefi’s nose early in the period. A bit baffled, Cohen didn’t land a punch until there were just 20 seconds left in the round.

The third was deceptively close. Cuevas boxed smoothly, but Cohen blocked many of the punches. The 30 year old PhD from Venezuela landed a crunching short counter right. Cuevas landed a right uppercut and just slightly deserved the round.

Cohen began the final round aggressively. The 22 year old Cuevas fired back. Cohen landed a left to the body but was hit with a 1-2. Cohen’s straight right found a home on Cuevas’s face, but Cuevas continued to use her height advantage to land jabs and another 1-2.

Two judges gave Cuevas the fight 40-36, which was too wide. The third judge had it 39-37 for Cuevas, a fair score. A draw would have been reasonable as well. Cohen is now 2-1-1 with one KO. Cuevas is 2-0.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Cohen and Cuevas Torres Make Weight

Dr. Stefanie Cohen and Devany Cuevas Torres both made the bantamweight limit of 118 pounds ahead of their bout tomorrow at the Airport Hilton in Miami, Florida, USA. Cohen is 2-0-1 with one KO while Cuevas Torres is 1-0.

This is the second time Cohen has made the bantamweight limit. She weighed in at 125.3 pounds against Marcela Nieto in September, her heaviest weight. Stefi is a 30 year old native of Venezuela who is based in Miami.

Cuevas Torres weighed 118.3 pounds, or just over the bantamweight limit, for her first fight. Devany is a 22 year old native of Mexico who is based in San Antonio, Texas. Cuevas Torres holds a significant height advantage over Cohen. BoxRec lists Cuevas Torres at 5'3" and Cohen at 5', but the difference was quite noticeable at the weigh-in.

For more, check out Stefi Cohen to Face Devany Cuevas Torres. The fight will be aired on Fite.TV.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Ostroumov Overcomes Injury, Beats Basin

Mikhael Ostroumov defeated Nikita Basin in an all-Jewish exhibition match at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, Israel tonight. The bout was a four-rounder.

Southpaw Ostroumov, 24 years old, outboxed the 35 year old Basin. Basin relentlessly pressed forward with his hands up, but as soon as he began to fire, Ostroumov initiated quick counters. Ostroumov injured his left shoulder during the fight and relied mostly on movement and his jab. He occasionally showed the left but couldn't muster much power with those punches.

In a comical- though not funny- moment after the fight, referee Shlomo Niazov raised Ostroumov's left hand in victory. Everything was normal at first, but something quickly changed. Ostroumov began howling in pain. Unfortunately, his yell sounded exactly like one gives after they win, an elated, "Ahhhh!" Though the fight was an exhibition, Mikhael had just recovered from an ACL injury, so that level of excitement wouldn't have been out of place. Niazov must have assumed the yell was a happy one and didn't immediately release Ostroumov's arm. After breaking free, Mikhael was able to celebrate with his team shortly after and no additional damage was done.

An electric atmosphere burst inside the Dizengoff Center for the event, promoted by former bantamweight world champion Hagar Finer. This was a far cry from boxing events in Tel Aviv about ten-fifteen years ago when polite claps occasionally interrupted the awkward silence.

For Ostroumov, who goes by "Mikhael" on Instagram and "Mikhail" on his trunks, it was surely a bittersweet fight. His knee held up, but his shoulder gave out. Since it was an exhibition, Ostroumov remains 3-0-1 with one KO and Basin is still 4-2 with 4 KOs.

courtesy of Tomer Ben Shalom's IG story

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Stefi Cohen to Face Devany Cuevas Torres

Dr. Stefanie Cohen is scheduled to face Devany Cuevas Torres on July 8 at the Airport Hilton in Miami, Florida, USA. Cuevas signifies a good test for Cohen.

Cohen, a 30 year old from Venezuela, is 2-0-1 with one KO. This will be her second fight in her adopted hometown of Miami. A record-breaking powerlifter, Stefi has shown great improvement in each of her first three professional boxing matches.

Cuevas is a 22 year old native of Mexico who resides in San Antonio, Texas. She won her pro debut in May with a majority decision victory over Leanna Calderon in a competitive match. Cuevas possesses an affable personality and competency as a fighter. She had pacing issues in her debut, though. After beginning the fight aggressively, her technique suffered by the fourth and final round. In the final round, Cuevas threw slow punches and left herself open to be countered.

The fight, part of a mixed boxing and MMA card, is slated to be shown on Fite.TV.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Mikhael Ostroumov to Face Nikita Basin in Exhibition

Mikhael Ostroumov and Nikita Basin are scheduled to face each other in a four-round exhibition at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, Israel on Monday, July 4. The fight is the main attraction of an event put on by former bantamweight world champion Hagar Finer. World title challenger Ran Nakash is helping out. Former pro boxer and Olympian Shlomo Niazov is set to be the referee of the main event.

Ostroumov is a 24 year old southpaw prospect. He went 3-0-1 with one KO to start his career in 2020 but suffered a knee injury which has slowed his progress. Ostroumov fought in the 2021 Israeli amateur championships but hasn't been in action since.

Basin is a 35 year old with a 4-2 record. Beginning in 2019, he won his first four fights by KO. After a 21 month layoff, Basin took a giant leap up in opposition.  He was stopped against former English light heavyweight champ Joel McIntyre and undefeated prospect Kyle Lomotey in his last two fights, both in England.

Ostroumov is younger, taller, and more skilled. Basin has been more active, is tough, and has power. Admission to the entire event, which starts at 7pm local time, is free. Since it's an exhibition, the result won't count on the fighters' official records. The point is to grow the sport of boxing in Israel, which currently has a few very dedicated fighters and coaches but not much of a fanbase.