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Orthodox Boxer Dmitriy Salita Gets ‘In the Ring’ With Arba Minim

On September 23, during Chol Hamoed this past Sukkot, Dmitriy Salita and several members of his Salita Promotions team flew to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to host a fight event that would be televised on ShoBox: The New Generation.

Staged in the middle of Main Street, camera and set crews were preparing and constructing the boxing and spectator areas to cover and record fights between some of the world’s elite featherweight and bantamweight level boxers. However, the biggest surprise came when, amongst the commotion of a press conference and the hype of the event, Dmitriy moved to an area at ringside. Instead of joining the fray he proceeded to daven Mincha and bentch lulav and etrog. Seeing his dedication, several Jews from the on-site Showtime broadcast network crew approached Dmitriy and asked if they could take part in the mitzvah. Dmitriy was thrilled to accommodate, and “gifted” his lulav and etrog to each, enthusiastically providing some instructions.

For Salita, the Orthodox once-professional boxer and world title challenger, now successful boxing promoter, maintaining his religious beliefs is all just part of “doing what I do every day,” he said.

Who ever heard of an Orthodox professional boxer? Actually, there’s a fairly rich history of Jewish boxers, and several who were known to be observant. People who grew up in New York City before, during and after World War II will tell you that the neighborhoods were peppered with small boxing gyms. The Jewish teens and young adults in the New York boroughs needed to know how to defend themselves on the streets. A number of those teens went on to become well-known and successful professional boxers.

Salita, born in the Ukraine, moved to New York City at the age of 9. “I started boxing at the age of 13 in the Starrett City Boxing Club, located in the basement of a garage. It had no bathroom, no running water, and no heat during winter or air conditioning during summer. The door into the basement was its only form of ventilation. With those ingredients that gym still produced Olympians, world champions, national champions and some of the most recognized boxers in the history of the sport.

“From the beginning of my boxing journey I found myself in a very competitive atmosphere with many kids and teenagers who eventually would go on to be some of the best in the world,” Salita shared. “It was very difficult, but proved immensely good for me. The intensity of the training forced me to confront myself and ask: ‘Do I really want to do this?’”

Six months into training, Salita won his first tournament, the NYS Silver Gloves, weighing in at 95 lbs. At the age of 18 he decided not to box on Shabbat before the most important tournament of his career, the US Nationals in Gulfport, Mississippi. Salita made it to the finals, which was scheduled on a Saturday. He declined to box, was awarded a rescheduling after Shabbat, and won! He also won the Golden Gloves Award and received the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the most outstanding boxer of the tournament in any weight class. That was his last amateur tournament, after which he turned professional.

Salita said that when he first started he did not possess the physical gifts to keep up with the others. He persisted, however, and every day he improved little by little. The very intense competitive atmosphere at the club gave him the tools to be successful later in life.

“I have always viewed sports as a universal language that connects people from different cultures, and have been working toward establishing Israel and the Middle East as a hub for professional boxing,” he said.

Discussing his work now as a promoter, Salita said, “I am blessed to do what I love. As a fighter I was signed (with) some of the most successful boxing promotional companies in the world and was very fortunate to witness and participate in boxing promotions and events at the highest level.”

That experience provided an excellent foundation with a unique outlook on the business of boxing from a fighter’s perspective. Salita Promotions promotes over 40 fighters on many leading networks. Several are the best in the world, including two-time Olympic Gold Medalist multi division world champion, also known as the GWOAT (Greatest Women of all Time) Claressa Shields. Salita appreciates the opportunity to improve the careers of other fighters and to use his platform as a boxing promoter to initiate positive social change. One recent example was working with Shields empowering women around the world.

Asked about the most important fight of his career, Salita’s response is now no longer surprising. “The pivotal moment in my career was deciding not to box on Shabbos before the most important tournament of my career.”

Then he turned professional and did something that had never before been done: He demanded that his professional contract include a clause that would exempt him from boxing on Shabbat.

“It is my belief that we are all blessed with unique talents through which we can influence positive change. [My] decision [broke ground] for this to be possible in boxing and other professional sports. I was happy to see that several years later, Yuri Foreman [a Russian-Israeli boxer, now fighting out of Brooklyn] decided to take this upon himself as well.”

Salita met Foreman when he first came to Brooklyn in 1999 and they stayed in touch. About halfway through his professional career, Foreman began to embrace Judaism and soon decided not to box on Shabbat. Foreman attained semicha in 2014.

During the trip to Oklahoma, Dmitriy capitalized on every moment to thank God for the position he finds himself in, praying before and after he and his team took off for home, and encouraging anyone who had not yet shaken the lulav and etrog to do so.

Culminating his kiddush Hashem, the massively hyped fight event was scheduled to take place on Erev Shabbat, Friday night, September 24. Dmitriy made the easy decision to fly back home to his family before Shabbat began and celebrate the God Who guided him in building his brand.

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