Like father, like son: Dustin Fleisher got his love of boxing from his father, Phil. Photos courtesy Dustin Fleischer
May 20, 2008
About 100 years ago if a Jew donned boxing gloves, it was to supplement the family income (or to learn survival skills on the mean city streets).
More often than not, the pugilist practiced under a pseudonym so as not to bring shame to the mishpacha.
Some of the greatest fighters of all time were Jews: Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, Izzy Schwartz, Lou Tendler, all names that bring a smile to older fans.
In the post-war years, as they found more lucrative (and safer) ways to make a living, Jews drifted away from the sweet science, but rising stars like Dmitriy Salita and Yuri Foreman are once again supplying a high-level Jewish presence.
Dustin Fleischer of Monmouth Beach hopes to join their ranks one day.
The 18-year-old won the 141-open weight class category at the 2008 New Jersey Golden Gloves tournament in April, becoming the first competitor to win consecutive “fighter of the night” awards. He was also named the “most outstanding pound-for-pound boxer” at the event by Golden Glove officials.
Fleischer got his start half a lifetime ago, entering the ring at age nine under the tutelage of his father, a middleweight who fought under the nickname “Difficult Phil.”
To supplement his income as a truck driver, Phil worked as a sparring partner at boxing gyms, sometimes bringing his son. He began sparring with Dustin “when he was four years old…and as big as a spit bucket.” He worked with his son as a trainer and manager during Dustin’s amateur career, but has decided to step aside now that Dustin is turning pro. (Dustin lost his last amateur fight at the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions held earlier this month in Grand Rapids, Mich.)
It’s clear in talking with the younger Fleischer that he loves what he does. “A lot. [Dad] always brought me to the gym to see him [box] and I started to like it.”
His mother, Nora, wasn’t too thrilled at first. “She was against it; she didn’t want me to get hit. [But] then she started coming around.”
Dustin, who attends Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, is already passing along his knowledge, teaching boxing to younger kids, including his five-year-old brother, Cody. Their sister, Meagan, 14, prefers equestrian sports.
He looks to Jewish fighters like Salita and Foreman as role models. “There’s not many of us out there,” he conceded.
Waiting for the decision in the NJ Golden Gloves quarterfinals
He also finds inspiration from a more unusual source: his late grandfather, Bernard, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who passed away in 2006.
“Every time before a fight, he would give me his chai,” Fleischer recalled. “[With] everything he went through, I know I can push myself through in the ring. It gives me confidence to know that his blood is within me.”
One of Phil’s best memories of his son’s fledgling career came outside the ring, when Dustin was living at the Olympic Training Center in Marquette, Mich.
“He lived among blacks and Hispanics. When I went up there, so many of these kids knew about his grandfather, knew about the Holocaust. They would come over and ask me questions and that to me was such a proud moment,” he said.
Aging Jewish boxing touts are glad to see a new generation of Hammering Hebrews.
“It’s refreshing to see a kid with a Jewish star winning a title,” said Phil Shevack in an interview with NJ Jewish News. He and his brother, Bob, were part of the “Magnificent Seven,” a group of amateur boxers who trained at a gym in Paterson in the 1960s. The Shevacks both went on to win Golden Gloves titles in the early 1970s.
“There were some tough Jews years ago and there are today,” he said. “It’s just that we’re thought of being a very studious type of culture, which is fine, but we’re also a very physical culture. We’ve always fought for our freedom as a people.”
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