When Dustin Fleischer won his first professional boxing match in Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10, he used the occasion to salute his paternal grandfather, Bernard Fleischer, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust.
“Being Jewish and having a message to deliver about my grandfather” is part of the reason he boxes, said Dustin, who fights wearing blue boxing trunks embellished with a star of David and his grandfather’s chai around his neck. “It’s like having a piece of him when I am in the ring.”
Fighting as a welterweight, the 25-year-old from Monmouth Beach stopped Frank Jordan by a technical knockout in the second round. When asked about winning his first pro bout, Dustin said, “The feeling I felt is hard to put into words.”
Dustin said he is motivated in large part by memories of his grandfather, who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease when his grandson was 12.
At 13, Bernard Fleischer saw Nazi soldiers shoot his mother and father to death. Then one of the soldiers took aim and wounded him. “But when he tried to finish my father off, his gun froze, so they left him alone to freeze to death,” said his son Phil, Dustin’s father. “So he hid under dead bodies until he was caught and placed in a concentration camp.”
Bernard and a friend managed to escape and again hid among corpses. “They spotted some Nazi troops drinking,” said Phil. “They waited until the Nazis were asleep, then they stole their guns and shot them.”
The two men spent the rest of the war fighting in the Resistance. After it ended, Bernard came to the United States and settled in Queens before moving to Monmouth Beach.
Dustin took up boxing when he was nine, after studying martial arts.
“In his first fight he fought and defeated a kid who had had 12 fights and was New Jersey State Champion,” said Phil, himself a one-time amateur boxer. “He beat an experienced kid, and from there he blossomed.”
Even as he is determined to continue fighting every 30 to 45 days and train five or six hours a day, Dustin is realistic enough to have a Plan B when he retires from the ring.
“I need to have education as a backup,” he said. He took business courses at Brookdale Community College and studied communications at Dale Carnegie Training.
He considers himself a religious Jew. He attends Chabad of the Shore in Long Branch, and although he is willing to fight on Friday nights and Saturdays, he has ruled out going into the ring on the High Holy Days.
“I was originally supposed to make my professional debut on Oct. 4, but Oct. 4 was Yom Kippur, and I wasn’t going to fight on that date,” he said.
Phil says his wife, Nora, supports Dustin’s interest in the fight game.
“She knows how hard he’s worked since he was five years old. She just wants him to be safe, but she is confident in his ability and is very proud of his accomplishments,” said Phil. He concedes that “boxing is a brutal sport, but Dustin has learned his craft well with some great trainers, and I don’t have any fear of him getting hurt.
“There is nothing that makes us more proud of our Jewish heritage than when Dustin is fighting.”
To people who believe it is a dangerous sport, Dustin has a ready answer.
“They probably don’t understand boxing. The strategy in boxing is to be able to react in a split second, how to counter a punch, how to make a person move in the direction you want him to move. My biggest attribute is my mind,” he said.
“I live a clean, healthy life,” he added. “You have to live a healthy life to be an athlete. You have to learn about nutrition and the right exercise. I stay with my synagogue and I stay with my family. I am not looking for a party life.”