He keeps kosher and won’t fight on Shabbat or Jewish holidays, but whether being an Orthodox Jew helps him pack a punch, Dmitriy Salita declined to say in an e-mail interview. To hear his views on the subject, he said, you’ll have come to the YM-YWHA of Union County on Sunday, Oct. 28.
The Ukrainian-born boxer, nicknamed “The Star of David,” will be talking with the audience after the screening of the documentary about him, Orthodox Stance.
The film, first released in 2007 and winner of Best Documentary Film honors at the 2008 London Jewish Cultural Awards, is being shown as part of the Y’s fall programming.
(The line-up ranges from a “mini-film festival,” to a Jewish antiques appraisal show, a family fun day, and — on Sunday, Nov. 18, the annual Jewish Fair and Expo, followed by the third annual Kean University Jewish Studies Lecture Series. For program details, go to UnionY.org.)
The 5 ft.-9 in. welterweight boxer was born in Odessa, and came to the United States at the age of nine with his mother, father, brother, and grandfather. They emigrated, Salita said, because of the threats of anti-Semitic violence and the educational and professional limitations imposed on Jews. The family settled in Brooklyn, where he still lives and where Salita discovered Orthodox Judaism. He got married three years ago and has a young daughter.
Salita was five when he saw Mike Tyson fight. He said he danced around at home afterward, imitating the champion boxer’s moves. In the United States, though free of the discrimination he faced in Ukraine, Salita said he still faced teasing because of his clothing and his poor English. “I had to learn how to defend myself,” he told an interviewer from Boxing.com in 2005. He got involved in karate, and his older brother took him to a boxing club. “That is how it all started. I got called into the principal’s office. I got suspended a few times, but I got my respect. I started kicking some ass at school.”
The boxing club owner, Jimmy O’Pharrow, was quoted on the same site as saying, “My gym’s like a league of nations. I seen every kind of kid come through the doors, but I ain’t never seen one like this Dmitriy. Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish, and fights Black.”
Salita won the Golden Gloves competition in 2001 at age 19. He went on to become a welterweight champion, with a 31-1-1 professional record, and a Sugar Ray Robinson award as the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fighter of the Year.
When Jason Hutt first suggested making a documentary about him, Salita thought it would take a few days. “But a few days turned into weeks, months, and years,” he told NJJN. It could have been a major intrusion, having a film crew hovering around him as he trained and fought and went about his life, but the filmmaker was very careful.
“That’s why we did not feel that he was invasive,” Salita said. “Jason always conducted himself with total respect for all members of the team. I think he did a great job with the film. He followed us for three years and truly became a friend and part of the team. That is the reason he was able to catch so many personal moments. We are still good friends today.
“It is a great compliment that someone considers your life interesting enough to film and that people want to watch it,” said Salita.
“I feel blessed by the experience, and I enjoy screenings and talking to people. I have not seen the film in some time, so I look forward to enjoying it with the crowd on Oct. 28.”