September 18, 2003
The Great Jewish Hope
Dmitriy Salita doesn't fight on the Sabbath, which gives his competition a much-needed day of rest from this powerful junior welterweight. With a 13-0, 10 KO record, the 5-foot-9, 139-pound fighter who goes by the moniker "The Star of David," is a rising star in the boxing ring.
Salita, 21, studied karate in Odessa until age 9, when he and his family immigrated to the United States. Though his parents were not religious, they understood that as Jews in the Ukraine, their family could not live in complete freedom. They hoped Brooklyn would bring their sons better opportunities. With little money to spare, the new immigrants could not afford to continue Salita's martial arts training. Four years later, acting on his brother's suggestion, 13-year-old Salita walked into the Starrett City Boxing Club.
"That was it. I was hooked, addicted," said Salita, who won the 2000 U.S. Nationals Under-19 and the 2001 New York Golden Gloves amateur championship title.
Salita, who fights in shorts embroidered with a gold Star of David, was not always observant; he slowly grew into his relationship with Judaism.
"In the Ukraine, Jews were traditional in knowledge, but we weren't religious," he said.
Salita rediscovered his religion when his mother, Lyudmilia, was diagnosed with cancer in 1998. Lyudmilia's hospital roommate's husband introduced Salita to the Chabad of Flatbush. There, under the mentorship of Rabbi Zalman Liberov, Salita studied and embraced Jewish practices.
"It didn't happen overnight, it took years. Each week it was something different -- no TV on Shabbat, no driving on Shabbat, keeping kosher and so on," said Salita, who prays at local Chabad houses when he's on the road. "I feel comfortable at Chabad, they're down with people."
Chabad is also down with boxing. It was Liberov's brother, Israel, who introduced Salita to his promoter, Top Rank's Bob Arum.
Arum, who is an active member of Chabad of Southern Nevada, has promoted numerous champions including Muhammad Ali, Oscar de la Hoya and George Foreman. Israel sent Salita's tape to Arum's rabbi, the rabbi showed it Arum, and Arum signed Salita immediately. Salita was thrilled with the match.
"Bob was raised in an Orthodox family, so he's totally supportive of my beliefs. He understands my Judaism, my schedule, plus, he's just a really good guy," said Salita, who won his U.S. Nationals title after rescheduling the final mid-Sabbath bout for Saturday night.
"I'm proud of my Judaism," he said. "When my parents came to this country, they came here for freedom. My Judaism is a part of that freedom."
Salita looks for another post-sundown win on Saturday, Sept. 20, when he meets Joe Bartole (8-2, 5 KOs) in the ring at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.
"I've been training hard and I'm looking forward to a good performance, to putting on a good show," Salita said. "And I'm happy to be in Los Angeles. It's a great city, an exciting city, a glamorous city," Salita said.
Salita's fight will be televised locally on KCAL 9, Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Tickets for the fight are available through TicketMaster.