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Barney Ross, Boxing Champion and War Hero, Inducted into The Jewish-American Hall of Fame
By Mel Wacks
Barney Ross is only the third sports figure to be inducted into The Jewish-American Hall of Fame, founded in 1969. Hank Greenberg was honored in 1991, and Moe Berg in 2006. Other Jewish-American Hall of Fame honorees have ranged from Revolutionary War financier Haym Salomon to super-star Barbra Streisand. The Hall of Fame plaques are on permanent display at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond.
Barney Ross was the first boxer to hold three world titles at the same time (World Lightweight and Junior Welterweight Champion 1933-1935 and World Welterweight Champion in 1934 and 1935-1938), as well as being a World War II hero.
Dov-Ber Rasofsky was born in Chicago on December 23, 1909. When he was a 14-year old rabbinical student, his father—who was a rabbi—died in his arms, after being shot in a robbery. As a consequence, his mother Sarah suffered a nervous breakdown and his three younger siblings were placed in an orphanage or farmed out to other members of the extended family. Dov and his two older brothers were left to their own devices. He began running around with local toughs, developing into a street brawler and small-time thief -- he was even employed by Al Capone. Dov's goal was to earn enough money to buy a home so that he could reunite his family … and he eventually saw boxing as that vehicle.
He changed his name to Barney Ross and went on to become a Golden Gloves champion and to eventually dominate the lighter professional divisions, called “The Pride of the Ghetto.” At a time—the late 1920s and '30s—when rising Nazism was using propaganda to spread virulently anti-Jewish philosophy, Ross was seen by American Jews as one of their greatest advocates. Ross was known as a smart fighter with great stamina … and was never knocked out in his career.
Barney Ross has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame, the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
In his early thirties, after his boxing career had ended, Ross joined the United States Marine Corps. The Marines wanted to keep him stateside and use his celebrity status to boost morale. Most of the athletes of the era like heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey had ceremonial roles in the military, but Ross insisted on fighting for his country.
Barney Ross was sent to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, where one night, he and three other stretcher bearers along with a wounded man and two soldiers were trapped under enemy fire. All of his fellow Marines were wounded, as was Ross, but he was the only one able to fight. Ross gathered his comrades' rifles and grenades and single-handedly fought nearly two dozen Japanese soldiers, killing them all by morning. Two of the Marines had died in the battle, but Ross carried the remaining man on his shoulders to safety even though he outweighed Ross by nearly 100 pounds. Because of his heroism, Ross was awarded two Purple Hearts and America's third highest military honor, the Silver Star “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with a Marine Batallion in Guadalcanal Nov. 18-20, 1942,” which is inscribed on the Barney Ross Jewish-American Hall of Fame medal, along with his words, “The night I spent in that
shell hole with five wounded leathernecks and two soldiers was by all odds the toughest round I’ve ever slugged through.”
During his recovery at the hospital from his wounds he had received, Ross developed a habit for the morphine administered for pain. Back in the states, the morphine became a heroin habit. After Barney Ross went to a recovery center and beat his addiction, he gave lectures to high school students about the dangers of drug addiction. His boxing career, World War II heroics, subsequent drug addiction and recovery were depicted in the 1957 film, Monkey on My Back.
Early in 1948, Barney Ross signed up more than 2,000 volunteers to fight for the creation of a Jewish state, but the State Department refused to issue them passports. Ross went on to raise money for the cause and even helped arrange for armaments to be sent to the Irgun.
When Ross died at the age of 57, The New York Times obituary indicated: “A student of the Talmud who turned to prizefighting, Barney Ross was regarded as one of the toughest champions. Outside of the ring, moreover, his heroism on Guadalcanal and his victory over a narcotics habit brought him further recognition as a man who had never been knocked out and had never quit.”
Those interested in supporting the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame and obtaining a limited edition Barney Ross medal can call (818) 225-1348 or visit www.amuseum.org/jahf. Medals feature a miniature version of the portrait plaque. The Hank Greenberg and Moe Berg medals are no longer available.
Prepared by Mel Wacks, Director of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame.
from the December 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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