The years from 1910 to 1940 were called
"The Golden Age of the American Jewish Boxer." In those
years, when boxing was the most popular sport in America, Jewish
boxers dominated the sport with 26 world champions.
As one who grew up in the latter part of this era, when there
were more than 20,000 registered Jewish boxers nationally, I can
recall quite a few of them who lived in Newark.
The Newark Jewish boxers, as I recall, were mostly from around
Newark's old Third Ward1,
and mostly sons of struggling immigrant parents.
In this recollection, I will try to spotlight more than a dozen
of these Newark fighters, mainly from my Third Ward neighborhood,
who made boxing history, sought prominence, or just battled for
a few dollars with dreams of bigger purses.
Jewish Hall of Famers
Topping the list of Newark Jewish fighters were these ten, all
of whom have been enshrined in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame:
Benny Levine, Hymie Kugel, Max Novich, Mickey Breitkopf,
Maxie Fisher, Al Fisher.
The Two List Toppers
The two names at the top of the New Jersey Hall of Fame list,
Allie Stoltz and
Abie Bain, were, in my view, the greatest of the
Jewish boxing ring achievers from Newark.
Allie Stoltz is at the top of my list because he participated
in two title matches, losing one, a 15-rounder, by a split decision
to world titleholder Sammy Angott, and the other to Philadelphian
Bob Montgomery. Both of Stoltz's opponents were ranked among the
all-time boxing 'greats' and both are enshrined in the International
Boxing Hall of Fame.
I put Abie Bain second, not only because he was a great fighter,
but also because he was the only Newark Jewish boxer ever to lose
a title fight to a Jewish world champion. On October 22, 1930, Bain
was stopped in 1:47 of the 11th round by world light heavyweight
champion Maxie Rosenbloom, in the champion's first title defense.
Bain had started at age 12 as a flyweight, but rose to fight his
greatest fights as a light heavyweight and heavyweight. His career
included 48 wins (31 by knockout), 11 losses, 4 draws, and 31 no
Nat Arno third because he went through his eight year
boxing career, fighting 121 matches, without ever suffering a single
knockdown. He retired from the ring at the age of 22.
Fourth and Fifth Choices
I put Lou Halper and
Benny Levine fourth and fifth among the ten
partly for personal reasons, as you will see.
Lou Halper, who was my friend, and beloved by many of the 'greats'
of the boxing community, had lost to world titleholder Barney Ross
in a non-title bout, but had won Ross's friendship for life.
When I scripted and emceed a surprise "This Is Your Life"
for Lou Halper on June 10, 1957 in
, the surprise guests
included boxing promoter Willie Gilzenberg; Tony Galento, who had
floored world titleholder Joe Louis before himself being knocked
out 18 years earlier: Tony Canzonieri, National Boxing Commissioner
Abe Green, Vic Marsillo, ex-titleholder Barney Ross, Newark Evening
News boxing writers Hy Goldberg and Willie Ratner, and former Newark
Mayor Ralph A. Villani.
Benny Levine I place fifth because I recall him being introduced
at another boxing event that I attended as the former Mexican Champion,
presumably for a fight he had won in Mexico.
The Ref and the Doc
Hymie Kugel is my No. 6 pick among the ten Hall of Famers not
so much for his ring record as a contender as much as for what he
did afterward. His nomination to the Hall of Fame came from his
fame and prowess as a ring referee.
Henry Hascup of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame told me "Kugel
helped many boxers along the road in one way or another, and in
a 1930s poll by the Newark Evening News was voted 'the most popular
referee in New Jersey'."
I listed former Third Warder Dr. Max Novich seventh not so much
for his ring record, although he won entry into medical school on
a boxing scholarship, but because he created Sports Medicine as
a new medical specialty, founded the Association of Ringside Physicians
in 1971, and is considered in both medicine and sports as the Father
of Sports Medicine in America. Like myself, he also attended Central
20's and 30's Boxing Locales
Although some went from street battler directly into ring competition,
in the 1920s and 1930s, the starting place for many Third Ward Jewish
fighters was the High Street YMHA. When they felt ready for amateur
competition, the boxing locales were the Newark Athletic Club, the
Lyric Theatre Boxing Club, and the Olympic A. C.
I am especially familiar with boxing at the Newark A.C. gymnasium
because, as a sports writer, I covered boxing in the Park Place
gym on Friday nights for a number of years. There were three eight
week tournaments each year in the late 1930s -- The Golden Gloves,
the AAU, and the Diamond Belt.
The professional boxing sites in Newark in the 20s and 30s were
Laurel Garden, the Newark Veledrome, Dreamland Park, the Newark
Armory, and the Broad A.C.
Laurel Garden Contenders
In the 1930s at the time Lou Halper got his start at Laurel Garden,
he once recalled that the pay for a four-rounder had been as little
as ten dollars. For Halper, it was a windfall from previously selling
'morning' papers outside the Springfield Avenue arena on fight nights,
literally for pennies.
Some other Jewish pro fighters who boxed in the Laurel Garden
ring, as well as other local sites, were
Max "Puddy" Hinkes, and Jack Rappaport. Rappaport, who
boxed from 1923 to 1927, had a career of 15 fights, ten of which
were fought in Newark arenas.
Solly Castellane boxed from 1925 to 1929 with a 5-5-2 record.
In the mid to late 1940s he was boxing coach at the Newark Athletic
Notable Newark Amateurs
Notable among Newark Jewish boxers who saw action in the amateur
ranks were Newark's two-term Depression-era Mayor,
Meyer C. Ellenstein,
and Newark bagel king Sonny Amster.
Ellenstein, living in Paterson as a youth, while working 10 hour
days in silk mill, turned to amateur boxing in his free time and
won every one of his amateur bouts over two years as a 115 pound
flyweight to become the Metropolitan Boys Champion in his weight
In 1907, he decided to turn professional. After he fought his
first pro fight as "Kid Meyer" he quit boxing at the urging
of his widowed mother who, then with five children, depended on
her only son for his earnings.
Sonny Amster recalled for me that he boxed as an amateur in the
Golden Gloves tournament at the Newark Athletic Club in 1945, in
the 147 pound weight class.
He later went on to fame and fortune as owner/operator of the
fabled Watson Bagel operation on Clinton Place, then 205 Chancellor
Ave. in Irvington, and today, still operating in two locations --
as Sonny's Bagels in Vauxhall, and as Elmora Bagels in Elizabeth.
Boxers Join 1930s Anti-Nazi Movement
In the mid to late 1930s, many of Newark's Jewish boxers from
the old Third Ward were recruited into an organization designed
to counter the pro-Nazi activities of a Newark-area group called
"The Friends of New Germany." The anti-Nazi organization
was called "The Minutemen" and was led by ex-boxer Nat
Arno, then a 'muscle man' employed by Third Ward crime boss Longy
Arno had been born to immigrant parents in the Third Ward as Sidney
Abramowitz. He took the name 'Arno' when he became a boxer.
The so-called Minutemen provided the necessary resolve and muscle
to prevent or break up pro-Hitler regime meetings and propaganda
efforts. The Minuteman group was organized in 1933 and lasted until
the start of World War II, when all America joined in the fight
against the Nazis and their supporters.