Friday, September 3, 2010

Dirty Boxing: How I Finally Made it to the Catskills Binnie Klein, 9/2/10

I’m an unlikely contender. As a psychotherapist, I sit on my tush all day, but in my mid-fifties, while re-habbing for an injury, I discovered one physical activity I came to love: boxing. My articulate coach (how does someone like me get a coach? Read Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press, 2010) for the inside story! John Spehar, a former middleweight state champ, is not Jewish, but knew about the amazing history of Jewish boxers. When he told me about Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, Abe Attell, Battling Levinsky, Daniel “The Light of Israel” Mendoza, among many others, I felt punched in the gut with an ethnic pride that had been missing from my alienated-from-Judaism, post-modern life.
Boxing is a sport of immigrants who discovered that they could make more money in the ring than by working 14 hour-days in the sweatshops, and although observant parents often considered it a shanda for nice Jewish boys to hit and be hit rather than study Torah, it was a way up and out of tenement life. Boxing is also linked with the Catskills, where boxers like Ali, Barney Ross, Marciano and their entourages enjoyed training at the big resort hotels like Grossinger’s and Kutsher’s.
Until this August, when I attended Gleason’s Fantasy Boxing Camp at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, the last remaining kosher hotel, my own relationship to the Catskills was like my relationship to Judaism – fragmented and underdeveloped. My sisters remember going to a bungalow colony at Camp White Lake, and my father, a traveling candy salesman who loved the horses, took the family to Monticello Raceway. “Daddy wished we could have afforded one of the big hotels.” What I do remember is staying in nearby Woodstock at age 16 to try my hand at acting by apprenticing at the summer playhouse. I left after two days, dismayed by having to build scenery, no chance of getting a part, and watching my more-experienced housemates make out with townies in the kitchen. I was both virginal and lazy.
Just two years later, I meandered down Route 17 with a friend in her dad’s Ford Falcon, on our way to a little music and arts festival called Woodstock. Two miles from the festival site, in Bethel, we turned around, missing this historic event. There was so much traffic people were abandoning their cars, and we, little girls outfitted in fringe jackets and long, ironed hair, were afraid her father would be mad if anything happened to the car (for the full story on THIS fiasco, listen here):

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