Ring of Solace, Part 3: Faith in Violence

By Ted Spoon on October 9, 2014
Ring of Solace, Part 3: Faith in Violence
Being called a “dirty little Jew” or “you Jew bastard” could make a fight rather unpleasant.

Rather than lose himself in the fight he made a discovery, something Isidore would have ridiculed. Boxing was a thinking man’s sport…

“With King Levinsky definitely eliminated as a main event performer, Chicago boxing fans can now center their attention on a more graceful gladiator…”—Sam Levy

Beryl David Rosofsky, what a proud name that was. Isidore certainly thought so as he welcomed child number three into the family. Sarah prayed for this one to make it past infancy; two had perished amidst tough times. Life hung on a thread, on grocery sales. A good day’s work meant everyone got a morsel or two. “Stuffed” wasn’t part of the Rosofsky vocabulary. If you could have asked what it was that kept Isidore going, that helped ship his family from Belgrade to New York, he may have pointed to his ringlets or Payot.

Back in Europe Isidore had given lectures at a Talmudic school, almost free of charge. He would later become a rabbi in Chicago. Manhattan’s Lower East Side was the pits in the early 20th century and so the Rosofsky’s caught a train. Sarah’s uncle had vacated a grocery store in the Maxwell Street ghetto. Conditions were slightly better though a few more additions to the family made a two bedroom apartment real stuffy. As Beryl inevitably grew up and ventured outdoors he got his first taste of prejudice.

Father was inevitably questioned.

Isidore simply reiterated the importance of a good mind over violence. Everyone helped out at the grocery store on busy days and Beryl was compliant to the idea of following in daddy’s footsteps. A guiding light appeared to dangle in front of this trying existence. Alas, the city’s dark underbelly was in plain view every day, and Beryl’s other major influence was a shifty cat – Samuel “Nails” Morton. Shrinking from danger clearly wasn’t the young lad’s style, but scuffles outside meant Isidore would beat him that much worse at home. 

December 13, 1923. Nothing was afoot as Beryl prepared for school. Then a gunshot startled him out of routine. The noise was eerily nearby. As he ran outside there was a commotion around the grocery store. Pushing his way through a pool of bodies confirmed his deepest fear. There was his father, apron blood-soaked, regrettably eyeing Beryl like he was setting sail. No matter how hard those fists scrunched up his clothes Isidore was not long for this world. His last act as father was one of assurance.

“It’s alright, Beryl.”

An ambulance took away the body.

Despite her motherly instincts Sarah folded under the drama and suffered a mental breakdown. The three youngest lads of the family were sent to an orphanage. Beryl, full of rage and growing ever conscious of Jewish stereotypes became a fulltime tearaway. It wouldn’t be right to say he went off the rails; the rails were stripped from beneath him. Judaic practices were scoffed at, education was ditched. Morals didn’t get in the way of money.

You could say it was only a matter of time before such a life bumped into boxing. Kid Howard’s gym seized Beryl’s attention, particularly the $5 guarantee for scrapping a few rounds. There was no shortage of gusto when this bantamweight got into the ring, but rather than lose himself in the fight he made a discovery, something Isidore would have ridiculed. Boxing was a thinking man’s sport. Tight guard, angles, working the body, fundamentals were imbibed like scripture. For many of his teen years Beryl fought (successfully) while hiding the fact from his poor mother.

In ’29 he won a golden gloves championship, a nice springboard into the pro ranks where Beryl David Rosofsky became Barney Ross. His current circumstances were enough to ensure he had a good stab at this boxing gig, but when the Stock Market crashed there was even more incentive to run that extra mile. Sarah eventually came back to life, stable enough to realize what Barney was up to. He simply promised that he would pack it in after making enough. Compliments of Chicago’s Davey Miller, the seasoned Sam Pian and Art Winch came to Barney’s aid. 

The only two loses received on his way to the gold were trivial, one over six rounds and the other over eight. Racial prejudice was a tougher opponent. Being called a “dirty little Jew” or addressed as “you Jew bastard” could make a fight rather unpleasant. Once the initial shock of Black Tuesday had sunk in people started getting angry, then they began spreading theories, like the Jews were to blame. Barney, a very streetwise 20 years of age, would also have been aware of his supposed physical inferiority. In time there was an additional sense of responsibility; that he was fighting for his people.

Almost three years to the day after turning professional Barney was matched against Ray Miller, the man whose left hook had prevented Jimmy McLarnin from continuing. Given how sharp Ross had looked it was difficult to pick a winner. Ten rounds later Miller’s right eye was shut after an impressive showing. Expectation went up a little. Hartford’s Battling Battalino though also a veteran had a fair chance of disturbing Barney’s fine boxing with “a style of warfare with which Ross has had little experience.” Come fight night and, rather than outwit his opponent, Ross beat him at his own game.

Not only was Barney making good money but he wasn’t taking many licks in the process. Sarah grew in strength and began to sit alongside the many thousand who paid to watch her son. Better yet Sam and George were taxied from the orphanage to watch “Little Bear” duke it out. Racial digs came with the territory though they were generally overcome by those in appreciation. Billy Petrolle was the last man to see if Barney was ready for the big time. The lightweight king would observe this one from ringside.

The Urbana Daily Courier reported:

“With the same decisiveness displayed by F.D.R. in handling banking and beer, Ross cleared up some of the dark brown taste which had lingered with ring fans hereabouts. He might not be a Benny Leonard. He might not even be a Tony Canzoneri, but he’ll come close to doing it until another one of them comes along.”

Out of the ten rounds they gave Ross nine. Petrolle was outdone in nearly every exchange. The left hand of the Jew was sometimes a jab, sometimes a hook, very hard to read, and while he seemed to maintain a classical stance he would mix in Dempsey like rolls to avoid punches. Rarely do you witness such a mix of brains and daring. With the decision won Barney walked back to his handlers and made for the dressing room. It wasn’t quite the same chemistry as with Jimmy and Pop, or Tony and Sammy, but Pian and Winch looked after their fighter who, after each win, was hoisted further up the ladder. 

The champ’s manager now said that he was “open to propositions.” June 23, 1933 marked the special date, built up as Chicago’s biggest fight since 14 seconds had elapsed. If Ross won he would be the champion at 135 lbs. and 140 lbs. 

On the big day Sarah reached Chicago’s Stadium well before sundown in accordance with the Sabbath. Religion was still a key part of her life as it was Barney’s. Even during that rebellious stage he’d never completely renounced the Judaic faith. As a man Barney respected those pious roots and made the Jewish communities very proud. The press enjoyed interviewing a gentleman. 

Again two of his younger brothers were allowed to watch. It was all very exciting, albeit a little scary. He wasn’t just fighting for the top spot but the opportunity to permanently remove them from the orphanage. So much rested on the outcome.

Across the ring bounced a great fighter itching for the bell. 

Barney kept an ear out for Isidore.

For assurance.

Ring of Solace: Introduction
Ring of Solace, Part 1: Jimmy & Pop 
Ring of Solace, Part 2: Born to Fight
Ring of Solace, Part 3: Faith in Violence 
Ring of Solace, Part 4: Collision 
Ring of Solace, Part 5: Sparkling Debris

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