|Former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, center, in black, congratulates boxer Dmitriy Salita after his victory against Franklin Gonzalez on Sept. 1. Courtesy Michael Wildes|
Michael Wildes was among the first to wish Dmitriy Salita a mazel tov after the Orthodox Jewish boxer won an eight-round fight against Franklin Gonzalez last week. Wildes, an immigration attorney and former Englewood mayor, sponsored the bout with his law firm, Wildes & Weinberg.
Wildes said that the boxer, a friend, had asked him to help sponsor the fight and he quickly agreed.
“We wanted to stand behind Dmitriy to show him our stellar support of both his philanthropic work in the Russian Jewish community as well as his athletic prowess,” Wildes told The Jewish Standard last week.
He praised Salita and boxing lantsman Yuri Foreman, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as positive Jewish role models.
“I’m very proud of their leadership in athletics, both for their leadership in the ring and in the community at large as role models for our youth,” Wildes said. “Dmitriy is a leader in the Russian community and a resource as well to Russian immigrants.”
The fight was the first time Wildes has sponsored a specific athletic event, but it’s not his first foray into professional sports. He is part owner of NASCAR’s America’s Racing Team, which launched in July, and also counsel to the New York Cosmos, the venerable soccer club that launched the career of soccer superstar PelÃ©, now honorary president of New York Cosmos LLC.
“What’s touching is at the highest levels, from PelÃ© to Dmitriy, there’s a certain modesty and an air of gratitude that when I spend private time with them is apparent,” Wildes said.
|Dmitriy Salita by the numbers|
|Real name: Dmitriy Aleksandrovich Lekhtman
Nickname: Star of David
Rated: Junior welterweight
Nationality: United States
Born: April 4, 1982
Birth place: Odessa, Ukraine, Soviet Union
Religious views: Orthodox Jewish
“Dmitriy works very hard with a lot of Jewish organizations that focus on Russian youth who, for want of strong family backgrounds, are looking for role models and to embrace their Jewish culture and faith. As he walks into a ring adorned with a star of David and takes on the biblical David and Goliath image and succeeds, he is a great resource for these children that do not have role models at home and face challenges just to get to this country.”
Seeking religious freedom, the Ukraine-born Salita came to the United States with his family when he was 9. Now 28, Salita began boxing when he was 13 and went on to claim the 2001 New York Golden Gloves title. As he began his professional boxing career, Salita also began to become more Jewishly involved and he studies in a Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva. He will not fight on Shabbat and will remain within walking distance of a synagogue when training, according to his biography on his website, www.dsalita.com.
“He is as gracious in the ring as he is outside, and humble and sincere about his religious practice and sportsmanship,” Wildes said.
Last week’s fight, dubbed “Redemption” by Salita, marked the boxer’s return to the sport after a World Boxing Association light-welterweight title fight elimination against Amir Khan in December.
“It was exciting to be in the audience,” Wildes said, “to see not only Dmitriy’s skill but the enfranchisement of our community in this sport in modern day. He certainly made us proud.”