I grew up around boxing– not your average Northeastern Jewish upbringing, I admit, but my dad has had a passion for the sport forever, and so naturally, I have been raised with an appreciation for the sport as well, especially when it comes to Muhammad Ali. Ever since my dad was 14, he has idolized the charismatic boxer, writing a book about him, and even turning our basement into an Ali museum (I kid you not, he’d be happy to show it to you). So, my ears always perk up when I hear some news about Muhammad Ali, as was the case a few weeks ago when I came across an article from Be’chol Lashon, a non-profit organization celebrating the racial and ethnic diversity of Jews, about how one of Ali’s grandson’s was recently Bar Mitzvah’d.
Muhammad Ali’s family now includes three religions: his mother was Baptist, he is (and raised his family) Muslim, and one of his daughters, Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer, married a Jew. Khaliah’s son Jacob decided on his own to be Bar Mitzvah’d, saying that he felt a connection to Judaism, and both Khaliah and her father supported Jacob’s desire to be Bar Mitzvah’d.
Ali’s family is a wonderful representation of the current diversity of the Jewish community, and of its willingness to accept people from all backgrounds and faiths; and Ali himself has been an amazing voice for inclusion. While Ali is best known for some of the greatest fights in boxing history (The Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla’ in Manila), Muhammad Ali instilled values of welcoming and peace in all of his children. Despite his poor health (Ali has Parkinson’s), he did attend his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, and followed along with the service as best he could. It’s just one more reason to look up to the Greatest of All Time. (at left, my Dad with Muhammad Ali and trainer Angelo Dundee at Ali’s 70th birthday celebration)