Ali and the Jews on Miami Beach

Note: The following is an excerpt from Thane Rosenbaum’s most recent novel, “How Sweet It Is!” (Mandel Vilar Press), which will be out in paperback in the fall. The novel is set in Miami Beach in 1972, featuring a host of historical characters who all happened to be in the city during that year, one of whom was Muhammad Ali, who died last week at 74. What Ali, a recently converted Muslim who was outspoken in support of the Palestinian cause, was doing in Miami Beach, living among the Holocaust survivors and Jewish transplants from the Northeast, is a novel all on its own. Actually, the mere thought of Ali in this exotic Jewish habitat is stranger than fiction, which Rosenbaum maximizes to full comic effect. In this excerpt, Ali is befriended by an irreverent local rabbi who is as unorthodox as the always-clowning, loud-mouthed boxer himself.

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Excerpt from Max Baer & the Star of David on

Max arrived at the YMCA on Monday afternoon, August 24, 1959, accompanied by a young actress, Ilana Roza Bator, who had long flaming red hair, and wore a backless green silk dress. I had been Max’s sparring partner, corner man, handler, and Man Friday all through his glory years—when he was an up and coming boxer, when he was heavyweight champion of the world and, following on his defeat by Jim Braddock, when his boxing career had been in decline even as his star as an actor and entertainer, in movies and vaudeville, had risen. I also worked part-time as coach of the Golden Gloves boxing team at the Embarcadero YMCA in San Francisco and, a treat for my boys and the YMCA community, I had persuaded Max to visit us and stage a few exhibition rounds.

We had set up a boxing ring in the main gymnasium, and Max glad-handed the people assembled there—my boxers, the director of the YMCA, the staff, board members, and major donors and sponsors—and he introduced us all to Ilana, told us she was from Budapest, had arrived in Hollywood three months before, would be starring in a Warner Brothers spectacle about David and Bathsheba, and that while she prepared for the part, he was helping her learn how to cope with producers, directors, and assorted other West Coast predators. Fishermen too, he added, to laughter, which was why he was showing her San Francisco.

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'Literature's task is to pose alternatives to political reality'

Beth Kissileff, author of Questioning Return, interviewed Sapir Prize winning Tel Aviv resident Shimon Adaf and World Fantasy Award winning London resident Lavie Tidhar on their recent work “Art and War: Poetry, Pulp and Politics in Israeli Fiction” for 972 Magazine.