Opening Statements

Box Mitzvah


Illustration by Francisco Caceres

What happens when a high-powered New York City lawyer who represents the New York Yankees, a bar mitzvah boy who loves the Bronx Bombers and a boxing promoter all want to use Yankee Stadium on the same day? If you’re thinking this could have the makings of a “brawl in the Bronx,” think again because what could have been an oy vey story turned into one with a mazel tov ending.

It all started months ago when Jonathan Ballan booked Yankee Stadium for his son Scott’s bar mitzvah in June. Ballan, a partner at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo in New York City, was the lead bond lawyer representing the Yankees on financing for their new stadium.

As coincidence would have it, veteran boxing promoter Bob Arum chose the same date to stage a championship bout at the stadium. The fight pits undefeated World Boxing Association junior middleweight champion Yuri Foreman against former welterweight titleholder Miguel Cotto.

If that isn’t enough to throw a wrench into anyone’s plans, add this to the mix: Foreman, an Orthodox Jew who is studying to become a rabbi, can’t travel on Saturday until the Sabbath ends. To make sure he has plenty of time to prepare for the fight scheduled for that June night, several mobile homes will be set up near the center field entrance so Foreman and other observant Jews can stay over Friday night for prayer services.

Could the jabbing pugilists and their raucous fans coexist with the bar mitzvah boy and his hora-dancing relatives and guests?

Happily, the answer is yes. The Ballans had to give up use of the scoreboard for their video montage. But the Yankee organization and Arum softened the blow with some perks: The estimated 125 bar mitzvah guests are all invited to the fight—and we’re talking good seats. Scott, a big fan of the Bronx Bombers, will add baseballs autographed by the Yankees to his trove of gifts. And he’ll get to schmooze with Foreman in the champ’s dressing room before the fight.

Ballan takes it all in stride. “We’re going with the flow,” he says. He and his wife, Sandy, had also intended to surprise their guests with the bar mitzvah venue in the invitations. But once word of the events leaked in the press, well, “that didn’t quite work out,” he says.

For Ballan, the day will be centered on family and friends. “We’re all very excited and looking forward to the reception and post-reception fight,” he says. “We’re rooting for Yuri, a new family friend.”

It’s a winning scenario for all. Both boxers have a huge following in New York—Foreman in the Jewish community and Cotto among his fellow Puerto Ricans—and are expected to pack the stands. Arum will be cementing his legacy in the annals of boxing. He promoted the final match at the old Yankee Stadium when Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton in 1976. And now he’s bringing the first fight to the new stadium across the street.

But for Scott, his dad says, it’s all about location: “Imagine being a 12-year-old and having a party at Yankee Stadium.”

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