Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Muhammad Ali Attends Grandson's Bar Mitzvah

Jacob Wertheimer becoming a bar mitzvah this past April at Philly's Congregation Rodeph Shalom synagogue doesn't sound like a newsworthy story. It does make news when the proud grandfather is The Champ.

Muhammad Ali's grandson Jacob Wertheimer was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah at a small service of only about 150 people. Jacob is the son of Ali's daughter Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer and Spencer Wertheimer, an attorney. Ali was in the congregation watching with pride according to the Sweet Science boxing website in an article written by Muhammad Ali's personal biographer Thomas Hauser, as reported by JTA. There was no mention of whether the bar mitzvah boy floated like a butterfly or stung like a bee on the bimah.

Jacob Wertheimer, Muhammad Ali's grandson on vacation with his parents

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay and raised as a Baptist, but famously converted to Islam in the 60s. Ali's daughter Khaliah was raised as a Muslim. According to her, the young Jacob was given a choice and without pressure from his parents, "he chose this on his own because he felt a kinship with Judaism and Jewish culture." It sounds like Judaism won by a decision!

Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer also mentioned that it "meant a lot to Jacob" that his grandfather Muhammad Ali was in attendance. According to JTA, the theme of the bar mitzvah party was diversity and inclusiveness.

On the occasion of The Champ's 70th birthday, JTA's archivist Adam Soclof compiled a list of articles chronicling Ali's bouts and bonding moments with the Jewish community dating back to 1970. Ali has made some critical comments about Israel over the years, but is still widely respected in the Jewish community. Perhaps Ali's Jewish grandson will travel to Israel and change his grandfather's sentiments.

While Billy Crystal has always amused me with his dead-on impersonation of Muhammad Ali, this scene from Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" is a personal favorite:

Mazel Tov to Muhammad Ali and his entire family on Jacob's bar mitzvah!


Abraham Stubenhaus said...

Mazal Tov!
Many years ago, I remember my parents may they rest in Peace, talking about how great Muhammad Ali is while we were eating breakfast.
I said, "But he is a Muslim and so he has to hate all Jews." My father said, "In today's paper I read how he just donated $100,000.00 to a Jewish hospital (which of course these days, 40 years later, is like 2 million dollars)."
From that time, I always looked at Mr. Ali as a different kind of Muslim , a special man who actually cared about Jewish people also.
This celebration is so perfect. I am so proud of Mr. Ali and his grandson's choice in life!"
May the ONE bless their entire family!

rachel kapen said...

I may have known this fact and forgot, however, my son gilead refreshed my memory and I was happy to hear it. I am happier to hear about Jacob's Bar mitzvah and the fact that the boy himself chose to adhere to the our Jewish religion. kol HaKavod, he must be a real smart and sensitive boy.