"We now have 'King David,' 'Maimonides,' and 'Barney Ross.' There are some who might say that these three names don't belong together," said editor Jonathan Rosen at a reception for Douglas Century's book about legendary boxer Barney Ross, the third volume in the Jewish Encounters series. "But," Mr. Rosen joked, "I continue to believe that even though he wasn't a fighter, Maimonides absolutely belongs in the series."
A biography of Ross is the latest title from the joint publishing venture of Schocken Books and Nextbook. Mr. Rosen described the arc of Ross's life: an Orthodox Jewish boy whose father was gunned down, he got his siblings out of an orphanage by becoming a boxer.
Mr. Century said Ross spent his entire life fighting, and not only in the ring. When he did get into the ring, Ross was "a furious machine," Mr. Century said. The man had a soft side, though, and learned piano by ear. Mr. Century said Ross's defining personal characteristic was that he never gave up. He overcame the murder of his father, being wounded at war, and heroin addiction.
Mr. Century said there was "collective amnesia" about the Jewish contribution to boxing: In America in the 1930s, about a third of all professional fighters were Jews, he said. Everlast and Ring magazine were Jewish owned. "There's a cultural reason we've forgotten this," he said.
Mr. Century explained that near his gym in the vicinity of Penn Station he spotted a picture of Ross at an Irish bar. On "The Sopranos", he said, characters sit around the pork store with pictures of Italian boxers such as Rocky Marciano. But there are not many Jewish bars and "we certainly don't have pork stores."
Mr. Rosen said Mr. Century located an illustration from a 1920s Passover Haggadah, reproduced in the book, showing the wicked son as the boxer. Ross "went against tradition but he also embodied tradition." Mr. Rosen said, "He was becoming an emblematic American at the same time that millions of American Jews were entering mainstream American life in an unprecedented way."
Mr. Century told the audience that he briefly tried boxing himself. "I could not throw a left hook." He pointed out his boxing teacher in the audience, the half-Moroccan and half-Yemenite Ilan Benshoshan, who was the lightweight Thai boxing champion in Israel in 1993.
Mr. Century said he disagreed with the view that Ross's was completely "a world we'll never have again." He noted that if one travels to Tel Aviv and visits the poor Sephardic neighborhoods, boxing is popular. "It's the social conditions that produce boxing. It's a testament to American Jewish upward mobility that there's no vogue in wanting to be a fighter." He said in Ross's time, boxers used to fight using a nom de guerre: "You never would let your mother you were fighting."
Others at the book launch were Anna Velasco, who works in public affairs at the Consulate General of Canada, where Mr. Century was born. Also seen were David Lehman, who is editing the new "Oxford Book of American Poetry" (the last edition was in 1976) and Thane Rosenbaum, who will be hosting director Sidney Lumet and creator of HBO's "Oz" Tom Fontana at Fordham's Forum on Culture, Law and Society.
Joni Mitchell's music rang out at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night. The evening, producer Michael Dorf said, netted $130,000 for the Music for Youth Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports music education programs for underprivileged young people.
He read a letter from the Alberta born folk star: Ms. Mitchell wrote that she was home caring for her sick cat. That did not stop a host of musicians from paying tribute to her career. Standouts from the show were D Generation's Jesse Malin, who belted out a rendition "Carey," one of Ms. Mitchell's songs. At the end of the song, he jumped down in front of the first row of seats, briefly greeted the audience, and then returned to the stage. Later, when exiting stage left, Mr. Malin exultantly banged a couple notes on the piano.
Other popular performers were surprise guest Richie Havens, wearing a black smock, singing the Mitchell penned "Woodstock," and Jimmy Scott, wearing all white, singing "At Last." Laurie Anderson gave a slow rendition of "Both Sides Now" while Judy Collins, who had a hit with the song in 1968, closed the evening with it, to a standing ovation.
Times have changed since Ms. Mitchell debuted at Carnegie Hall. Amy Grant sang "Big Yellow Taxi," the ecologically conscious hit song about paving paradise to put up a parking lot. On stage, Ms. Grant recalled once asking Ms. Mitchell in the early 1990s, through intermediaries, if it was all right to record the song. Ms. Mitchell had said fine, but "let's account for inflation. Why don't you bump that ticket up to 25 bucks." In the original lyrics, the price was about 17 times cheaper:
They took all the trees
Put'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em