It’s 1:00 pm on Friday at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and my weigh-in is in three hours. I’ve been limiting my fluids-“drying out”-to make the required weight of 142 pounds. I count the minutes until I step off the scale and have my first few sips of Pedialyte. As thirsty as I am, it will taste delicious!

Following that is Shabbat. Thank G-d for Shabbat. I look forward to turning off my phone and escaping from the tension and pressure of fight week. On Shabbat, I will finally have time to rest. For me it is a time for reflection, inspiration, and motivation for the coming week. It will also give me the inner strength and focus I need for my boxing match on Saturday night.

It was not always like that. Shabbat was not always something that I knew and looked forward to.

My name is Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita. Originally from Odessa, Ukraine, I moved to America when I was nine years old. At 13, I joined the Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., and began to train and compete. I was always very serious about boxing and felt a great sense of responsibility every time I stepped into the ring.

Boxing helped me become more spiritual and develop a personal relationship with G-d. Before every training session and especially before competing, I would say a few prayers to prepare myself. I always felt that I was guided and helped. Even when things did not go the way I thought they should, I believed that everything that happens is for the best. 

When I was 14, my mother landed in the hospital. Her roommate was an Orthodox woman. I met the woman’s husband, and we fell into a deep conversation about Judaism, boxing, and everything in between. Before I left, he took my contact information to pass along to a local rabbi. Rabbi Zalman Liberow, from Chabad of Flatbush, called my house a few times and invited me to come to the synagogue. At first, I was not very enthusiastic about going. After some thought, however, I decided to see what it was like. What instantly made me feel comfortable was seeing different people from all walks of life sitting and praying together. 

I began to go to the synagogue every few weeks for Shabbat. My visits were short at first, but every time I went, I felt that my battery was recharged and I felt blessed for the following week. 

As time went on, I began to take upon myself different things that may seem minor, but to me felt like real changes-like not turning on the coffee maker or not surfing the Internet on Shabbat. My rabbi explained to me that when a person comes from a non-religious background and takes upon himself a commandment, it causes great positive change. By taking on a Torah commandment, the person is making a solemn choice to get closer to G-d and follow the right path. Such words motivated me to become increasingly stronger in my observance.

I also grew stronger in boxing and was winning tournaments. There came a point where I began to feel uncomfortable about fighting and training on Shabbat. To me, being in the ring is very serious business. Many things can happen, and I have to feel at peace with myself in order to overcome my opponents.  

Before going to the National Championships in the year 2000, on the advice of my rabbi, I decided not to fight on Shabbat. I was not the favorite to win going in, but thank G-d all turned out well and I won. After that, I won the Golden Gloves and turned pro. 

In my contract is a clause stating that I don’t fight on Shabbat or any other Jewish holiday. Many people ask me how I can combine Judaism and professional boxing. Chasidic philosophy teaches us that Judaism must fit into every part of our lives. It exists in science, art, and for me, even in boxing.

We are all placed in certain situations for a reason. Whoever we are, wherever we are, we can elevate the world around us. May our random acts of goodness and kindness hasten the coming of the final Redemption. Good Shabbos!

Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita is undefeated (20-0) in his professional boxing career. He is the subject of the forthcoming Disney film, Golden Boy.