By CARRIE FALCONE
EAST BRUNSWICK — Temple B’nai Shalom of East Brunswick and the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County invited a special guest for their annual lunch and learn program.
Dustin Fleischer, a junior welterweight boxer from Monmouth Beach, spoke to a group of Holocaust survivors on June 28 about his late grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who passed away in 2007.
Fleischer, age 27, recently partnered with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, South River, to raise awareness and funding for Holocaust survivors in Monmouth and Middlesex counties after he heard about the federation’s emergency funding campaign for survivors while attending a recent Birthright Israel orientation.
“When I heard that the services for survivors are being threatened, I decided that I really wanted to help out by sharing the story of my grandfather’s Holocaust survival,” Fleischer said in a prepared statement. “There’s not that many survivors left, so why can’t we take care of them and help improve their lives at a time when they really need it?”
Fleischer’s grandfather, Bernard, was 13 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and killed his entire family. Bernard managed to escape the concentration camp, hid in a barn and survived by huddling beside the horses even when he risked freezing to death.
“My grandfather lost the family he was born into,” Fleischer said during his talk. “I was his oldest grandchild, and he always preached about the importance of family.”
Whenever Fleischer steps into the ring for a boxing match, he wears his grandfather’s gold chai as a reminder of how much he went through to survive. The chai is meant to symbolize life and also serves as a daily reminder of his grandfather’s struggle to beat the odds, he said.
“I know that I, too, can beat the odds and become a world champion,” Fleischer said. “My goal is to be the first world champion who is a descendant of a Holocaust survivor.”
Fleischer recently made his professional boxing debut at Madison Square Garden in New York and won his bout in the second round.
“To go from an amateur to a professional in the best arena in the country with celebrities like Rihanna, Jay Z and Jake Gyllenhaal in the audience watching me was just unreal,” Fleischer said.
And while most boxers are fighting for a paycheck, Fleischer said that he is boxing for a cause and a legacy that he will always be passionate about.
“My grandfather’s experience had a profound impact on me, and I would like to shed light on the needs of local Holocaust survivors,” Fleischer said in the statement.
He will also travel to Israel this summer as part of his Birthright trip and will continue to raise awareness about the funding campaign.
For more information, visit www.supportholocaustsurvivors.org or contact the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey at 732-588-1800.