The Star of the East…and His Son

Stand for Israel  |  November 20, 2019

Young Barney Aaron
Young Barney Aaron

While one might not think of boxing as a Jewish sport, the sweet science had its fair share of Jewish tacticians in centuries past. Two of them, both named Barney Aaron, were father and son, and British Jews who have since been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Sadly, because they boxed so long ago, there is no photo or video evidence of either in the ring. But the above shows the younger Barney Aaron after his career boxing in the ring was done, when he stayed in the ring to referee. But both father and son not only battle their opponents, but the anti-Semitism that was pervasive during their time (and, sadly, often is to this day).

Born to a Jewish family in London in the year 1800, Barney Aaron began boxing at the age of 19, working his way up to be England’s top lightweight fighter during the early part of the 19th century. Billed as “The Star of the East,” Aaron boxed against much larger opponents than himself, and for much longer than would be allowed today, fighting bouts that lasted 40, 50, even 70 rounds. When his time came to retire, a British newspaper lamented, “Barney fought with great bravery, but his day has gone by and like the worn out post horse, he can no longer answer to the whip.”

But despite his exit from the ring, Aaron’s physical prowess still came in handy. During the elections of 1847, he helped patrol and protect the London streets, defending the working class and Jewish communities from which he came. And when Lionel de Rothschild, a Jew elected to the House of Commons, could not be seated because of his faith, Aaron defended him, too. Working as both a fishmonger and a constable, Aaron never escaped the poverty from which he had come, dying at the young age of 49. He did however help improve how Jews were seen, because of his boxing legacy.

The older Barney Aaron’s legacy also included his son, who fought under the name “Young Barney Aaron.” Like his father, Young Barney Aaron fought in an era when boxing was done without gloves. Even with improved rules from his father’s era, the son’s bare-knuckle career was brutal compared to today.

In 1857, that brutality found its way to America, where Young Barney Aaron defeated the American Lightweight Champion in a fight that went 80 rounds and lasted more than three hours. With this win, Young Barney Aaron not only became the first Jewish fighter to win a belt in the U.S., he also earned his own nickname: “The Star of the West.”

After retiring, the son ran a boxing gym in New York, worked as a referee, and even fought one last bout at the age of 70, mere days before he died.

But in one last story, Young Barney Aaron also found that his boxing talent helped him defend those who needed it. In 1874, he stopped two pickpockets from robbing Reverend Henry Thorpe, an elderly pastor in New York, knocking the thieves down and getting back the pastor’s pocketwatch and doing much to help combat the anti-Semitic attitudes many held at the time.