‘I’m training the next generation of Jewish warriors’ says Israeli UFC star

Natan Levy takes time off fighting professionally to teach US Jewish kids to defend themselves against antisemitic attacks


Natan Levy in a Brooklyn gym teaching 'Jew-jitsu' (Zandy Mangold)

So proud of his heritage is Israeli UFC fighter Natan Levy that he calls what he does “Jew-Jitsu”.

If the term ever gets into the dictionary (as it richly deserves) it will have nothing to do with throwing sharpened Stars of David or impaling assailants on menorahs.

Instead, the definition will read something like: (noun) art of weaponless fighting to overpower antisemites and opponents with paralysing logic and physical blows.

A warrior in the ring —  with nine wins and one loss in competitive fights — the ruthless way Natan confronts and takes apart antisemites outside it that has won him a legion of fans.

He shot to fame online in the US in 2022, after Kanye West first began flaunting his open antisemitism, saying he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE”.

While it took a baffling amount of time for stars, sponsors and social justice warriors to decide West had gone too far, Paris-born Natan jabbed back quickly.

“If you’ve got a problem with me or my people, come see me, bro,” he said to the rapper in a post-fight interview after winning.

The comments, and many more since, made him an instant hero for many in the US Jewish community, desperate for a direct and muscular response — even if they hadn’t heard of him or ever watched UFC before.

Natan and his wife Dana have fully embraced his unexpected new role. And they’re expanding it by putting on free self-defence classes for the Jewish community in response to the October 7 attacks. They hope to do more across the country.

At the first class in Brooklyn, Natan, 32, who flew in from Las Vegas where he lives and trains, says dealing with antisemitism is harder than fighting.

“Training is fun, right? Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's painful. But I love to do it. Dealing with hate, it's not fun. It's hard, but it has to be done,” he tells me.

“Whatever I can do, I will do. For me, it's more about just focusing my energy towards the Jewish people and letting them know they should be strong, they should be proud.

“We're going to be hated anyway, so it doesn't matter if we explain ourselves or not. It doesn't matter if you pray or not, you believe in God or not. You keep Shabbat or not, they're going to hate you anyway.

“Whether you're proud of being Jewish or ashamed of being Jewish, you're going to be hated just the same. So might as well be proud, be happy, be confident.”

Natan guided men, women and children through the basics of self-defence at the free class in a gym on the top floor of a Jewish community centre in Brighton Beach.

He helped Elad Argaman, aged nine, learn how to block. His father Kfir, 36, brought him to the class because they were victims of antisemitic abuse in the street.

“I said to myself, you know what? I really need to learn how to defend my family,” Kfir says.

Everyone at the class is acutely aware of the spike in antisemitism since Hamas’s attack on Israel. Natan was in Israel when it happened, just 12 miles away for his cousin’s wedding.

“It was a holiday, everything was great. The whole family was reunited. In the morning there was a siren, we woke up a little bit surprised and ran to the bunker.

“We turned on the TV and started slowly realising what's going on. I didn't believe it. Then I understood it was real and that people were getting slaughtered.

“I was supposed to leave after a week but I stayed for almost a month. I thought it could get to a situation where we needed to fight for our home.

“Some people had to do this. Many didn't survive it, but many did and killed terrorists. And there are heroes who fought that day.

“But the moment I saw we weren't going to be recruited or needed, then I understood that the best course of action for me was to go back to Las Vegas and keep training for a fight. That would be the best way I could represent my country.”

Dana, herself a blackbelt in karate, says the online trolling frequently turns into real-life antisemitism. Last year an antisemitic troll turned up at Natan’s gym to fight him. Natan obliged and quickly beat him. But he still gets threatening phone calls at the gym.

“We don't ignore it. We're very aware of it. And even at this event, sadly for everyone's safety, we have a police officer outside who’s armed and watching,” Dana says.

“But we're Jewish, we're proud, we're Israeli, we're Zionists. If it causes someone to be offended or want to do something, then as Natan says ‘come see me, bro’ because we're not afraid of you.

“There are a lot of age ranges and genders here. A lot of women and families. Sadly, this is a reality now, and it's become more relevant to a lot of people to at least have the basic tools of defending themselves.”

Raz Chen, a Krav Maga instructor, brought a group from his class to the training session. They volunteer with the Community Security Service, effectively an American CST that provides security for synagogues and Jewish events.

Raz says: “Since October 7 the demand for security has tripled to the point where we're doing two events a week now.

‘We've seen some incidents over the last few weeks that we haven't in the last few years. So we've gained a lot of experience, you could say. And there's definitely a lot that we need to look out for.”

This is a big year for Natan. He has just announced that he will be fighting Mike Davis on 16 March in Las Vegas. If he wins, it will be his first big step towards breaking into the UFC elite. More fights will quickly follow. Perhaps then the lexicographers of the OED might have to seriously consider including the phrase Jew-Jitsu.

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