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The Jewish Physique

May 9, 2009 | by Richard Rabkin

You mean abs aren't for washing clothes? A guy endures emasculating aerobics teachers and tortuous exercise devices to discover he needs his scale to read "balanced".

When you're a teenager, you can eat enough for dinner to feed a small African village for a week, and still ask "what's for dessert" without going into cardiac arrest. Then you go off to college, and a slowing metabolism coupled with dorm food and a constant flow of alcohol to your system, start to do some damage. This condition is called the "freshman 15," or the "freshman 150" in some cases, a cute nickname for the weight that you gained. But it isn't much of a problem. You go home for the summer, friends from high school laugh at you, you go jogging a couple of times, and you're back to normal.

Now that I'm getting older, it's not as easy.

My tight pants meant that I was in big trouble. I needed to get serious. I needed to go on a DIET!

I could have handled the weight gain had I not been confronted with the possibility that I may have to buy a new wardrobe just to avoid the "Incredible Hulk effect" (i.e. the clothes on your back start ripping because you suddenly turn into an overweight blob). The fact that soon I was going to have to buy new belts and new pants was too humiliating to consider. I was not going to any maternity store for men and wander around my house in a bathrobe all of the time with rollers in my hair and guacamole dip on my face. Not if I could help it!

I bought the "healthrider" which could just as easily be called the "deathrider".

So like any other foolish North American I turned to my television for counsel. The first step was acquiring a piece of exercise equipment. So I bought the "healthrider" which could just as easily be called the "deathrider" as far as I was concerned. It is supposed to exercise all the muscles in your body, but to achieve this task you have to turn yourself into a circus animal. It didn't take me long to realize that the deathrider wasn't for me.

Next, I saw a commercial for the "Ab-master." Now this looked good! They interviewed all of these fat people before they start using this contraption and a few weeks later they look like Jean Claude Van Damme. I started using the Van Damme master, as I liked to call it, and it was easy enough, but after a few weeks I realized that it's only good for tightening your abdominal muscles, not losing weight.

I sign up for aerobics classes at the local Jewish Community Center. Yes, I did feel like I was compromising my masculinity by going to step aerobics, but the option of having to wear the male version of a mumu seemed worse. My class was comprised of ten Jewish mothers, and me. When I walked in the first day the aerobics instructor came over to me and quietly said, "The weight room is actually down the hall."

After a while, the abuse that my masculinity was taking was unbearable.

I was determined to stay and I was starting to notice some results, but my fellow classmates were not particularly sensitive to the only male member of the group. The instructor would bark all instructions beginning with the phrase: "O.K. Ladies." Occasionally, I would add "and man," but my efforts were in vain. In addition, there were only so many times that I could hear the song "It's raining men" without wanting to show up to class in pink leotards. So I did the manly thing and stepped down.

Back to the TV I went for answers, and this time, I found a man with pectoral muscles the size of pumpkins who said that he had the answer for me. His name was Billy, and he had developed a workout system which was a mix of tae kwon do and boxing, called "Tae Bo."

I bought the tape, and started working out every day. Believe it or not, I was beginning to see the pay off. I started tightening my belt notch by notch until I got to the other side.

This adventure into fatland made me wonder where the line is between health and obsession.

This adventure into fatland made me wonder where the line is between health and obsession. It is certainly a Jewish ideal to keep yourself fit and healthy. In fact the Bible tells us "v'nishmartem meod l'nafshoteichem" (Deut. 4:15), which our Sages have interpreted to mean that we have an obligation to treat our bodies well, and not do anything that would harm them. I know a number of rabbis who have memberships at the gym and work out on a regular basis.

On the other hand, there must be some limit to this obsession. Perhaps spending hundreds of dollars on "deathriders" and "Van Damme masters," and devoting hours in the gym each day to lose one more pound or get that washboard stomach is a waste of time. Living in the gym can make us lose sight of things that are really important. Physical health must be accompanied by spiritual health.

If we are spiritually fat, maybe we should put in some time with a different personal trainer, like Rabbi Billy Blankstein. His pectoral muscles may not be as big, but he might be able to share some wisdom with you beyond how to knock your opponent to the ground.

There must be a balance. On the one hand, if a friend is trying to fix me up on a date with someone, I don't want the only good thing that he can say about me to be: "Well he has a really good sense of humor," (while thinking: "But when he goes down to Sea World, the whales get excited because they think it is their long lost brother coming home.") On the other hand, I don't want him to say: "Well he has really great abs,"(while thinking: "But he has about as much personality as a Fig Newton.") So, although I will make sure to keep on fighting the battle of the bulge, don't expect to see me starring in Jean Claude Van Damme's new movie "The Jew and the Belgian." For now I'll stick to splitting my time between Billy Blanks and Rabbi Blankstein.

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