Vegetarians…We Are Not Alone

Impossible Burger at Hell's Kitchen, Minneapolis

It used to be a pretty lonely business going out to eat in a restaurant as a pescatarian/vegetarian. Other folks see 100 items on the menu, but we see 5 or 6…or at least we used to.

There is a boom in the plant-based food industry and it is not because there are suddenly more vegetarians or vegans. The NPD group, a market research firm based in New York State, is reporting that of all those purchasing and eating plant-based burgers 89% are not vegetarian or vegan! 89%!!!

This is according to an article which recently appeared on http://www.nbcnews.com. Here is the link: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/almost-90-percent-people-eating-non-meat-burgers-are-not-n1082146

My wife and I went out to dinner with friends this evening and one of them ordered an Impossible Burger (so did I!). He is a meat eater, but we convinced him to give it a try. He liked it. As the article states, it seems that plant-based foods have crossed a threshold; taste has finally caught up to what consumers are looking for. Those looking for variety in their diet want to try new things, but will only stick with it if the taste holds up. Products like the Impossible Burger or nearly everything made by Gardein (www.gardein.com) hold their own against animal-based products.

Of course, just because something is plant-based doesn’t mean that it is necessarily healthier to eat. When you order a burger at a restaurant, it may have some salt, pepper, and other spices mixed in but it is otherwise usually not highly processed. Compare this with an Impossible Burger’s ingredients and you’ll see that it is quite processed indeed.

Even so, as the taste meets a higher standard and profitability grows for plant-based food companies, we can expect to see more variety and more healthy options available for everyone–not just vegetarians. Given the impact of the meat industry on the environment, this could be a win for the planet as well.

This is an interesting and exciting trend and it is nice to know that as vegetarians we are not alone.

And God Wouldn’t Let Him Sacrifice his Son Either

Image result for guns

“Will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?”  That is the challenge that Abraham placed before God when he heard of the Lord’s plans to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham negotiated with God until they agreed that if 10 innocent people could be found, the cities would be spared destruction.
I think about the question posed by Abraham this Shabbat in the context of the epidemic of gun violence in our country.  Just yesterday another school shooting “swept away the innocent.”  Who in that school could have possibly been wicked?  Who deserves to have their life cut short in such a violent way?
The Constitution does guarantee the right to bear arms, but too often the 2nd Amendment seems to be an impediment to achieving the very aims of that same Constitution:  “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  Too often it seems that the Constitution is used as a weapon itself, and the innocent are swept away along with the guilty.
Will we, like Abraham, raise our voices?  Will we protest?  Thoughts and prayers are nice but that is not what Abraham did.  He spoke truth to power.  Can we follow his example?

Stay Away from the Gym!*

The Sleeping Dog Lies

*A couple of days ago I had a conversation at the gym with two young men; we were in the sauna and one asked “I wonder if the sauna is good for my fever….” Um…what?!?! I had just seen them both working out in the Fitness Center. In the course of the very brief conversation, it came out that the other young man had only slept two hours the night before. Again…um…what?

I am as much of a workout/gym fanatic as the next guy/gal but there are times when I know I should not be at the gym–if not for my own well-being then for the well-being of others who come to workout to get healthy…not sick!

How do I know when to stay home? If I am contagious or otherwise have what appear to be infectious symptoms, I obviously stay home. Otherwise, usually my body tells me. Sometimes I am just so tired that I cannot drag myself out of bed or off the couch; this is my body telling me that it needs a break. Of course, I cannot do this every day, by every once in a while it does occur.

A recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com focused on times when we should stay home from the gym. SPOILER ALERT!!! Here are the subject headings, but it is worth reading the entire article: 1. When we are really stressed. 2. When we are sleep-deprived. 3. When we are feeling under the weather. 4. When we are really sore. 5. When we’ve just checked a marathon off our bucket list. The author, Stephanie Mansour, goes into depth and explains why we sometimes need to step back in order to be more effective when we step forward again.

Luckily I had read the article before the conversation and I told these two men (politely) that they might want to rethink their decision and wait until they are in the proper shape before they head back to the gym. Give this article a read: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/lifestyle/5-times-when-you-shouldn-t-work-out-ncna1068281–especially the next time you are not sure whether you should give it your all…or give it a rest.

The Holocaust, Pushing Myself, and an Admission of how Weird I Am

Image result for columbus jcc obstacle course

Warning: this will be a strange post, but one that will give you some insight into what makes me tick…and how Judaism and Fitness intersect in my life.

When I was younger, I was not athletic at all. This was not helped by the fact that when I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (and my weight had dropped to 69 pounds). I was not a healthy kid and athletics were not really a thing in my family to begin with.

There were members of my family who were survivors of the Holocaust, and even more who did not survive. I remember learning about the Holocaust when I was in elementary school (too early to see the kind of documentary footage that was shown to me). I remember thinking as a teenager that had I been alive then, I never would have survived. I could not have made it without my medicine. I was weak. I was pale. It sounds morbid, but in the minds of some Jewish people I think we ask ourselves what our fates would have been had we not had the fortune to be on this side of the Atlantic or in the Land of Israel back then

As I grew older, I spoke with cousins who were survivors and heard their stories. Some of them were sent on “death marches” as the war was coming to a close. Concentration and death camps were being dismantled and evacuated, and inmates were forced to walk (or run) westward away from the advancing Red Army. Those who could not keep up were shot or died along the way; some made it until the liberation. I am in awe of my relatives who made the walk despite terrible conditions, inappropriate clothing to protect them from the elements, and a starvation diet. How did they find the strength to go on? What choice did they have?

Over the years in my fitness journey, part of my motivation was to be “ready” physically if things should ever get bad, if history (God forbid) were to repeat itself. When I run and I get tired, I remember those on the forced marches and I push myself to go the distance. This was especially true when I used to train and compete on the Black Diamond Obstacle Course the JCC of Greater Columbus. If you are unfamiliar with the course, it is outstanding and the result of a great deal of effort by committed employees at the JCC there. For a couple of years, the obstacle course was my playground. Often during my training I would think about those living in the forests or on the run in the woods during that dark period; the obstacle course runs through a wooded area by the JCC and near Alum Creek so the setting seems reminiscent. Again, whenever I felt I couldn’t do an obstacle I thought about my relatives, and pushed myself a little further.

I don’t know if this is normal. I used to think I was maybe a little paranoid, but perhaps I am more of a realist. I pray that things will never get back to the terrible horrors of WWII, but now when I think about it, I am convinced that I would have a much better chance of surviving than I did as a teenager. I am fitter, have greater endurance, and have tested my mettle on a few occasions. But who knows?

This is not my total motivation for fitness. In actuality, I want to stay healthy for my wife and kids…and someday grand-kids (?). I want to get the most out of life for as long as I can. I want to be fit–not because of fears from the past, but because of my hope for the future.

Following Abram Outside of Our Comfort Zones

Image result for comfort zone

There is an expression in the fitness world that is often found on motivational posters:  “If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Won’t Change You.”  In other words, if we are doing exercises that don’t really push us beyond our comfort zone, we won’t see results; using the same weights and the same number of reps over and over is not only a recipe for boredom, but also for disappointment.  As a trainer, I continually work on progression, moving my clients from one level of challenge to the next.
This philosophy is true not just with regard to fitness, but in other areas of our lives as well.  At work, if we stick to the tasks we know well and never challenge ourselves to learn new skills or new parts of the organization, we will stagnate.  In school, if we only take subjects that interest us or are only on one topic, we will never expand our horizons and perhaps even our points of view.  In our relationships, if we merely ever stick to the tried and true, there is a danger of allowing love or friendship to slowly die.  We must always challenge ourselves.
I am reminded of this especially on this Shabbat when we read Parashat Lech Lecha.  The Lord spoke to Abram and told him to go forth from everything with which he was familiar to a new land where God would make him into a great and mighty nation.  Talk about getting outside of one’s comfort zone!  This was the ultimate challenge and not only did it change Abram (to Abraham!), but it altered the history of humanity.
Change is scary; it is tough to leave behind that with which we are comfortable.  One truth in life, however, is that change is inevitable.  We can be objects and have things happen to us, or we can be like Abram and be the subjects of our lives by challenging ourselves to be more tomorrow than we are today.

I was going to write about self-doubt…but I wasn’t sure

question mark

One of my clients recently shared with me that they are working on trying to defeat self-doubt–not just at the gym but in life in general.

This struck a chord with me as I think it probably does with all of us. Sometimes we listen to the voices of others who tell us we cannot accomplish something, but more often it is the voice inside our own head that is telling us that we are unable, unworthy, or even unlovable.

As a relatively new personal trainer (only in the industry for about 18 months), I have my doubts as well. I don’t know the name of every muscle. I don’t always know the perfect exercise for every issue presented to me right off the bat. I have self-doubts about the work that I do.

Funny thing is that it is really all in my head. My clients have no idea that sometimes I feel like I’m winging it. [Unless, of course, they read this blog post!] Then I see the results that my clients are getting and I wonder why I am doubting myself; they are making progress that pleasantly surprises me and them. I remember all the studying I did to past the ACE PT Exam, and all the continuing education and reading I have done since them. Then I tell myself, that maybe I actually do know what I am doing.

I realize that some of my self-doubt comes from being new at this. I remember when I first became a rabbi that I had doubts about my capabilities. When I graduated from seminary I was almost 29 years old; what did I know about anything? I would agonize over sermons, eulogies, classes I would teach, etc. Did members of my congregation even know? [Not unless, of course, the read this blog post!] To this day, I am still in contact with friends from my first pulpit and I hear stories about the difference I made. After 25+ years in the pulpit, I felt good about my “craft.” I was confident that I was able to help people and that I was even ready to mentor others. This came with years of experience–not in my first congregation.

I remind myself of this when self-doubt creeps up at the gym while I am training others; I cut myself some slack and tell myself I don’t have to be perfect. In fact, none of us has to be perfect. No one expects it from us: not our families, not our employers, not our partners, not even God. All we have to do is try to be the best we can be; it may not be enough for some, but that is their problem not mine.

Perhaps a New Year’s Resolution for 2020 will be for me to work on banishing self-doubt–not just at the gym but at life in general. As Stuart Smalley used to say on SNL, “I’m good enough and I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

The morning after…

Dia de los muertos

As I write this message it is Halloween night across America and Dia de los Muertos in many Spanish-speaking countries.  I have lots of memories of trick-or-treating as a kid…and of lots of candy too.  
I don’t want to comment on whether Jewish families should participate or not, but rather to note that the macabre focus on the dead in Halloween is foreign to Jewish tradition.  But wait…what about Yizkor…and Yahrzeits…and Kaddish…and sitting Shiva?  It is true that Judaism has a way of memorializing the departed, but death is never glorified.  Martyrdom is not something to be admired, but seen as a sometimes necessary evil.  The Kaddish prayer is a praise of God and doesn’t even mention death.  The Book of Psalms tells us that “the dead cannot praise You [God].”  In other words, the preference is to be alive.
The Torah teaches us that we always have a choice.  Life and death are before us, so “choose life.”  We do not know what happens after we are gone.  We do not know for sure about the full nature of the spiritual world.  All we can know for sure (and even that in a limited way) is the world of creation in which we live.  
It is for this reason that Judaism never came up with a Day of the Dead.  Rather, each day is a day to focus on living life to the fullest.  May we all be blessed with many years of good health and life!  Lechaim!