The Difficult Climb Out

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Many years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Majdanek Concentration/Death Camp in Poland.  There is a huge sculpture that looks somewhat like a menorah that dominates the landscape.  As visitors get closer, they see that there is a long sloping path that goes under the menorah; the way out is a steep set of rock stairs.  The symbolism was to show how easy it was to slide into the situation that led to the Holocaust, and how difficult it was for those caught up in it to get out.

This week’s Torah portion reflects a similar idea.  The process by which the Children of Israel came into slavery in Egypt looks somewhat quick and easy; it occurs over the course of just a few verses.  The way out, however, took 400 years and a series of miraculous events.  Even then, by the end of the Torah, the Israelites still had not reached the Promised Land.  The contrast is striking.

Often in life we make decisions or take actions that are not well-thought out; we take the easy route instead of the right one.  Sometimes the repercussions are not really consequential.  Other times, though, we find ourselves entangled in webs from which we are not able to extract ourselves so easily.  Parashat Shemot–and the many parashiyot that follow it–remind us that what may seem inconsequential now may end up being quite significant further down the road.  It is up to us to see beyond the moment and think about the future.

Water…water…

Desert, Jordan

The Weight Loss Challenge where I work is now in full swing. Last night was the first group fitness class offered by one of the other coaches. It was a big group and notable that many had not brought water with them. This is not a formula for success.

We hear a lot about keeping hydrated. We are not like camels who are able to store water for long periods and long distances. We use water to nourish our bodies and we lose water through sweating which helps to keep us cool. We must continually replenish. So what are the rules for water consumption with exercise?

Generall speaking the following guidelines apply:

  • 2-3 cups of fluid 2 hours BEFORE the start of exercise
  • 1 cup of fluid every 10-20 minutes DURING exercise
  • 2-3 cups of fluid for every pound of body weight lost AFTER exercise

You’ll notice that I put “fluid” instead of “water.” Water is always excellent, but there are sports drinks that work as well. It is also better to drink something cool that something hot; this improves the speed of absorption. We also know that there are some liquids that actually accelerate dehydration: coffee and alcohol are two prime examples. This is not to say that you cannot have a glass of wine at dinner after exercising; just remember that this cannot be your primary form of hydration.

Dehydration is not pretty. It can lead to dizziness, loss of conscience, nausea and headaches. Bring a water bottle to the gym or to your class; this will help ensure that you are drinking enough.

Get your exercise on, but remember to get your hydration on as well!

When Values Clash…on Iran

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This past week has been a very troubling one.  The killing of Soleimani has heightened tensions with Iran.  The circumstances of a Ukrainian airliner’s crash in Tehran are murky.  Iran has targeted US bases in Iraq.  It is a real morass.

There is little doubt that Soleimani was not a nice guy.  There is little doubt that the Iranian regime is problematic at best.  And yet, we worry about the possibility of an armed conflict and what it might mean for those who will have to fight it…as well as those who may get caught in the crossfire–including those in Israel.

I am reminded of my study of Talmud.  The Talmud’s style is to ask every question imaginable (even those you could not imagine!).  It debates each opinion and even itself.  It digs deeper and deeper until we may forget the original question.  Rabbis disagree with each other on issues of law and conduct.  It is full of “on the one hand…and on the other hand.”

What is happening in the Middle East now (as always) is more complicated than it seems.  Nothing is truly clear cut.  It is difficult to know what the US Administration’s motives are.  We cannot know what the Iranian regime is thinking. We do not know all the intelligence that is out there.  We tend to follow whatever news source confirms what we already think from our own political or emotional perspective.

It is not easy to know what to think for certain…which is why the last week has felt like a dive into the Talmud for me.  And why so many of us are so worried.

One thing that is clear from our tradition is that there are times when values may clash with each other.  Sometimes there are two options that both seem right, or that both seem wrong.  How do we know what to choose?  How do we know what to believe?  Judaism teaches us that when values come into conflict we must try to follow the example set by the students of Aaron the Priest:  we must love peace and pursue it.

There are times when war is necessary.  First, however, we must seek to avoid it all costs.  If there is a way to save a life, it must be a priority.  May our tradition guide us and our leaders through the rough waters ahead.

Shabbat Shalom!

Jews Standing Up for Ourselves…Because So Few Others Do

People hold signs of support near the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 29, 2019 in Monsey, New York. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP)
Photo Credit: Kena Betancur

This Sunday there will be a Solidarity March in New York; it is a response to the terrible wave of anti-Semitic violence taking place in our nation. 
I remember when I was in Rabbinical School that I attended a march in Washington, DC, in solidarity with Soviet Jews.  Little did we know at the time that communism would fall in a few years and that hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would be emigrating.  I also recall participating in rallies in support of political and social justice causes that did not directly affect me but that I felt were important to our society.  I even brought my kids with me or made sure they knew about it; this kind of behavior reflected some of the best of what Judaism teaches.
It seems so strange that after Jews (and the organized Jewish Community) have marched and rallied and lobbied for decades on behalf of others we must now join together in order to protect ourselves.  I sincerely hope that just as we have stood up for others, others will stand up for us.
These are trying times.  We cannot be silent.  At the same time we cannot allow ourselves to be divided; this is precisely what anti-Semites want.  We cannot accuse others within the Jewish community of supporting the “wrong” political party; our tradition tells us that this kind of behavior brought about the destruction of the Second Temple.  We must focus on what unites us.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to make it to New York on Sunday.  Rest assured, though, there will be many opportunities to stand up and stand together–not just for ourselves but for others who are persecuted as well.  The struggle, I fear, is only just beginning.

How To Keep Your Fitness Resolution

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It is that time of the year. At gyms across the country, the “resolutionaries” are making their presence known…for the next few weeks anyhow.

If this is the year when you really want to work on a “new you,” remember that there is no such thing as a “new you.” At best, we can only hope for a better version of ourselves. Total transformations are rare; incremental long-term change is more realistic.

How can we best keep our resolutions? As I have blogged in the past, we should focus less on a weight we want to get to or a size we want to fit into. The emphasis should be on building a healthy lifestyle. When we focus on lifestyle, we are more likely to make a sustained change than simply starting a diet…and falling off of it in a week.

Another way to stick to the resolution to get healthier is to surround oneself with others who can give us positive encouragement or who are on the same journey as we are. That is why joining a gym is so popular…but it is important to take advantage of the professionals there to help build a program that is safe, effective and keeps us motivated. It is easy to give up if we feel we are in this alone.

Try to keep goals as specific as possible so that there is a way to measure success. “I will go to the gym” is not as effective as “I will go to the gym 3 times a week,” which is not as effective as “I will go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday before I go to work.” Create simple rules that are easy to stick by that are specific as well like: “no eating after dinner,” or “limit desserts to Friday and Saturday dinner only, ” etc. When we keep our goals fuzzy we have no way to really see if we are making headway. Even if we may not see the results in terms of weight loss, when we keep our gaols specific we will see that we are building a healthy lifestyle–which is the best for our health in the long run.

Finally, look back at past attempts to get healthy. Why did they fail? What were the obstacles? Take some time and strategize how to overcome them. If we realize that we are too tired to work out in the evening, figure out a better time to do it. If we always feel like we are in it by ourselves, find a friend or family member to engage in the journey too. We should not expect to do the same things that failed before over and over again and get different results. Plan ahead for success.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and fit 2020!

Turning Dreams into Reality

Dream Catcher

Torah portion, Miketz, it is Pharaoh himself who dreams; Joseph’s interpretation of those dreams and his knowing what to do with those interpretations catapult him to the second highest office in all of Egypt.
Herein lies an important distinction.  It is one thing to dream (or to be a dreamer).  It is another thing to be able to interpret or understand what the dream means (like, I shouldn’t have had a burrito before I went to bed!).  It is quite another thing to take that interpretation and convert it into a plan of action–which is exactly what Joseph did.  Dreams without a strategy remain just that:  dreams.


This is a timely message for us as we approach the new secular year.  Many of us make New Year’s Resolutions which are, in a way, dreams that we have for the new year.  Making a resolution, however, without a concrete way to make it all happen is an exercise in futility and/or folly.  If we think about the resolutions that we have made in the past, how many of them went unfulfilled simply because we did not really think through how to make them a reality?  This is true whether the resolution has to do with study, work, relationships or physical fitness.  No plan equals no success.


This is a concept that Joseph understood well.  He was a dreamer and he understood others’ dreams too.  What set him apart was what he did next.  As we begin 2020, we should ask ourselves as well…what must we do next to make our dreams a reality?

Weight Lifting on a Salad and a Piece of Cheese

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Twice today at the gym I had conversations with individuals that came back to questions of nutrition and fitness goals.

In the first case, it was someone who signed up for an indoor triathlon. He and I were discussing the best strategies to prepare for a race that is just over a month away. During our talk, he mentioned that he is trying to lose weight and that he is starting a diet in January that is basically all animal-based proteins, fruits and vegetables (and nothing else!). Under other circumstances, such a diet might be a great way to lose weight, but while training for a triathlon it may not be the best approach. It is essential to make sure that we are properly fueling our bodies for the intense training we are doing. By the way, most folks training for races find that the rigorous regimen causes them to lose weight in any case. I directed him toward resources about how to best train for the triathlon and what would be the best way to fuel his body. That diet may have to wait until after the race.

Just as I was about to leave the gym a person came to the trainer’s office and asked for a cup to get some water for her husband who was feeling dizzy. I went out onto the floor to find a young man lying on an incline bench looking pretty pale; he had been doing incline dumbbell presses. I adjusted the bench to put his head down and then we put his legs (knees up) on the bench as well. After some water, he began to feel better. I asked him what he had eaten that day. “Salad and some cheese. Oh, wait, I think a piece of fruit. Maybe a slice of bread.” Yikes! This was the early evening and that was his total consumption for the day. I understand that young men and women want to get that “cut” look and try to eat very lean, but again, we have to make sure our bodies are properly fueled for what we are asking them to do. Lifting weights on that few calories–and carb-free–was not a good idea.

I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but my education as a personal trainer does include the background science on how we digest foods, how we fuel our bodies and how we build muscle.

There are lots of resources on the web; before you embark on a serious exercise regimen or training for a race check those our or talk to a nutrition expert. This second young man was lucky that he was with someone else and that he wasn’t on a piece of equipment where he could have really hurt himself had he passed out.

Here are a couple of good articles on the topic:

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/food-as-fuel-before-during-and-after-workouts

https://www.self.com/story/signs-youre-not-eating-enough-before-a-workout

With the New Year approaching and lots of resolutions to consider–including weight loss–do not forget that we need to eat smart and make sure that our bodies get what they need.