One Year Later

time piece

It’s hard to believe, but an entire year has passed since I moved to Cleveland. What a year it has been.

After ten years of being together, Michele and I are finally in the same city and under the same roof. This could, of course, have gone badly, but it has been wonderful from day one. We have learned a lot from and about each other. I imagine this is a never-ending process.

It has been a year of pleasant surprises…and others less pleasant. We have had our share of health-related issues in the last 12 months, but thank God we are doing fine now. We have traveled to some pretty exciting places: Columbus, Omaha, Chicago and Alaska! Lots of exciting plans for the future. Both of us have had unexpected opportunities and disappointments professionally. Through it all, we have been at each others’ sides.

My good friend, Rev. Tim Ahrens, is somewhat of an expert on the topic of transitions. He recommended a book that taught me a lot; one of the main points was that there cannot be any beginning without an ending. I think in previous parts of my life, there were new phases of my life that I tried to begin without really having ended the previous one. Although there were some issues (emotionally and otherwise) that I needed to work through, I think that my time in Columbus really did come to an end and wasn’t followed by a period of lingering. I jumped right into my new life: a new city (Cleveland has WAY surpassed my expectations), a new home (one that my wife and I have created together), and new employment.

I am thoroughly enjoying my work at Beth El – The Heights Synagogue; it is a small, independent minyan in Cleveland Heights–traditional and egalitarian. The shule has an interesting history and is not without its challenges, but it is very rare to find a place that embodies the kind of “pitch in and get things done” attitude that you find at BE-THS. This is a place that does not necessarily NEED a rabbi; there are plenty of members (some of whom are rabbis) who know how to give a drash, read Torah, etc. It is a shule that WANTS a rabbi and I am fortunate to have become connected with a really wonderful bunch of people. Did I mention we like to sing?

Work at the JCC has been most interesting. Although I passed my ACE certification to become a personal trainer in May of 2018, I did not start as a trainer at the JCC until mid-August and then did not train a member one-on-one until October. It is one thing to pass the exam and quite another to be able to translate the knowledge into action. I made my share of mistakes (more to come, I’m sure), but I have not hurt anyone. On the contrary, I am gratified to see the progress that many of my clients are making–especially some of my older adults who are seeing increased strength, agility and confidence. I have worked on a few projects (the Weight Loss Challenge–my team won!) and have several more in process now. I really like my colleagues who make it fun to come to work. I have been told by veteran trainers that it takes two years to really learn the “business” and to build a full roster of clients; I am pleased with my progress but I know there is a lot more hard work to come.

My take-aways from this last year:

  1. It is true that you cannot start something new without ending the old thing. I am glad to have had the circumstances in place to make the transition the right way.
  2. Transitions are difficult, and it helps to be kind to yourself. I am tough on myself and I am impatient. I am in the process of re-inventing myself after 26 years in the same role. Rome will not be built in a day, so I should not beat myself up when I have a setback.
  3. Humility is a virtue. I went from working as a congregational rabbi–a field in which I excelled and had a lot of experience–to being a personal trainer–a field in which I a newbie. It is good to be reminded that I have a lot to learn.
  4. Through the tough times of transition, there is nothing like the love of family to get you through it all. My kids have been so supportive–each in their own way. My siblings in Michigan have stayed close as always. My wife’s family has made me feel at home; it is a real treat to have family so close by and to be able to watch nieces and a nephew grow up in the neighborhood. And, of course, how very fortunate I am to have an amazing partner by my side. My wife is everything and more than I could have ever hoped for. She reminds me every day that good things come to those who wait, and some times nice guys finish first.

Today I celebrate a major milestone. Tomorrow…back to work and learning and loving. Thanks to all of you for joining me on my Kosher Fitness journey.

Exercise on the Sabbath

A few days ago at the Mandel JCC, a member who is a regular and long-time runner–who knows that I am a rabbi and a personal trainer–asked me (out of curiosity, I suppose), if running is permitted on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

This was not really the kind of question that I could answer on one foot (even though my left foot is still in a boot!), but I gave him the short answer, and promised to do a little more research. The short answer (so Jewish!) is: yes…and…no. It depends.

I started my “little more research” at my favorite Halachic (Jewish legal) source, Rabbi Googlowitz. A simple search on http://www.google.com revealed a surprisingly large number of web pages on this topic.

The long and the short of it…here is the issue. Traditionally, Shabbat is seen as being observed in two general ways: Shamor (guarding) and Zachor (remembering). These two broad categories come from the fact that the Aseret Hadibrot (The Ten Commandments) appear twice in the Torah–once in the Book of Exodus and once in the Book of Deuteronomy–in almost identical form. With regard to the observance of Shabbat (the 4th Commandment), one version uses the word Shamor and the other Zachor. Commentators said that the verses differ in order to instruct us that there are two aspects to making Shabbat holy and special. One is through guarding (observing the myriad laws about what can and cannot be done on the 7th day); the other is through remembering (doing the non-legal things that bring enjoyment to the day like having a festive meal, visiting friends, studying Torah, etc.) , often referred to as Oneg (literally, “joy”). The question becomes: is running simply exerting one’s body and therefore considered to be a violation of shamor–a kind of “work” with a productive purpose…or…is running an enjoyable activity in whose participation we can derive enjoyment, and therefore a kind of Zachor/Oneg? If the answer is the former, it is forbidden; if the answer is the latter, it is permitted. So…you are allowed to run, but only if it’s fun!

This is a very condensed version of the answer, but I was surprised to find that two pretty traditional websites: http://www.aish.com (Aish HaTorah) and http://www.ohr.edu (Ohr Sameach) said pretty much the same thing. Check them out for yourself to get the sources and the context.

By far the most comprehensive article I could find on the topic was written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner; it was endorsed overwhelmingly by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (the rabbinic association of the the Conservative Movement–which is ironically the name of one of the liberal/progressive branches of Judaism). He covers all kinds of exercises and the various circumstances and contexts in which athletic activities are permitted or not. Here is the web address: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/lubliner-recreation-sports-shabbat.pdf

My conclusion: like everything else having to do with exercise and athletic activity, if you’re not enjoying it…either you’re doing it wrong or perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it at all!

Tonight’s Purim Workout

This is the workout that I did this evening. It is based on the Book of Esther, and is annotated to explain the rationale behind each exercise from the story of Purim.

Try it out! It was a very schvitzy experience for all of us.

Purim Workout I – Hamantaschen Buster

Rabbi Michael Ungar

50 minute workout

Tabata:  40 seconds work, 20 seconds rest; each superset completed twice, followed by 90-second rest.  Total of six rounds of supersets (plus warm-up and cool-down)

Equipment needed:  mats, dumbbells, medicine ball, kettle bell

Achashverosh’s party – to reflect the party we stretched and danced for 1 minute to Hebrew Workout music from Spotify. King Achashverosh threw a party at which he asked his queen, Vashti, to dance. She refused so she was banished and the king searched for a new queen.

Warm-up:   Stretch & Dance

Beauty pageant – Not exactly politically-correct, but the king held a pageant to find a new queen. He chose Esther who (unbeknownst to him) was Jewish. The lunges represent the walk down the runway that pageant competitors do; Warrior 3 is like talent competition; floor hip abductions are because Esther managed to get a “leg up” on the competition.

Walking lunges with dumbbells

Warrior 3 (lean forward, balance on one leg, arms forward)

Floor Hip Abductions (on side, raise upper leg – each side 20 seconds)

Mordechai discovers the plot while sitting at the gate – Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king and reports it to the authorities; he is not rewarded, but his deeds are recorded in the king’s records. Sit-ups because the plot had have caused Mordechai to sit up; single-arm side bends because it looks like you are listening in when you do these; the Russian twist because…well…so many twists to the story.

Sit-ups

Dumbbell Side bends (one arm with dumbbell, other at ear)

Russian twists with weighted ball or kettlebell

Mordechai won’t bow to Haman – Haman, the king’s vizier was a power-hungry guy and no friend to the Jews. He had quite an ego and demanded that everyone bow down to him. The bent-over dumbbell rows represent those who did bow down; the upright rows or presses represent the Jews who would not bow down; the supermans because Mordechai was a super guy!!

Bent-over Dumbbell Rows

Upright Rows or Dumbbell Overhead Presses

Supermans

Haman plans to kill the Jews – Haman was so incensed by Mordechai’s and the Jews’ refusal to bow to him that he convinced the king to allow him to kill all the Jews with the excuse that they were different and not loyal to the ruler. Lots (in Hebrew, Purim) were drawn to determine the day it would happen. To represent his evil plot, this is the most evil superset in the workout; no one was killed in the workout, but it was close!

Burpees

Kettlebell swings

Push-ups

Esther intercedes – Mordechai knew the only way to save the Jews was to have Esther speak to her husband, the King. This would involve her revealing her true identity. It was a gamble, but Mordechai convinced Esther to do it. Her fear and ambivalence are reflected in shrugs; the front raises represent the king raising his scepter (a sign of his allowing her to speak); the hammer curls represent the strength Esther needed to confront the king and challenge Haman.

Dumbbell shrugs

Dumbbell Front Raises

Bicep Hammer Curls

The Jews are victorious – The king could not rescind the decree to have the Jews killed, but allowed the Jews to defend themselves. This prevented their being destroyed; Haman and his sons were hanged and the Jews were, once again, victorious. The squats represent our enemies who were reduced to squat; we crushed our enemies; and the tricep kickbacks? A reminder of the three-cornered hat worn by Haman that is the basis for the three-cornered Hamantaschen pastry we eat on the holiday.

Dumbbell Squats

Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Tricep Kickbacks

The Celebration – After a tough workout, there is no better way to celebrate than to cool down and stretch it out. And that is a workout based on the Book of Esther and the Purim Story!

Stretches

Who am I?

My name is Michael Ungar. I am an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and an ordained Rabbi.

I was born in Detroit in 1963 and grew up in Southfield (a suburb). I graduate from Kalamazoo College with a double-major in Political Science and Spanish with a minor in Latin America Area Studies. I was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in 1992, where I also received an MA in Jewish Education, specializing in Holocaust Education.

I served as a congregational Rabbi from 1992 through 2018. When I moved to Cleveland in the summer of 2018 I became the spiritual leader at Beth El- The Heights Synagogue in Cleveland Heights; it is a small, independent, traditional egalitarian congregation with about 70 families. I also began working as a Personal Trainer at the Mandel Jewish Community Center; my clients range in age from 16 to 77.

On a personal note, I have five kids (blended family) ranging from 18 – 25, an amazing wife who supports my hopes and dreams, and a bichpoo named Belle.

I love to travel and have been all over the USA, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Israel, Egypt and the Caribbean. I speak English, Spanish and Hebrew fluently; I can get by in French, and know just enough Yiddish to get in (and out of) trouble.

Growing up, there was not a real emphasis on fitness in my family. I was typically chosen last for every team in elementary and middle school. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 12 and spent much of the next three decades trying to keep that under control.

In my late 30s I was given a 5-pack of personal training as a birthday gift. At my first meeting, the trainer said, “I’ll meet with you once a week, but you’ve got to get in here at least two times a week on top of that.” I did not want to disappoint this guy; after all, he could crush me! That was the beginning of my beginning to take my fitness more seriously.

I made use of the services of trainers on and off over the years, but pretty consistently once I moved to Columbus in 2002. Two trainers in particular, Todd Johnson and Carlie Snyder, inspired me to set audacious goals and work to achieve them. I competed in my first triathlon in 2011. I have competed in more 5Ks than I can count (and even won two of them in my 50s!), have completed 3 half-marathons and several obstacle course races.

After 26 years as a congregational Rabbi, I decided to focus on helping people in a different way as a Personal Trainer. I attended classes at the Ohio State University to prep for the ACE exam and passed on my first sitting–such naches! I am thrilled to be the Rabbi at BE-THS; I love the people and I love the davening. I am also thrilled to be a Personal Trainer at the Mandel JCC.

I hope to make contributions in both of these careers through this blog. I look forward to getting to know you, my readers, and allowing you to get to know me too!