By Alicia McElhaney
As bikini season approaches, men and women alike are hitting the gym, working out, toning up and eating clean in order to look great on the beach for spring break and beyond. Abundant tips can be found in magazines and online about how to look great and get in shape; however, tips for staying both fit and religiously observant are few and far between.
However, there are plenty of people in the Jewish community who make sure to do both.
Trainers like Chaim Backman in New York City train Orthodox individuals for races around the city for the TriChai Triathalon Club, according to Jewish Week. And kosher gyms, which boast separate facilities for men and women, are springing up across the nation.
Now it seems as though Maryland is catching up on the trend. Fitness is now the focus for several local Jews, including two women who are involved in the Maryland Jewish Experience (MJX) on campus.
Lakie Blech, a fitness instructor originally from New York, recently moved to Silver Spring, Md., where she teaches Zumba classes for women at the Young Israel Shomrei Emunah, a synagogue in the area.
“As a teenager, I would go to fitness classes, and I thought they were fun and awesome,” said Blech, who found her passion for fitness at a young age. “It was always in the back of my head that I would become a fitness instructor.
However, prior to Blech seeing the exercise light, she recalls never being the healthiest person. So when did fitness click for her?
“I felt the effects of fitness, all of the endorphins, feeling stronger and becoming skinnier,” Blech said of her “aha” moment.
Blech taught her first fitness classes on a small scale at the summer camp she attended. Eventually she was hired there as an instructor.
Word of mouth launched Blech’s career as a fitness instructor and gave her the opportunity to work at many Jewish centers and even celebrations.
Blech even released a DVD called Lakie Dance, which caters to Orthodox women who are not comfortable exercising in public. The video features Blech in modest clothing, dancing and having a great time with several class participants. The music in the DVD is 100 percent kosher, as well.
“I am as qualified as any fitness instructor, but I am also an Orthodox Jewish female. There are some restrictions I face, but within them, there are things I can do,” said Blech, discussing specific challenges she faces in the fitness market.
She teaches mostly women-only classes, which allow her to wear typical workout gear. However, when she does teach classes open to everyone, Blech is fully dressed in modest garb.
Despite the challenges, Blech is in love with fitness. Her passion for fitness comes across in her teaching, where her enthusiasm and vivacity keep the classes fun.
Blech offered this advice for Orthodox women looking to get fit: “Go to classes! Do things that are active. Zumba classes are awesome – go to them,” she said.
Malka Koretzky is a speech language pathologist and fitness fanatic. She is married to Rabbi Ari Koretzky, an MJX Rabbi, and frequently makes Shabbat dinners for students on campus.
Koretzky sees fitness not only as a physical fulfillment, but also a spiritual one. In January, she ran a half-marathon with her husband to raise money for MJX.
Koretzky decided to take her fitness to a new level after having her first child. “I said to my best friend, ‘Well, I’m a mom now so I guess I’ll just be fat,’” said Koretzky. However, her friend reminded her that things did not have to be that way.
“As life becomes more complicated, I realized that the self-care piece is more important, especially to keep all the other parts going,” said Koretzky.
So Koretzky started to run. She successfully dropped weight after her four pregnancies, and continues to run about three days a week.
Koretzky, however, does face some challenges when it comes to fitness. “I feel like it’s a battle with myself here to stay fit. I do it because I’m committed, not because I’m this super fit person,” said Koretzky.
Despite this, Koretzky plans to continue her journey in fitness. According to her, fitness fits in with staying Orthodox.
“As an observant woman, I believe that I have a purpose to fulfill in this world. I have to do acts of kindness to others, and in order to do acts of service, I have to be healthy,” said Koretzky.
Koretzky sees her body as a vessel that holds her soul. She feels that fitness helps her guard and keep her body healthy, much like buckling up in a car or avoiding smoking.
Though many would vouch that fitness and Judaism do not always work together, Koretzky disagrees.
“There is no contradiction,” she said. “The two go hand in hand.”