Pumping Iron for the Payes Set

I need to re-post my Jewish Week article from this past week, which is yet another exploration into the ostensibly odd ways that haredim and hipsters are coming together over exercise in the Bushwick-Williamsburg area. Finally, at long last, it seems that Brooklyn’s ultra-ultra-Orthodox  community is taking a serious interest in working out and keeping their bodies healthy, something that, well, without which, they wouldn’t even be able to continue studying Torah. So I say kudos and mazel tov to the increasing number of Satmars bringing their buddies to the gym, one-by-one.

Another reason I’m re-posting this is because all of the commentary the article has been generating on Vos Iz Neais and on FailedMessiah.com. One of my favorite comments thus far (this one from Vos Iz Neais): “I’m amazed how obsessed theses reporters are with us chasidic men, everyday there’s another article about us, I wonder if it’s because of our high level of education or simply because of our good looks.”

Anyway, enjoy the story, and leave me your thoughts on these issues as well.

Pumping Iron For The Payes Set

David  Lowey hits the elliptical and studies the Talmud at Green Fitness. Sharon Udasin

David Lowey hits the elliptical and studies the Talmud at Green Fitness. Sharon Udasin
In Williamsburg, chasids and hipsters are increasingly working out alongside one another.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Sharon Udasin, Staff Writer

Taking a mid-afternoon break from running his busy Williamsburg restaurant, David Lowey hustled over to a new Bushwick gym and hopped on an elliptical machine, pedaling vigorously in his full Satmar regalia.

Tzitzit dangling from his black pants and payes swinging over his ears, the 290-pound 26-year-old breathed heavily, as he scrolled through the day’s Daf Yomi Talmud page online, from a touch-screen computer panel in front of him.

When he began working out three months ago, Lowey was the lone Satmar member of Green Fitness Studio, an eco-friendly gym that opened in December and serves a primarily hipster clientele.

But with Lowey, who has already lost 60 pounds, leading the way, more than 100 members of his community now work out at Green Fitness, some in their three-piece formal wear, others sampling the gym’s complimentary sweats.

“I pushed them a lot because I feel there’s a need in the chasidic community for [exercise] — the obesity problem is overwhelming,” Lowey said.

Green Fitness Studio is not the only Williamsburg-area gym where chasidic Jews now exercise alongside hipsters. Soma in Williamsburg also has a chasidic clientele. And fitness-minded Satmars and hipsters also interact over a shared interest in cycling, at Baruch Herzfeld’s Treif Bike Gesheft bike shop in Williamsburg.

With hipsters and chasidim living within blocks of each other, “there’s a much greater intermingling of cultures and interests than

Allan Lewis, Lowey's personal trainer and co-owner of Green Fitness.

we’ve been trained to expect,” Herzfeld said. “There are chasidim who do triathlons. There are many chasidim who have outside interests that would surprise us.”

While Green Fitness Studio’s owners Allan Lewis and Barry Borgen are both Jewish, outreach to the chasidic community was not part of the initial business plan. Instead, the focus for the new venture, which joins just a few other trendy new locales a couple blocks from the Morgan Avenue L-train stop, was on eco-friendliness.

Aside from its regular LifeFitness treadmills — which are actually refurbished secondhand units — Lewis said that Green Fitness’ other equipment is entirely self-powered, and the spinning studio features flooring made of bamboo, which grows much faster than most wood and is considered a more renewable resource.

While chasidic Jews were initially below the owners’ radar, when Lowey rented the gym’s outdoor atrium to host a benefit and his fascinated party guests ventured into the empty gym, shedding their fedoras and testing out the bodybuilding equipment for themselves, Lewis and Borgen had an idea — why not invite these guys to join the gym?

There were a few stumbling blocks, however.

“Men and women don’t like to work out together,” Lewis told The Jewish Week last Thursday, sporting a tank top over his multitude of tattoos.  Continue reading…

_ _

Sharon Udasin is a staff writer at The Jewish Week. Follow her on Twitter or e-mail her at sharon@sharonudasin.com.

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: Sharon Udasin » Blog Archive » Pumping Iron For The Payes Set

  2. froylein

    5/23/2010 at 9:30 am

    Hardly novelty; I befriended Willi Chasidim eleven years ago already that already had been working out for years – and so had their friends.
    I’d be much more amazed to see mainstream Jewish media treating Chasidim for what they are, individual human beings, not alien curiosities.

  3. Sharon

    5/23/2010 at 10:15 am

    That’s not the point of the story. The point is that they’re working out with everybody else in the neighborhood, mixing with the hipsters. THAT’S what’s new.

  4. froylein

    5/23/2010 at 10:29 am

    They didn’t use closed-off / segregated facilities before either. There were also non- and secular Jews in Willi before the hipster attraction to that area.

  5. ck

    5/23/2010 at 11:06 am

    Yeah, I have to agree with froylein. Judging by all the ripped Hassidim I have seen lately, this isn’t a novelty or a new development. I mean check the six pack on this dude out:

    I mean seriously, Google “Fat Hassidim” – there are hardly any recent photos available anymore! Hassids are now trim and fit and no longer eat really bad food or smoke. The guy Sharon featured was probably late getting on the bandwagon and the other Hassids that joined the gym probably switched their memberships from the other gym they were already attending. Walk into any gym near any Haredi enclave and it’s a veritable sea of black and white! Mamish gevalt!

    • froylein

      5/23/2010 at 1:17 pm

      Well, CK, I’m aware you know quite well that this is not a Chasid, but I also know that you’re also aware that the history of Willi doesn’t begin with what I’ve seen called “the hipster invasion”. Baruch, who’s quoted in the article, gets to deal with Chasidim on the fringe, not those that are ok with being what and who they are. On my recent trip to NYC, Kelsey and I went to Baruch’s “tisch”, and what I saw there is what my Chasidic friends share as an experience; they were treated by the “hipsters” like comic figures, not respectfully. One woman was continuously interrupting one Chasid who was trying to engage her in a civil conversation about their different worldviews. Instead of making substantial points, she just got louder and louder and sought support from others till somebody turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” I told her to let him talk as that was polite and respectful. I wonder whether any of those attending hipsters even shoulders 10% of the responsibilities most Chasidic people shoulder within their communities and families and if they ever will. Feeding a family of eight in your early thirties is nothing you’re likely to accomplish on amateurish collages and substance use to employ two more prejudices, but this time aimed at the other group.

      Chasidim on average are quick thinkers; once they’re comfortable talking to you, they keep you on your toes in a conversation, and dialectically, many of them are far superior to many well-educated secular people. They’ve often got a language barrier to get over because English is not their mother tongue and most of the boys never really get to learn that language properly, but they are fast learners and they pick up things fast provided you don’t patronise them.

      Oh, and I’ve never claimed there aren’t any overweight Chasidim anymore; all I said was that a) there have been Chasidim working out for quite a few years already, b) that those Chasidim are not singular phenomena, and c) that there was a non-Jewish and secular community in Willi before people sought to live among Chasidim there cause they thought it was the cool and progressive thing to do and the Willi Chasidim were in contact with those non- and secular Jews already then. But if you must know, there’s indeed a vast chunk of Chasidim obsessed with being skinny, to unhealthy effects even, and there’s a slowly rising awareness of the importance of eating healthily. Then again, skinny and healthy are two different things altogether.

      As for that joke on VIN, it’s a great example of Jewish humour in the light of feeling humiliated: resorting to self-deprecating humour. I’ve got enough insight into that community, not just people on the fringe, to know they feel hurt being portrayed as oddities.

      • ck

        5/23/2010 at 1:27 pm

        Geez Louise froylein, I was kidding! I got that pic from Hipsters and Hassids and very little of what you wrote actually applies to anything I said. But yeah, thanks for the insight!

        • froylein

          5/23/2010 at 1:34 pm

          I know when you mock me, and in return I bore you ad nauseam if you haven’t figured that out yet.

  6. Sharon

    5/23/2010 at 6:42 pm

    Well, I’m glad this at least sparked a discussion, even if no one is in agreement. But, Mr. ck, in Williamsburg terms, I don’t think this guy’s just late on the bandwagon. Just walk around the neighborhood and you’ll see an overwhelming number of Satmars who are still morbidly obese. Of course, not saying that they’re the only ones in America, but trust me, a problem still exists. Maybe it’s different in Israel, but in Brooklyn there is still a big problem.

    • froylein

      5/23/2010 at 11:03 pm

      They are not only Satmar Chasidim (please note, “Satmar” is the Chasidus, not the adherent). Even the guy in the picture isn’t wearing a Satmar Chasidic outfit.

  7. Sharon

    5/24/2010 at 6:00 am

    Yes they are, that’s how they identified themselves to me, numerous times.

  8. froylein

    5/24/2010 at 7:03 am

    That’s like an inside joke among them (just like also often giving out false names, but that’s more out of privacy concerns); one that identified as a Satmar Chasid at Baruch’s tisch was pretty obviouly a Gerer Chasid. Every Chasidus has got a distinct outfit.
    A commenter on VIN who apparently knows the portrayed man identifies him as a Pupa Chasid. Also, he’s reading this site on his screen, and Satmar Chasidim don’t study Daf Yomi.

  9. Chassidishe Velt

    5/28/2010 at 11:53 am

    First time since I went to this Website that I actually agree with Froylein.

    Moshiach is on his way!!!

    A Gerer Chasid pretends to be a Satmar Chassid who dont study daf yomi which was created in part by the 3rd Gerer Rebbe.

    What a chiddush. Good Shabbos.

  10. froylein

    5/28/2010 at 11:56 am

    Haha, I love (my) Chasidim, but can’t help nagging (all with the highest respect though). :)

    Git Shabos.

  11. John

    7/23/2010 at 12:38 pm

    Oh please
    Green Fitness Studio is not what they make it out to be. it has exactly 3 machines that are self powered, this is it. Everything else is like a regular gym, all machines have TV screens which are anything but eco friendly. they never turn off and run the entire day. There are about 5 jewish dudes exercising total, i don’t know where the number 100 came from. Also their glass only roof design that is supposed to keep the place cool and prevent the sun heat from entering is a nice concept but it doesn’t work. The workout area (which by the way is super small and have way too many benches and things for its size) is hot as hell and when you are bench pressing the sun goes right into your eyes. You are sweating literally 30 seconds after you start your workout and 10 minutes later you can barely catch your breath. Super unhealthy! The gym started nicely and the neighborhood was all excited about it but soon we all realized that those guys either have no idea how to run it or who knows… and the tattooed dude is no longer the GM either. Also there were around 20 employees that got changed within the span of 6- months which means that they either done pay them shit or again they are just incompetent.

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