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“I don’t think it plays into anything,” she said. “We have plenty of kids who wear pants outside of school, or sleeveless shirts. When they come in, they are dressed appropriately.”
Though Naomi might be the only young Modern Orthodox female powerlifter, she is certainly not the only Jew involved in the sport. Scot Mendelson, who grew up in Brooklyn and lives in Glen Valley, Calif., holds several world records for bench pressing. In one competition, he lifted 1,030 pounds. Mendelson is the grandson of Morris Reif, the Jewish boxer known as the “Bronxville Bomber,” according to a 2005 article in the Jewish Journal.
Doug Heifetz, a rabbi at Oseh Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Laurel, Md., is another prizewinning powerlifter. He has broken local records in deadlifting, and he said his hobby makes him more approachable to congregants.
“I think our tradition calls us to balance and to wholeness, and the body is part of that,” Heifetz said. “There are a lot of references to strength and body movements as part of our spirituality.”
Powerlifting has caused Naomi to compromise one aspect of her Jewish life: summer camp. While the rest of her classmates went to sleep-away camps in the Poconos and upstate New York, Naomi chose to attend a day camp in Monsey, N.Y., so that she could compete during the summer.
Like every 10-year-old, Naomi can use some encouragement now and then. Next to the “No Fear” sign in the family gym, she has hung a list of rewards for her powerlifting goals: a cup of pudding, a bubble bath, ice cream and a visit to the aquarium store. She’s motivated, too, by a little healthy competition. Last November, the family — Naomi has a younger brother and an older sister at home — tried to best each other in a bench pressing competition.
Naturally, Naomi came in first.