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Rabbis Shape Up

Rabbis are not generally known for having buff physiques. They’re valued more for the strength of their sermons than for what they can bench-press at the gym. And judging by the way things look at many rabbi conventions, moral fitness often takes precedence over physical fitness.

If the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly has anything to say about it, this will soon change.

The R.A. has started the “Shalem [Wholeness] Campaign,” urging its 1,600 members to work out on a regular basis and to sign up for the President’s Challenge, which “encourages all Americans to make being active part of their everyday lives,” according to a press release.

Rabbi Aaron Gaber is the campaign’s co-chair. Like most congregational rabbis, he finds that leading a community is a 24/7 job. After he started working (he’s currently at Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor, N.J.), and became a father four times — his children range in age from 7 to 16 — regular workouts never seemed to work out.

That changed at Rosh Hashanah in 2008, spurred by his desire to live a healthier, longer life.

“I’ve made time during the day, between funerals and pastoral visits and teaching. I finally walked out of my office and started to exercise at the local Jewish community center,” the 41-year-old rabbi said. “The 90 minutes I was gone, nobody missed me, and I was doing something I needed to do for myself and my family. It’s changed a bit how I look at myself and the work that I’m doing. Spiritual stuff is very important. But so is getting in, and being in, shape.”

In November, he took a backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon, where he hiked and camped for three days and two nights. “It was a wonderful experience physically and spiritually,” he said.

Now he’s back to working out at the local JCC, where he’s even learned to master the art of not feeling embarrassed when he sees congregants in the locker room.

And don’t tell anyone, but when he’s working out, he even leaves his cell phone in the car.

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