By Alan Zeitlin
In 2013, Meredith Weiss was alarmed at increasing anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric. Already one of the founders of Fuel For Truth, a nonprofit which educates Jews on how to advocate for Israel and defend against verbal attacks, she saw the need for a way to defend from physical attacks.
“We said ‘it’s time,’” said Weiss, who grew up in Lawrence. “There were a lot of hostilities and we could see things would get worse.”
The brainchild of Jon Loew, The Legion trains people in krav maga and includes elements of mixed martial arts, as well as active shooter drills. Weiss, who founded The Legion with Loew, Joe Richards, and Andrew Goldstein, said more Jews are interested in learning to defend themselves in light of recent attacks in Brooklyn and video clips of Jews being taunted or intimidated.
After starting with one location in Manhattan, the nonprofit has expanded with chapters in Oceanside, Great Neck, Brooklyn, and Hartford, Connecticut.
“Unfortunately we have become more relevant,” Weiss said. “It’s not as safe as it used to be.”
Weiss said she envisions the guy you see on the bimah or the mother you see at the grocery as the people who join. She admitted some think self-defense training is only for people who work out all the time of have experience in martial arts. She said that isn’t the case.
“What we are learning here with krav maga and MMA is practical, take-it-home-today type of information,” she said. “We’re not studying for 10 or 15 years to become black belts. We’re learning how to react and get ourselves out of scenarios that could take place on the street. It’s important, especially for women to learn how to defend yourself. You don’t have to have any prior knowledge.”
Lisa Cohen Loew, who is from Woodmere, is a busy entrepreneur, wife and mother of three children. But after applying and being accepted to The Legion, she felt it was worth taking time out to train.
“The life lessons, the conditioning both mentally and physically, have literally changed my life and my perspective on virtually everything I thought I knew about being a Jew and a Zionist in America,” she said.
Mark Zonenshine, who lives in Woodmere, said he was inspired to apply after he was pushed at a bar by some drunk men who misunderstood a situation. His brother was with him and things didn’t escalate.
“You never know what can happen,” he said. “The Legion not only helped me get fit, it taught me a lot of things from situational awareness, to what to do in specific situations.”
Sessions include instruction from military and martial arts experts.
The application process involves an interview and the nine month course begins after the High Holidays. A few spots remain open for the Oceanside location.
Richards, who is the coordinator of the Great Neck chapter, said he is proud of the organization that they have built.
“Legion is expanding because of one thing,” he said. “Love. Protecting those we love is one of the highest forms of expressing your love and the Legion community continues to recruit family, friends, and colleagues they care about the most. There is no comparison to training together every week with dozens of like-minded Jews, getting into the best shape of your life, learning valuable skills, and challenging yourself. When your goal is a strong, vibrant, and healthy Jewish community, doors continue to open as you keep moving forward.”
For more information, visit LegionAlpha.com.