By Marcy Behrmann Farrell
It was a moment of Hashgacha Pratis.
Inna Koppel of North Woodmere was sitting in the hospital while a close family member was in surgery. The outlook was poor. Koppel, owner of Woodmere Fitness Club in Woodmere, took a break to answer messages on her phone.
And there it was.
Gilad Mooseek sent an email from Israel. “Can you help my wife?” he asked. Gilad, a Lubavitch chassid, is away from his family for months at a time, working as a shochet in Europe. His wife, Sara, raises their eight children – ages 17 to four – on her own most of the time. She needed to get fit and strong to take care of her family and her own health.
When she got the email a calm washed over Koppel. “I knew everything was going to be fine. Hashem gave me the avenue to both give chesed and receive chesed.”
Woodmere Fitness Club offers a variety of classes for women and girls and a Barbell Club to teach women how to lift weights to keep them strong and healthy. Several of the Barbell Club members are mother-daughter pairs. At any given time three or four pregnant women and other women in their 70s are lifting more than 100 lbs.
“This is what we do here every day,” explained Koppel. “We help women get strong and stay strong in a supportive atmosphere. We are the only place where women can come and do this privately and modestly.”
Woodmere Fitness Club is also known for its chesed and tzedakah. The club’s primary fundraiser is for Achuzat Sara, an Emunah children’s home, which has a fitness gym and basketball court thanks to Woodmere Fitness Club donations. From raising money for Shalom Task Force to helping homeless dogs with Ruff House Rescue, Woodmere Fitness Club offers members many ways to strengthen their bodies and their neshomas.
So how did Gilad find Koppel? Five or so years ago, Gilad was looking for a way to stay fit. He would try different fitness programs, but they all fizzled out. Through research online, Gilad found the Starting Strength program. He worked with an online coach and has never felt better.
He wondered: “Could this program help Sara feel better?” And he found Inna, who runs the only women-only Starting Strength program in the world.
After Gilad spoke to Inna, he realized there was a shidduch in the making. “You need to speak to this lady,” he told his wife. “She really gets it.”
Sara didn’t just speak to Inna. When her husband had a month off of work in December 2018, Inna brought Sara to the Five Towns for two weeks to learn about the Starting Strength program and start her on her journey to better health.
Sara was raised in Australia. She got married and made aliyah in 2007.
“In Australia I was very fit and active. But responsibilities add up and one’s own health tends to take a backseat. Inna said to me very clearly ‘You’ve invested in the people around you. Now is the time to invest in yourself.’”
Sara was nervous about coming to the United States to start the program. “What if I hate it?” she thought. But she quickly took to weightlifting for strength.
“The way the program is set up, it doesn’t require unrealistic hours or eating plans I’m not going to stick to,” Sara said.
Once she got to Woodmere, she trained with Inna every other morning (except Shabbos) and was welcomed into the Woodmere Fitness Club community.
“Every day someone took me out to lunch. I stayed in people’s houses. I spent Shabbosim with Rabbi Zalman and Chanie Wolowik at Chabad of the Five Towns. Everyone went out of their way to make sure I wasn’t lonely,” said Sara.
One of the highlights of Sara’s trip was visiting the Rebbe’s Ohel. “I went five years ago and I thought it might be the last time I would be able to be there. This trip has recharged me physically and spiritually.”
It also opened Sara’s eyes to a new way of looking at fitness.
“The atmosphere at Woodmere Fitness Club is like nothing I have ever seen,” Sara said. “So many women from different backgrounds with different health concerns and goals all supporting each other. It is nice seeing women holding each other up.”
The program has changed Gilad and Sara Mooseek’s lives. While she was in Woodmere, her husband set up a lifting rack in their laundry room/dairy kitchen. The members of the Woodmere Fitness Club’s Barbell Club for women sent her back to Israel with a 45 lb bar and enough money to keep up with the program at home. Gilad is working on becoming a Starting Strength coach and opening his own gym. Koppel coaches Sara virtually and helps the couple stay on track with advice and emotional support.
Hosting Sara at Woodmere Fitness Club has also developed Koppel’s goals. “I’d like to see if we can do more of this, expand it,” Koppel said. “Maybe we can have a two week program in the summer where frum women from around the world can come and learn about Starting Strength and begin their own journeys. I’d like for us to be a resource for women who lift, but I also want to see more women in more places connecting with each other and lifting in their own communities.
Sara is happy with her progress and motivated to continue growing.
“This program turns the accepted ideas of fitness upside down,” Sara explained. “People think that thin is healthy, they restrict the food they eat and do a lot of cardio. Here, every day come in and lift, and the next day you lift a little more. You’re getting stronger in small increments and soon you are lifting more and feeling better than you thought was possible.”