Feature Stories

From Flab to Fab: Kosher style fitness

A map of the grounds of the Isabella Freedman Center

By Lise Stern / JointMedia News Service ~

One effective way to jump start the path toward fitness is through a weight loss getaway, something observed by the staff at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center. This April, a week after Passover, the Center will open its doors to a unique retreat: a one to two-week kosher weight loss camp for grownups called “From Flab to Fab.”
Located on a lake in the northwest corner of Connecticut in the Berkshires, the Center has been offering Jewish-oriented programs here for over 50 years, from senior camps to science weeks for middle school students. Executive Director David Weisberg, who joined the Center almost a year ago, has wanted to expand the programs offered. “I need to lose some weight myself, and I looked at whether there were any other resources for adult observant Jews looking to go to weight loss camp. There were no other options throughout North America.”

Dan Fenyvesi

One of the few adult weight-loss camps is Wellspring in California, where dietitian Dan Fenyvesi has worked. Fenyvesi will be the resident nutritionist in charge of the food aspect of Isabella Freedman’s Kosher Weight Loss and Fitness: A Plan for Your Life retreat. His brother, Shamu Fenyvesi Sadeh, runs Adamah at the Isabella Freedman Center, an organic farm that has been in operation on the property for several years. The farm offers a fellowship program for Jewish young adults, supplies the kitchen with fresh produce, and also makes products such as pickles and goat cheese (there’s a herd of goats) sold at area farm markets.
When Fenyvesi would visit Sadeh, he was struck by how ideal the location would be for a Jewish Wellspring-like retreat. “Wellspring is a total immersion environment,” Fenyvesi says. “That’s why it’s so effective. Our retreat will also be total immersion. We’ll be able to make a really big impact on participants’ lives. Of course, having everyone all be of the same faith, there for another reason, not just for their health, that helps as well. I wanted to do this in a Jewish setting because there are no kosher weight loss facilities and I believe that the kosher laws open a fascinating discussion over rules around eating.”
With Fenyvesi lined up for the culinary component, the center turned to Ari Weller for the fitness end. Weller is a highly regarded physical trainer in New York – and the former associate director of the Freedman Center. On his website, he describes his technique, Integrative Movement, as “a complete training philosophy resulting in total physical fitness and a mind/body awareness.”
Doreen Bongiolatti, program coordinator, has been synchronizing the various components. “The date was a big meeting in itself,” she says. “Ari Weller said this is the time of year to do it. People make their New Year’s resolution to lose weight, but it’s not till the summer comes that they start to think about losing the layers.”
Chef Richard Neff has been working more and more with local produce, including that from Adamah. The facility is supervised kosher — and nondenominational. “There’s probably no single place that has such participation from the Jewish community,” he says. “Orthodox, Chabad, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Jewish multiracial, Jewish LGBT — an incredibly broad cross section of the Jewish community participates in Isabella Freedman programs during the course of the year.”

The religious component of the weight loss program is still evolving. Shabbat services will be held on Friday night and Saturday morning in the center’s airy onsite synagogue. “Jewish elements will be woven throughout,” says Weisberg. “Some classes will be taught by members of the staff. We want to give a better understanding of the covenant we have when it comes to taking care of our own bodies.”
Fenyvesi, who is a registered dietician, has personal experience with gaining and losing weight. In grad school, while he was studying nutrition, he says, “I ended up, ironically, gaining a ton of weight. I was in the library studying all the time, the stress of working, student loans. I struggled for a couple years getting rid of that 30 to 40 pounds, and realize how hard it is.”
One week, or even two, won’t lead to instant, or dramatic weight loss, but Fenyvesi hopes to offer attendees a tool kit they can bring home with them. “This is not a lose weight fast program, it’s not a detox or fasting or juices/colonics. It’s all very practical and science based,” he says. “People will lose some weight over the week, yes – 5 to 10 pounds perhaps. But it’s not so important what they lose that week; what’s important is that they learn tools to take home and continue with weight loss. A key factor is adjusting the taste buds, and one week is enough to start significant modification of tastes and expectations around meals.”
Says Amy Hannes, Isabella Freedman’s marketing director, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to combine a practical approach to nutrition with a spiritual approach to nourishment.”

Conversation with Wendy Grinberg
Celebrating Arthur Miller at 100
7 liberal Jewish groups back anti-BDS congressional resolution

Leave Your Reply