By Jacob Gurvis
(JTA) — Setting Moses and the Maccabees aside, it’s not a stretch to call Isaac Berger one of the strongest Jews ever. Known as “Ike,” Berger won three Olympic medals, two World Championships and eight U.S. national championships in weightlifting during a dominant stretch in the 1950s and 60s.
Berger died of natural causes on Saturday, June 4, his family told JTA. He was 85. Berger was the first featherweight in history to combine lift more than 800 pounds — spread over two different lifts — even as his bodyweight never surpassed 60 kilograms, or about 132 pounds.
Born in 1936 in British Mandatory Palestine, Berger was raised by a Hasidic family in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood of Jerusalem. His father was a rabbi. Berger and his family moved to the United States in 1949, and he became a citizen six years later. Then his athletic career took off.
In the ensuing decade, Berger would go on to become one of the most decorated featherweights in U.S. history. He competed in three Olympics, winning gold in 1956 and silver in both 1960 and 1964.
Berger would later auction off his gold medal for several thousand dollars.
Main Photo: Isaac Berger, left, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)