TORONTO — Rabbi Avram Rothman, right, the spiritual leader of the Thornhill Community Shul, accomplished more than getting fit when he joined the Pavilion Health Club.
He learned not to judge a book by the cover from an intimidating hulk of a man with an earring who could bench-press 650 pounds and had a loving and giving heart.
When that man, Julian (Jules) Reese, left, died unexpectedly after a bout of pneumonia at the age of 34, Rabbi Rothman determined to run the Chai Lifeline marathon in his memory. It is part of the annual ING Miami Marathon, a standard course of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles, 385 yards), which takes place in Miami, Fla., on Jan. 27.
When Rabbi Rothman turned 50, he decided that he had to lose weight and get fit. “I thought that if I don’t do it now, I’ll kill myself. So I made the commitment to do it right,” he said.
Together with his wife, Ruth, he joined the Pavilion Health Club because “it was new, it was close, and lots of other Jews were going there.”
The staff told the rabbi that he would do better with a personal trainer, to encourage him and teach him how to accomplish his goals. And that’s how he met Reese.
“He was scary. His neck was as big as my thigh. He was broad and muscular, and he had a shaved head,” Rabbi Rothman said. Reese, a former football player, had left the National Football League after suffering a serious injury.
But Reese was also warm and encouraging, and he had a wonderful smile, the rabbi added.
Under Reese’s influence, Rabbi Rothman lost 60 pounds and began to run. He is very proud that he managed to run the Zareinu marathon.
Besides being a terrific personal trainer, however, Reese turned out to be a wonderful person as well. When he saw a group of young, obviously Jewish boys being harassed by a group of older boys, he got out of his car and came near. The older boys took off on seeing such an enormous man approaching. The younger boys also got scared and ran away.
“He felt badly that those young boys were so scared of him,” Rabbi Rothman said.
When he found out that several boys from She’arim Hebrew Day School wanted to play basketball but didn’t have anyone to teach them, Reese volunteered not only to coach them (at no cost) but to raise funds for uniforms and other supplies.
Rabbi Rothman and his wife are still running and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. To honour Reese’s memory – a “wonderful, friendly, caring giant of a man who taught me the real meaning behind ‘never judge a book by its cover,’” the rabbi said – he is organizing and fundraising for the “Run for Jules” section of the Chai Lifeline marathon.
Chai Lifeline is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping Canadian children suffering from serious illnesses and their family members. It offers counselling, support, and a big brother/sister program, as well as sponsoring Camp Simcha, a camp for children with cancer.