Men and women of all ages may be winding down in their careers, but that doesn’t mean their minds and bodies are ready to pack it in.
At 81, Norty Levine plays basketball three times a week at KleinLife — then works out the other days.
At 83, Estelle Pomerantz, who used to teach the preschoolers at the Kaiserman JCC — and now sees many of them bringing their own children there — takes stretching classes.
Throughout both buildings, you’ll find men and women of all ages — but particularly 55 and up — doing whatever they can to stay in shape. Their mindset is just because they may be retired or winding down in their careers, doesn’t mean their minds and bodies are ready to pack it in.
“The most important thing at this age is to keep moving,” said Pomerantz, who worked at Kaiserman from 1983 until she retired two years ago. “The exercise I do is very important, plus I meet some people I already know and have met some others. I know a lot of people in the area because I taught here so long.”
For her and many others, the Jewish Community Center is a place of refuge; sort of their home away from home. The workouts, the physical activity are only a part of it. There’s also the opportunity to connect with peers, whether it’s to have meaningful conversations or simply to shoot the breeze on sports, politics or what have you without being interrupted by children or grandchildren.
“That social piece is just as important as the fitness part,” said Marti Berk, director of community engagement at Kaiserman, who handles all aspects of membership and marketing. “It’s that healthy mind, healthy body concept. We have a café up front. They’ll sit out there and have a nosh afterwards. I grew up in Lancaster. I very much wish there was a place like this for my dad in Lancaster — he sits in a La-Z-Boy all day.”
In dramatic contrast, Norty Levine plays hoops. Lots of hoops. He’s been coming to the Klein for 35 years, during which time he says the level of play has improved significantly now that more and more non-Jews are taking the court.
But somehow he’s still able to hold his own. “I play in the 55-and-over league,” said Levine, who works seven days a week at his daughter’s restaurant, Randi’s, in the Northeast. “At this stage of the game, I take a couple shots, set a pick, get a rebound. And I can still run the floor.”
He’s selling himself short, according to one longtime fellow Klein participant. “He’s tough as nails and as competitive as can be,” said Charlie Pavlov, who not only plays at Klein during their weekly Thursday night league games, but also when they play pickup ball Tuesdays. “We always talk about getting ‘Norty-sized’ when he hits you. Believe me, you feel it.”
And don’t just think you can show up cold and compete with these guys. “Let’s put it this way,” said Levine, who’s competed frequently in the Senior Olympics, where he’s won gold medals in the 3-on-3 competition. “If you were a jogger and said, ‘I think I’m gonna start playing with you guys,’ you can’t do it. Basketball is a tough, physical game, with all the jumping up and down and the banging. You can jog and be in shape, but being in basketball shape is different.”
Basketball is big at Kaiserman, too, where they have leagues running constantly. “We have a great basketball program,” said Berk, who’s been working for local JCCs in some capacity since 1991, while also serving as local delegation head for the Maccabi Games. “We have 50-and-over, 60-and-over — what we affectionately call the “Alte Kocker’ league.
“Basketball’s a very big thing. We have a bunch of guys who come in for lunchtime pickup games. Sometimes, we have both courts going.”
That’s not all. During the summer, swimming is a big thing, while a few members may play tennis. Unlike Klein, there’s no indoor pool, though.
But the lifeblood at Kaiserman is its wide array of exercise classes, which are conducted by certified professionals. And if you don’t feel like taking a class, you can always hire one of them to lead you through a personal training session.
“We don’t hire kids with big muscles who want to work out,” said Berk, who estimates approximately 40 percent of the membership is comprised of baby boomers and seniors. “Many of them have multiple certifications, like kinesiology. Our trainers are busy, but not so busy you can’t get one. We’re about getting fit and healthy — and staying fit and healthy.
“When people join, we like to show them the group exercises and try to match them up with something at their level. Statistics show if you get yourself hooked into a group exercise class, you’re more likely to continue a fitness plan.”
As an incentive, Kaiserman offers several options for membership, many of which have discounts. They also accept “Silver Sneakers” and “Silver and Fit,” where the fee is actually paid by their health insurer.
While there are varying degrees of activity, determined by health and fitness levels, a number of members — refusing to accept what it says on their birth certificate — have signed up for what they call “Boomers Boot Camp.”
“I have people who are not boomers who take Boomers Boot Camp because the pace and the exercise are appropriate for them,” said director of fitness Christine Labhart, who supervises the overall program but doesn’t teach the class. “They don’t mind being lumped in. They know they’re seniors and they do want things geared toward them. But they’re proud, and they come out every day.”
“It started with a bunch of guys who were getting ready for the 50-and-over basketball league,” continued Berk. “They got to the point where they realized, ‘I haven’t done anything physical. I don’t want to have my lunch handed to me on the court and I might hurt myself.’ So they decided to contact one of the trainers to see if he could do some group physical therapy.
“The trainer started working them out in the gym. He had them doing sprints and all kinds of activities. More guys saw it and said they wanted to get involved. It got to the point where it was too big for where they were working out, so we decided to turn it into an exercise class and open it up to everyone.”
Of course, not everyone is equipped to handle boot camp. Some are just happy to be able to walk or do some of the basics without pain. “We have functional fitness for people just getting back or who haven’t exercised in a long time or have some health issues that limit their capability,” said Labhart. “They may work on balance and strength. We also have a LIFE class — Low Impact Fitness Experience — that has no impact in it. Impact is when you jump or bounce. Everything here stays on the floor.”
Whether it’s boot camp or LIFE classes, seniors are becoming a larger segment of the community by the day. “Statistics say in a couple of years, 55 percent of the population will be 55-and-over,” said Berk. “It’s one of our largest membership categories.”
And those seniors intend to keep doing their part as long as possible. “I hope to just keep playing,” said Norty Levine, who went against the grain of many of his contemporaries, growing up in Miami, then moving his family up here. “I just take each day I’m able to run around I enjoy it. At this point of life, you’ve got to keep doing it, whether you walk, run, jog or lift weights. Do it all. Don’t stop. Keep moving.”
Jon “The Question” Marks is legendary among the local journalistic ballers for his skills with the rock.