Category Archives: Maytal Kowalski

Group Power and Me

When I first started working at the MNJCC, as the Administration and Production Coordinator for the Al Green Theatre, I was most excited for my free gym membership.  I had been a member at the MNJCC in the past, but had slowly stopped going to the gym, and then stopped paying for the gym- but I was ready to start again.

I have always been keen on getting into “the zone” when I work out- with a background in dance, my attitude toward physical activity is that you go in to work, learn, concentrate and improve.  It’s not a place to socialize or be silly or laugh.  I have also always been keen on taking classes.  Again, coming from a dance background, I like the group environment- it allows you to learn from others, watch them and see how and where you can improve.  It allows you to go through an exercise, or series of exercises with a qualified instructor who can guide you through the proper technique and placement.  I have not always been so keen on weight lifting.  My mother, also a dancer and overall fitness nut, would always say to me, when I would tell her about my dance classes: “but what are you doing for strength training?” And I would reply with “I do 10 push ups in dance class!  On my knees… and I usually only do five… and by five I mean three or four…” So I got the hint- I needed to do more strength training.  And this is how I found Group Power.  A class-setting, with music and counts, but instead of grapevine-ing across the room with a clap at the end, you were lifting weights.  For an hour.  A freaking hour.

The first class I went to was INTENSE.  I used a very small amount of weight for all exercises, and still felt sore for about a week after.  But I was excited to go back.  I have now been attending Group Power classes quite regularly for a while.  All the benefits that I expected are there- I’ve definitely gotten stronger, I’ve learned proper technique and form, I have learned from others.  Oh and my mom has gotten off my back (a little bit…)  But there are also the benefits that I wasn’t expecting, and these are what make this class so special to me.

There’s the fact that the room is full of inspiration for me.  The classes are predominantly women, and a lot of the women are older than me.  A lot of them talk about their grandchildren as we wait for class to begin.  And then class starts, and they’re lifting more weight than I am, and they’re making it look easy!  Heck, they’re making it look FUN!  I was always intimidated to lift weights, assuming that anyone who lifted weights was a macho-guy, drinking a protein shake and grunting loudly in the free weights area of the gym.  But I’m not intimidated now, now I feel empowered, confident and eager to get stronger.  I see that anyone can do it, not just the macho guy in the free weights area.

And then there are the instructors who, as with most group classes, really make or break the experience.  All of these instructors definitely MAKE the experience.  Singing along to the songs, cracking jokes, complimenting participants, helping out any new participants- group exercise classes with them are different than anything I have ever experienced.  I no longer feel the need to get in “the zone,” to tune out what is going on around me, to take it all so seriously.  And I’ve realized that laughing and smiling while you work out makes it that much more fun!

My gym membership has offered me so much more than I thought it could.  And I have learned a lot more than I thought I would.  And I can now lift only marginally less weights than the majority of grandparents that work out here.  And I am okay with that!


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Social Media and Judaism

For those of you not officially cyber-introduced to me yet, my name is Maytal Kowalski, and I frequently Tweet/update Facebook for the MNjcc (but more about me in the bio below!)

When I initially started “moonlighting” in the art of social media, it was mainly because I wanted an excuse to hang out on Facebook and Twitter at work (you can follow our Twitter stream here, and my personal Tweets here). From the MNjcc Twitter account, I began to follow a variety of Jewish organizations, publications, notable figures and news sources. I realized that, although I am Jewish and very connected to my religion, customs and traditions, my day-to-day involvement in the community was lacking. As an Israeli and Canadian citizen, I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know about current events in both countries and how they related to me.

One of my first tweets was while I was watching an episode of Glee in which Artie, the most talented kid at McKinley High on no legs, gets what can only be described as robot legs to help him walk. He proudly mentions that they were invented by “some Israeli guy.” For real?! I couldn’t believe it. The system is called the ReWalk and you can read about it here. I always knew Israel was incredibly technologically advanced, but advanced enough to get a mention on Glee? I was so proud, I was kvelling! (Oh hey, want to know what that, and other popular Yiddish terms mean? Follow this guy here).

In a world where Israel is always in the spotlight, most often in a controversial way; where it’s hard to stay connected to your Jewish roots in the Diaspora, where the majority of your friends’ knowledge of Judaism comes from Curb your Enthusiasm or Woody Allen movies (fun fact – I can’t watch Woody Allen movies because he reminds me too much of a particularly neurotic ex-boyfriend), I found myself re-connecting to my roots in the most surprising way – through social media.

There are simply so many great organizations, with so much fantastic information, that want to share it with you- and all in 140 characters or less! Today Jewish Tweets posted “Action: It’s Still Mimouna! Invite friends over this evening to celebrate Mimouna!” Huh? What’s Mimouna? It turns out it’s this. As it is primarily celebrated by the Mizrahi Jews it was not something that had ever entered my life. Oh and also because I eat bread during Passover so the end of Passover doesn’t really mean much to me.  🙂

And there’s another good point – I struggle with my Judaism sometimes, as I’m sure most people struggle with their faith – whether it’s Judaism, or another religion in which they were brought up. I also struggle with my love of Israel. No, wait. I don’t struggle to love it. I simply LOVE it. The most devastating day for me was when you no longer had to step outside off the plane in order to get to the terminal. Those days looked like this. There is absolutely nothing like getting off a 10-hour flight to the warm Israeli air and that smell that is just… indescribable. But I digress…

I don’t agree with every decision the Israeli government makes, just like I don’t agree with every decision the Canadian government makes. When you live in Israel, you can criticize your government. It’s a more sensitive topic in the Diaspora. Think of it like this – if you complain about your brother to your friend, you’re just venting, letting off steam. If your friend complains to you about your brother, you jump to defend him, right? So where does that leave me? If I criticize, am I a bad Jew, a bad Israeli? And if I post a fantastic story about Israel, do I risk criticism and backlash? With social media, I can ask those questions, and I can read articles, and I can comment on them, and read others’ comments and thoughts. I can find out that other people struggle just as I do, and that helps me struggle a bit less.

Sometimes I tell people I work in social media. They scoff. That’s not a job. That’s a person going on Twitter and Facebook! Like it or not, social media IS changing the way we live. The revolution in Egypt? Check out this book. Want some more examples? How about these tweets that shook the world in 2010? Information is getting out into the world in higher quantities than we’ve ever seen, faster than we’ve ever seen, more widely spread than we’ve ever seen. What would’ve happened if twitter had existed during World War II? Or the founding of the state of Israel? The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. or JFK?

Our world is changing, and we can reject it or embrace it. If you struggle with your own identity, whatever that identity is, or if you don’t and love reading about your culture, religion, tradition and homeland, try getting involved in social media. And if you have any questions, there’s a comments section just below this post waiting to hear from you!

Maytal Kowalski is the Administration and Production Coordinator for the Al Green Theatre in the MNjcc. In her spare time (because she has oh-so much of it!) she Tweets and FBs for your reading pleasure. Maytal graduated with a BFA (Hons) from York University’s dance program and has lived in Israel off and on since the age of 11.


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