In case you haven’t seen the headlines a few weeks ago there was an incident where a girl got banned from her gym for wearing a skirt.
Chana Rachel Weinberg: So tell us Yosefa, what happened exactly?
Yosefa Wood-Isenberg: I was a member of a gym while I was in college and I went to Israel after college and I came back to this same location, was a member of a gym while I was in college and I went to Israel after college and someone saw me working out in this skirt and told me I couldn’t work out in it. I was a little frustrated, I left but I continued going back to this gym. It was a whole new year until somebody came to me and said that I needed to take off my skirt. I told her I wear it for religious reasons, I can’t take it off, I don’t see it anywhere in the policy, I’m not sure why I cant wear this skirt. She was clear and told me if I don’t take it off I cant work out at the gym.
So I never went back to this gym, and started going to a new location and I have been going this place for quite a few months and one day someone came up to me and told me I cant work out in my skirt… and again I said “I wear the skirt for religious reasons I need to wear it”… She said- “if you don’t take it off that’s trespassing”. So I was confused and I’m not the type of person that likes getting in trouble and when I heard the word trespassing I said I’m just gonna go. And when I was talking about it with other people they were telling me that its not trespassing and so I went also to a precinct and asked an officer if that’s trespassing, and she asked if I’m a member of the gym and I said yes and so she said its not trespassing. So I decided to go back to the gym, and I went to a kickboxing class, and the person who told me I couldn’t wear the skirt was there that day and I was in the middle of the class and she came up the stairs and said something to the instructor of the class and the instructor stopped the class and said: “We cant continue this class until this woman takes off her skirt”.
So I said “I’m not taking off my skirt” and people in the class were yelling at me “Just take it off !” and I was mortified. So I went down stairs to work out on the elliptical. This woman comes to me and asks “what is your name?” and then she comes back a few moments later and says ‘ your membership has been revoked and you need to leave! if you don’t leave I’m calling the police. ‘ so I was so confused- how can you revoke my membership and for what reason?- and she wouldn’t talk to me. I’m gonna go wait for the police and explain myself because that was just wrong. So I waited for about half an hour and it was erev shabat I couldn’t wait any longer, so I went home. I decided that what happened to me was very wrong, they treated me as if I was a criminal; threatening to call the police and I decided to do something to do something about it.
Chana Rachel: I understand that you took this to court. Where does it stand today?
Yosefa: Thank god there was a settlement and now myself and other women can work out in a skirt.
Chana Rachel: That’s great! So a skirt that not to the floor- a decent skirt length?
Chana Rachel: I find it so inspiring that even in the gym when everyone is doing one thing you stay true to your own values. What keeps you going?
Yosefa: I didn’t grow up as an observant Jew- I grew up as a totally secular celebrate-the-main-holidays sort of way and I started to become more involved in my Judaism when I was in college through a bunch of different programs. I decided to become an observant Jew for a couple of reasons, one of which; If I want my children to be Jewish I needed to have a strong foundation in my own Judaism, and I didn’t. So I decided to learn more and go to seminary and the more I learned the more I realized that it’s also about having a relationship with G-d. So I came back from seminary, and heard from a friend that real seminary begins when you leave seminary; in seminary you’re learning all day and its amazing- your soul is so nourished, and then there’s real life: you need to get a job, make food, do mundane things… and to stay connected is really a challenge. So I found a place near where I was living- my friend had started an organization for women go to learn and I decided to learn with them once/twice a week- the organization is called“ Living Chasidut”- What you learn shouldn’t be just in your head- it should be embodied in your every day life and that’s the new outlook that I had on Judaism- its something that consumes my life and when I view mitzvot as something that helps my relationship with god it becomes something I want to do.
Chana Rachel: Do you feel that modesty is something that nurtures your personal relationship with G-D?
Yosefa: I do. I heard a story once; the children of any king dress in a way that show that they are children of a king and all Jews are children of Hashem; so for me its important to show that this is what I am-I am a daughter of the king and I try my best to dress in such a manner; in a way of modesty. Its not always easy but for me it’s important to always be growing. We do have our challenges and sometimes we fail our tests but it’s important to continuously grow, because if you’re not growing you’re just going backwards. I guess because I come from a place that I didn’t grow up this way- I didn’t always keep modesty, so I felt that if I were to loosen the reins on my comfort zone I would feel like I’m going backwards in my own Judaism.
Chana Rachel: Do you have any role models?
Yosefa: I have my mashpia ( mentor) who I talk to often on a consistent basis and she helps me make sure that I am growing. I also have other people that I look up to; a woman that every time I see her I say she looks so modest and so put together- and that’s how I want to be viewed.
Chana Rachel: How do you see the connection between physical health and being a religious woman?
Yosefa: I think its important to keep a healthy lifestyle because you keep torah in life and a part of that is taking care of yourself; and its a mitzvah to take care of yourself and your body. To me its important to stay healthy- I come from a family where we have health problems unfortunately, and for me its important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and I feel better when I am active; I just want to do more, I have more energy. Its important to have the energy to do things that are even more important; to be able to do mitzvot, learn, work, its important to have the body and mind connected to be able to do so.
Chana Rachel: Do you ever find touble findng the balance; when you wake up and want to daven to your creator and at the same time your body is telling you that you want to exercise. How do you find the balance?
Yosefa: It’s a struggle, and there were so many times when I felt so unmotivated. I mean, when you go to a gym atleast you have something to go to and can make a thing out of it, but after I lost my membership I had to figure it out, find videos online and try to keep trying to maintain my health being at home. And then I got married and had a baby… its not easy, were all busy. But if you think of how important it is and you have all of these things that are important and you focus your time and energy on that I think there’s a way to make it work.
Every morning I think about all the important things I need to do, and I set an alarm: At what time do I need to be up, the second alarm will be what’s the next important thing on my list and I’ve had those days that I thought I was gonna work out and I just didn’t. But when I don’t work out and I intended to- my body just doesn’t feel right. So if it means waking up a little earlier; I mean, I don’t always work out for an hour, sometimes just for 20 minutes which is fine as long as you’re doing something.
If we think about how much time we actually waste in a day its crazy and part of what I’ve been working on is making better use of the time that I have and cut off from things that were dragging my time away so I think time management can really help with figuring out what you need to do and focusing your time on what you really need to do: going for a run’ exercising davening to hashem and going to work.
Chana Rachel: Thank you Yosefa for your time, you are so inspiring I am sure you have touched so many other woman around the world with your story. May you continue going with your inner truth and doing everything that you need to do to ind the right balance and may this be just a small taste of all the goodness coming your way this year.
Yosefa: Thank you Chana! And thank you for the beautiful work out outfit. This is life, bringing G-D into our every day life and we should always just have the clarity to do that, and I wish you a happy sweet new year, Chativa Vechasaima Tova!
For the full interview:
*** To purchase Yosefa’s Blue Leah running outfit please go to the following link: