Woodside Story: Strength training

Finding the sturdiness in our own scrapheap of old bones.


It’s not just kids who dream about being superheroes. I’m thinking everybody at every age would like to be stronger. Tougher. When I was a wee one back in the 1950s, I adored the TV series “Annie Oakley.” Some of you reading this must remember her. Fringe on her leather jacket. Pigtails (I’m remembering them as kinda gray, but that can’t have been the case.) Mainly she shot sharper than any dude, captured bad guys for the sheriff, and she spun her gun around. You’d think this kind of pistol-toting would have turned me into a gun freak, but I grew up into a total hippy pacifist.

Here’s my own story on the Tough Kid trail: My dad and I had an ongoing battle of wits. He constantly, ceaselessly told me I was “too sensitive.” This criticism for all my growing-up years painted “sensitivity” in such a bummer category that it wasn’t until, at sleepaway Unitarian summer camp in the mountains of Lake Arrowhead, high above my hometown of LA, that I first heard the word “sensitive” as something positive. I couldn’t believe it! It was uttered by my first crush, Paul Fink of Torrance, Calif., a warehouse-ridden suburb south of Los Angeles — when he extolled another camper, a self-described “anarchist,” as being sensitive to poetry. I had to ask both these boys to explain to me how “sensitive” could be good. Sensitivity to poetry, to art, to music — it provided our poor planet with everything that was positive and refined.

The problem was, I’m still fighting my dad’s strong “too sensitive” pronouncement to this day. (He died in late July of 2000, and, funnily enough, in spite of his warrior profile, I’ve given thanks that he passed over a year ahead of 9/11, because that was just too crushing to handle, and who wasn’t fortunate to be absent from that news?)

So looking around at oldsters — friends, neighbors here in senior housing, folks out on errands — I’m seeing a lot of us straining for physical strength, now that it’s deserting us like dried lentils shooting out of a torn bag. Ask any elderly person about their bodily well-being, and you’ll hear about shoulder replacements and knee surgeries, either endured or hoped for in the near future. My own beloved ex-husband Marty Nadler had his hips fixed last year, one in the spring and the other in autumn, only to have the second trigger an infection, calling for months in rehab, and the poor fellah somehow got through it, and is now walking like a champ.

I’m thinking all of us who are getting around by hook or by crook (as in the crook of a cane), might be looking for the strength training that comes from machines in the gym or experienced exercise trainers. I Googled this topic, and found out that a mere 19 percent of oldies go in for this kind of muscle-building practice.

And really, when you come right down to it, it’s still psychological strength we’re after. Here’s my own recent bout with a tough guy coming: Last week at Chabad House, the darling 26-year-old Rabbi Tzvi Alperowitz sponsored a Shabbat dinner talk presented by one of the primary paratroopers, a soldier named Sassy Reuven, of the 1972 raid on Entebbe. You may have seen the movie. A few dozen paratroopers landed at the airport in Uganda, where a plane of Israelis had been abducted by seven terrorists. Mr. Reuven told us how one of their blokes in Hebrew commanded everyone to hit the ground. That left only the terrorists standing; Israeli shooters went to town on them, and the ordeal was averted.

Now here’s the happy thing: I got to sit next to this paratrooping hipster. He’s married with three grown kids, and they live in Calabasas, Calif. This happens to be right over the road from Hidden Hills, where I spent my teens, so he and I enjoyed this bond of neighborliness. His presiding style was pure boot camp sargent: a shouting voice backed up by Middle Eastern dark skin that had seen the Moses-40-years-in-the desert. His message was all about us poor Jews being hated by a bunch of people, how we’ll always be hated; how they hate how we talk, how we look, how we think (not that any of us can ever figure out a common thread; take a look at Torah studies) and how in the end, come what may, God protects us. At Entebbe, in spite of all obstacles on this wild Ugandan stretch of tarmac, a bunch of miracles lined up to expedite the mission.

When he finished his spellbinding talk, I wrapped a hand around his upper arm and asked if I could imbibe some of his strength. “I’d like to be fearless like you!” He smiled and said to help myself. In my current Hindu studies, I’ve learned that of the 26 noble qualities recommended in the sacred Bhagavad Gita, fearlessness is first. It’s the impregnable rock on which spiritual life must be erected. “Fearlessness means faith in God, faith in His protection, His justice, His mercy, His love.”

His peace! That’s what I stand for!