Synagogue prez lowers weight, raises tzedaka

Synagogue prez lowers weight, raises tzedaka

After — celebrating his 36-pound weight loss, on June 30. Photo by Harry Glazer
After — celebrating his 36-pound weight loss, on June 30. Photo by Harry Glazer

A “life-affirming” effort to motivate the president of a Highland Park synagogue has helped inspire an entire community to live a healthier lifestyle.

Seth Berman has struggled with his weight for years. In January, he asked members of Congregation Ahavas Achim to help him in his plans to slim down — and make a donation to the shul for every pound he lost through June 30.

Berman had tied his personal campaign to the synagogue’s recent dedication of a $1.5 million renovation and addition.

As part of the Presidential Weight Loss Challenge, Rabbi Steven Miodownik weighed Berman every Shabbat. Besides dieting, Berman also undertook a program of exercise and lifestyle changes, which he chronicled in a blog,, and where others left messages of support.

Weighing in at the end of his challenge, Berman found he lost 36 pounds.

“The number is significant because it is twice chai or chaim (lives) and thus symbolizes the lives of all those who generously supported or benefitted from the Presidential Weight Loss Challenge,” said Berman. “It was heartening to hear stories of individuals who resolved to make the positive changes in their lives and the lives of their families as a result of our initiative.

“Most importantly, it was encouraging to watch the entire shul — and to an extent the community at large — come together to support a life-affirming cause and have fun in the process.”

The challenge also brought in about $5,000 for Ahavas Achim.

As a result of their leader’s push, congregants and other community members have embarked on their own healthy lifestyle campaigns, joining in on walks and developing better eating habits.

While rugelach and other traditional gut-busters are still available during Shabbat morning’s kiddush, a “healthy table” piled with fruits and vegetables has become a big hit.

Despite its serious health-related themes, the weight loss campaign also succeeded in its mission to be “light-hearted and fun,” said Berman.

In his blog entry on June 30, he noted, “I think that the most important factor in our effort to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle is thinking positive.”

And with that positive mindset, Berman has decided to push forward with his weight loss program.

Miodownik will continue to weigh Berman for the next 13 weeks, with those results to be announced on erev Rosh Hashana, just in time to get the New Year off to a healthy start.

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