By Randy Cuenot and Jeff Rycus, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Milton “Milt” Gershovitz, 87, Chicago strongman, is still lifting weights. A resident of Park Plaza Jewish Senior Living Community on the north side of Chicago, Milt brought some of his weights with him when he made the transition to senior living. He still does 30-pound curls to strengthen his biceps and triceps. He walks up to his weights and sometimes wistfully recalls what he was once able to do, and then steps back, respecting his limitations for what he can now do.
Yet, he remains active, keeping his body nicely toned and physically fit. And, Milt is also an ardent nutritionist, and one who freely gives advice about making healthy dietary and other life-style choices that promote good health and well-being.
Milt, while living in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, became interested in body building at an early age. He dedicated himself after coming across the magazine, Muscle Power. During his prime, he was able to dead lift 475 pounds, squat with 475 pounds, lift 90 pound dumbbells over his head with each hand for five repetitions, and curl a 150-pound barbell with his 16½ inch biceps. He also hoisted 700 pounds on the leg press machine and did elevated push-ups with weights around his head to build up his neck muscles.
Milt worked at Superior Meat Packing Company in near-by Massillon, Ohio. He recalled one particular impromptu weight-lifting exhibition that he gave for a very small but vociferous audience. On that night, when some non-Jewish workers were making disparaging remarks about Jews and Israel, he raised a 300-pound side of beef over his head and threatened to throw it at them. But, having made his point, he put down the side of beef. The hecklers, quieted, never talked like that around him again.
Milt desired to live a more robust religious Jewish life, but found that difficult in the small Jewish community of Canton. He committed earlier in his life to honor G-d by keeping the Sabbath and following the laws of kashrut. So, in 1952, after saying the Mourner’s Kaddish for his mother, Anna, and with the encouragement of Rabbi Solomon Hecht, from Chicago, and his father, Julius, he moved to Chicago in 1953.
Many might remember Milt, from his years of service to the religious community, as the sole proprietor of Montreal Soda. His weight lifting skills helped him load and unload his truck every day and carry cases of soda up and down the stairs of client’s homes.
Still, others might remember Milt for the weight lifting exhibitions he provided. He attended a few shuls on the west side of Chicago, but, in 1956, he eventually settled in at Young Israel when the congregation moved to Albany Park. The congregation had financial needs, and Milt “muscled-up” by giving weight lifting exhibitions for a fee. The funds generated were used to cover both building and operating expenses for the congregation. He recalled several such experiences, one occurring during Purim, 1959, when he gave an exhibition to a large crowd across the street from the Rabbi Bine Shul Social Center. He did likewise at Eugene Park, always donating the proceeds to Young Israel.
Now, sixty-one years later, Milt continues with his weight lifting, albeit it on a modified schedule, and he remains active in senior living, participating in the religious activities of Park Plaza. He can be counted on whenever a minyan is needed, and, for more informal things, like passing out song sheets for a Havdalah service, picking-up prayer books after a meal, and lending a hand whenever needed.
Randy Cuenot and Jeff Rycus are co-chairs of public relations and communications for the I. M. Harris B’nai B’rith Bowling Association in Columbus, Ohio. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.