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Connecticut’s Jewish Community Gets New Program to (Literally) Fight Anti-Semitism

An intensive nine-month program will focus on self-defense in the form Krav Maga and include First Aid training, lectures and discussions on issues that affect the security of the Jewish community.

By Harry Weller / Connecticut Jewish Ledger

Women training in Krav Maga as part of the Hartford Chapter of The Legion. Credit: Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

For those who think American Jewish self-defense is an oxymoron, the newly formed Hartford Chapter of The Legion is offering something that may well change minds. The Legion is looking for 30 adult Jewish community members to undertake its intensive nine-month program beginning in September, which will focus on self-defense in the form Krav Maga, Israel’s own martial art. The program also includes First Aid training, accompanied by lectures and discussions on current events concentrating on issues that affect the security of the Jewish community.

The primary objective is to provide Jewish community members with the skills and confidence necessary to respond when confronted by threats of anti-Semitic violence. A related goal is to strengthen ties within the Jewish community among those who might not otherwise interact.

This combination of self-defense and community-building is particularly appealing to Meredith Smith, a West Hartford resident and one of the first to apply for the local program.

Smith, a physically active professional mother of three, believes that “it’s important for Jews to defend themselves and be prepared to do so.”

She is equally attracted to the concept of distinct Jewish activities that provide alternative ways for members of the community to meet and bond.

“Israeli self-defense is cultural,” she notes, and will provide unique and easy ways to make friends among those who have a common interest and common culture.

Smith, who wants to “spice up” her workouts, is also attracted to the Hartford Chapter’s program because it includes full membership in a well-equipped local gym, which includes access to the gym’s 70-plus self-defense and fitness classes, including, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, Kung Fu, Muay Thai and yoga.

In addition to a great workout, Smith is clear about what she hopes to gain from The Legion.

“A lot of anti-Semitism is hurtful words,” she notes. “We [Jews] back down with our words when a bully comes, and we’re easy targets. So even if I don’t fight, at least I’ll have the confidence to respond. I’m looking for the confidence piece of it. But it would be fantastic to be able to physically respond if I have to.”

‘Means of developing confidence’

The brainchild of New York City entrepreneur Jon Loew, The Legion is a nonprofit organization that originated in Manhattan in response to issues that arose during Israel’s 2014 Gaza war. Loew noticed an uptick in anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks against Jews, and was concerned that Jews were unable to stand up to physical confrontations. Consequently, Jews are perceived to be “soft targets.”

“We started the legion to ensure that members of the Jewish community would have the basic training to handle threats of anti-Semitic violence,” he says.

According to Loew, the program has produced benefits well beyond teaching self-defense.

“There is an incredible community-building aspect of the program. Members of The Legion come from various denominations, affinity groups and Jewish backgrounds. They develop close ties to one another, transcending the traditional Jewish organizational barriers to help create a stronger community with more effective community leaders.”

The Hartford program is the first offering outside of New York. Hartford attorney Dan Gottfried, who is primarily responsible for bringing it to the city, says: “Self-defense training is proven as a means of developing overall confidence. Our Jewish leaders need, more than anything, the confidence to stand up for what is right.”

Krav Maga training is also steeped in its own irony. Those who think Jews are “soft targets” ignore Israel’s aggressive defense of its citizens and Jewish communities worldwide. Krav Maga, in turn, was created by the Israeli military to give its soldiers an advantage during hand-to-hand combat.

Now, The Legion is bringing Krav Maga here to ensure that, if necessary, ordinary members of Hartford’s Jewish community won’t be soft targets.

The article originally appeared in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger and has been syndicated with their permission.

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