“This studio… it’s a dream come true.”
“I joined the gym in 2014 as a member and I climbed the ladder all the way up to become an owner.”
“Our facility has been here since 1987. We sometimes renew memberships for people in their 20’s whose previous photo was taken when they were kids on their parents’ plan.”
“I’ve been a trainer for 25 years. I built this studio not just for people to work out, but to give them a home.”
“I got started with CrossFit because I’ve always been attracted to ideas that were out of left field. I always liked variety and CrossFit went against the grain of the gym industry at the time.”
Over the past week, we sat down with representatives from five different fitness centers in Jerusalem. These locations could not have been more diverse as we visited two intense CrossFit gyms, a loud and energetic fitness studio, a quaint community pilates studio and a vast country club complex featuring three pools and a tennis court.
These five locations share the commonality of running on the Arbox platform, but are as unique as you could imagine. The goal was to learn more about our clients and the different ways they each utilize our product. The result was a microscopic look into the diversity, challenges and excitement surrounding the Jerusalem fitness community.
While conducting these interviews we ended up learning so much more than we had imagined about the modern and dynamic world of fitness at the heart of this ancient city. Jerusalem is as diverse as it is beautiful, and we were lucky to capture a glimpse of that during our interviews.
I’m five minutes early for my interview and walk right into a whirlwind. “Let’s go ladies! Yalla, three more!” There’s a HIIT workout class happening now that seems to be covering every inch of Studio Be1’s underground space and it looks fierce. In between reps (note: in between short breaths) one member tells me that Roni will be here in a minute. Once I meet Roni Hillel, the Owner and Head Coach of Studio Be1, I understand the intensity. If you’re looking for someone who fits the bill of a fitness coach with 25 years of experience it’s this guy.
- Roni Hillel in his element coaching a class at Studio Be1
Studio Be1 may seem right at home in any other city, but in Jerusalem it’s pretty unique. “I’ve been in Jerusalem all of my life,” Roni explains. “There are some great people who run fitness centers here, but the city is more about the bigger gyms. “You just don’t see places like this in Jerusalem.”
You just don’t see places like this. After meeting with the rest of our interviewees, I’ve come to realize that that statement could be the topic of this entire article.
One place you certainly don’t expect to see in Jerusalem is the R Club Country Club located in the Ramat Rachel Kibbutz on the outskirts of the city. Yes, you read that correctly. Jerusalem has not one but two country clubs, and despite having lived in Jerusalem for three years, I was speechless while taking a tour of the R Club facilities.
After renovating two years ago on a complex that has been around since the late 80’s, R Club is one of the premier fitness facilities in Israel. The club boasts multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, robust workout spaces and multiple studios for yoga, spinning and more. As I’m waiting for my interview at R Club at 11:00am on a Thursday, I see dozens of people working out on treadmills, in the gym, swimming and participating in classes. This is a full-service fitness center that caters to members of all ages and fitness levels. In fact, some retirees spend the equivalent of a full working day at R Club jumping from the pool to the lush grounds to the studios and all over this immense complex.
Despite its size, you might never come across R Club as it’s hidden in the Jerusalem hills next to its founding kibbutz. That seems to be a trend with our locations, as we head to a more central Jerusalem neighborhood and find a modest studio nestled among the trees.
Nitza’s Studio, established back in 2010, is a community staple offering pilates classes for men and women of all ages. “I’ve been involved with sports my entire life, but this studio has been a lifelong dream of mine.” Nitza Rotstein, the owner and pilates trainer at Nitza’s Studio, sought out to do what she loves and ended up building a robust community of members in the heart of the city.
Community is another recurring theme among our fitness centers and what better place to find a community than with CrossFit? All over the world, people embrace an almost cult-like environment within their CrossFit gyms, but in Jerusalem, it took a while to create that.
“I didn’t know anything about CrossFit seven years ago. I was into sports and participated in gymnastics but I initially came to CrossFit to work out and since then I’ve risen up the ranks to become a coach and now owner of the gym.” That’s Daniel Cohen, who just six years later is now the Head Coach and Co-Owner of CrossFit City of David, located in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. When I asked about the backstory of his gym, he explained its mission statement rather simply.
“Every day we work to make this CrossFit gym a better place. Whether that means expanding our space, finding new coaches or adding more classes, we want to improve people’s health and help them achieve their fitness goals for life outside the gym.”
After rising through the ranks of the gym himself, Daniel is working to ensure that same degree of closeness that brought him into the CrossFit fold by only adding new coaches by promoting from within.
Daniel’s story is unique but also quite different from our other CrossFit interviewee, Josh Pinson, who runs CrossFit Jerusalem out of the YMCA building on King David street. Pinson is a certified CrossFit trainer with more than 15 years of experience and took what he learned from his CrossFit gym in Baltimore to Israel when he moved here four years later. He opened CrossFit Jerusalem shortly thereafter in 2011.
- Josh Pinson, right, founder and head coach of CrossFit Jerusalem, imparting some wisdom during a class
When asked about his thoughts on the state of fitness in Jerusalem he only had positive things to say. “I think it’s great. You have a range of options to choose from. All kinds of opportunities for both men and women, with our gym being about 50/50 in terms of ratio of men to women. You have all nationalities, all ages. We have a very diverse environment here and it’s kinda fitting for us to be located in the YMCA.”
Running a Studio During the COVID-19 Crisis
Despite the differences in size and focus for each of our fitness studios, one thing remained constant: all five locations were (and still are) affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
I was surprised to learn that R Club took the harshest stance in dealing with the lockdown and closed its doors entirely on March 15th, freezing all of their 3,500+ memberships for nearly two months. Fortunately, they were able to reopen back in May with Health Ministry-approved limitations and mandatory registrations for everything, even swimming pool lanes.
- Socially distanced treadmills at RClub in order to comply with Health Ministry regulations
“At first, it took some getting used to,” explained Maayan Asheri, the Customer Relationship Manager at R Club. “Our clients had to register for the gym, studios and our pools, but I think now that it’s been a few weeks, we’re in a good place.”
For the smaller studios, with more of a close-knit community, there were tougher decisions to make that provided a reality that was anything but secure.
“We were in a really great place before COVID-19 hit,” Roni from Studio Be1 tells me. “I was looking to expand into new and exciting projects but had to stop everything, including freezing my members’ automatic membership payments.”
Even in this difficult situation, Roni soldiered on, providing free live online lessons in the first month of the quarantine. He asked only for a symbolic payment every week just to keep things going. His goal was to maintain the connection with his members and try to add new customers along the way. After seeing the way he interacts with each person as they leave his studio, it’s not surprising to learn that the majority of his members continued to work out with Roni throughout the lockdown and he is currently, “reaping the benefits of his efforts” of the past few months.
Like Roni, Josh from CrossFit Jerusalem embraced the opportunity and made the most of his one-on-one time with his members.
“The number one thing I could always do better is talk to my people more. To me, that’s leadership. Talking to them and showing them you care.” Regarding the time spent in lockdown he added, “There was something simple and pure about it. We were really engaging and it was great.”
In order to maintain the close connections that gyms have with their members, Arbox went to work adding Zoom capabilities to the platform right as gyms began to close their doors due to the pandemic back in March. This added feature enabled owners and coaches to add a Zoom conferencing link to each of their workout classes that would be sent out via email and push notification to all of the registered members. That way, the gyms wouldn’t miss a beat and would be able to keep up their workout schedules from afar and help people continue to achieve their fitness goals from home.
Across town at CrossFit City of David, I learned that many members wanted to freeze their own memberships due to financial concerns during the lockdown, but felt strongly about maintaining their connection to the gym. Head Coach Daniel Cohen also took advantage of the situation by maintaining those connections over Zoom and reopening the first day it was legally permitted – something that none of our other interviewees managed to do.
“We went from 12 people per class to 8, which actually made it easier for me to coach,” Daniel said. “We even had people join during the COVID-19 situation after it proved to them how important it is to maintain their health and strength.”
While handling smaller class sizes may be beneficial to an established CrossFit gym, for a neighborhood pilates studio, it could spell disaster.
“Zoom saved me,” explains Nitza Rotstein. “During the COVID-19 lockdown, thankfully, most of my clients stayed with me and the studio. I provided classes over Zoom and opened up immediately when I could under the Health Ministry guidelines.”
In addition to the benefits of an online video platform, Nitza credits her location to her survival during the lockdown.
“I’ve had my studio here for 10 years and I love this neighborhood. Most of my members are from nearby. The residents of the Katamon community appreciate quality and felt like this was a place they could feel at home.”
Thankfully, her studio survived and Nitza perfectly summed up the perspective on the past few that I believe is shared by all our interviewees: “I believe in what I do. I don’t ever feel like it’s something that won’t last. Even after the pandemic ends. People need a place to come together and work out. And let’s be honest, Zoom can never replace coming into a studio.”
Part 2 of our series will be published later this week and will take a closer look at the communities built around our five fitness centers and how each of them are in turn giving back to their respective communities.
Connect with our interviewees: