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Maccabiah games'Definitely not your stereotypical Modern Orthodox guy'

Orthodox wrestler from Teaneck takes to mat in Beersheba for 21st Maccabiah Games

Moshe ‘MB’ Klyman was the only Sabbath observant athlete in his hotel when he last wrestled for Canada at the ‘Jewish Olympics’; this year he’s aiming to take gold for Team USA

Moshe 'MB' Klyman, right, with his friend Naftali Horowitz in Montreal during the 2018 Concordia Cup tournament. (Courtesy)
Moshe 'MB' Klyman, right, with his friend Naftali Horowitz in Montreal during the 2018 Concordia Cup tournament. (Courtesy)

Moshe “MB” Klyman had to jump through more hoops than most while making a name for himself on the wrestling mat. Since enrolling in university over a decade ago, the world-class Jewish wrestler has juggled religious observance and athletic aspirations in a combat sport that revolves around weekend tournaments.

In addition to competing internationally, the 36-year-old Teaneck, New Jersey, father of three serves as the president of the Benaroya Sephardic Center at his local Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Ahavath Torah, in Englewood, New Jersey.

Klyman landed in Israel earlier this month to participate in the Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event held every four years that attracts Jewish athletes from around the world for an array of sporting events. On Monday, he took fourth place in the Greco-Roman wrestling tournament in Beersheba. In addition, Klyman will wrestle Tuesday in the freestyle competition.

The Orthodox wrestler does not shy away from displaying his Jewish identity while on the mat. Emblazoned on Klyman’s wrestling singlet are two wrestlers above a Star of David, over a backdrop of intertwined Israeli and American flags.

“Seeing someone else standing up there and not being ashamed of who they are, is one of the reasons I put the star on when I wrestle,” Klyman told The Times of Israel.

In 2018, Klyman founded a Jewish wrestling group called Tribe Wrestling in an effort to bring together Jewish wrestlers from the New York metropolitan area.

“The sort of stereotypical model of a Modern Orthodox Jewish person is definitely not MB,” said Paul Schoenberg, a member of Tribe Wrestling and a friend of Klyman. “He’s a strength trainer, a bodybuilder, obsessed with wrestling.”

In the past, Klyman has had to make substantial sacrifices in the name of his Jewish observance.

“I’ve had opportunities to wrestle all over the world at this point, but I never, ever enter competitions that are on Shabbat,” said Klyman. “I get invited to a lot of events, probably a dozen tournaments a year all over the world, and I have to turn most of them down because they’re usually on Saturdays.”

After completing a gap year in Israel, Klyman turned down an offer from the Rutgers University wrestling team, as they required him to wrestle on Shabbat. Rather than abandoning his observance, he created his own wrestling club for students who keep Shabbat, which eventually rose to the Division II tier in the United States.

Moshe Klyman, right, in a Greco-Roman style wrestling match in 2019. (Courtesy)

Even at the Maccabiah in Israel, the Orthodox athlete had to pull strings to ensure that competitions wouldn’t be held over Shabbat. Though the Maccabi World Union, which oversees the Maccabiah Games, does not host games on Shabbat, the organization in charge of Maccabiah’s wrestling competitions operates separately and does not abide by the same regulations.

“The fact that he is able to train and do all these things despite barriers that he deals with with Shabbat when he’s unable to train, it is very impressive,” said Schoenberg.

In the past five years, Klyman has competed in wrestling competitions across the globe, winning silver in Norway at its Kolbotn Cup, and emerging with a gold medal in both Canada’s Concordia Cup and the Beach Wrestling National Championships.

While his peers have been largely supportive, Klyman admitted that he’s faced antisemitism in the sport. He recalled a time while training at a gym in Norway when a Norwegian coach wouldn’t speak to him and his colleague, Naftali Horowitz, after learning that they were Jewish.

In conversation with the coach, Horowitz brought up that he’d likely be in Norway next year for the world championship, competing for Israel. “Before that, we were training there for days, and he didn’t care, he was super smiley, very welcoming, everything was great, but after that, things were weird,” Horowitz said.

Refusal to engage — and even compete with — Jewish and Israeli sportsmen is far from unheard of in the wrestling world. The Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi made headlines in 2017 when he forfeited a match against Uri Kalashnikov, who was wrestling for Israel during a world championship tournament in Poland.

Andrew Dos Santos, who has trained with Klyman in his home, said he is grateful that the wrestler is open about his Jewish identity. “I am a Christian and a Black man,” he said. “We have had amazing, insightful conversations due to his [Klyman’s] openness about his faith and culture.”

Moshe ‘MB’ Klyman and wife Renee in their Englewood synagogue. (courtesy)

Klyman got his start in wrestling during high school at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, which is part of the Yeshiva Wrestling Association. “I was actually a very heavy kid,” Klyman said. “I didn’t win any matches for around two-and-a-half years, and then I kind of started dialing in after I lost like 65 lbs. or so.”

It was then that he began to improve at wrestling and win more matches.

To spread his love for fitness to others in his community, Klyman founded Underground Training, a gym that focuses on giving its members personal training and private lessons. Its catalyst was the work he did in college, sending personal trainers to people’s homes. Later on, he turned that business into a full-fledged facility.

“His goal is to bring out the best in everybody. He does that on the wrestling mat, he does that in synagogue, he does that in his gym,” said Ahavath Torah’s Rabbi Mordy Kuessos, who often trains with Klyman.

This isn’t Klyman’s first time at Maccabiah: In 2017, he was selected to represent Canada, where he was born, in the 20th Maccabiah Games and won a bronze medal in his weight class. This month, the naturalized US citizen will be competing for the US National Team alongside 15 other teammates. He was, and still is, the first yeshiva league alumnus to compete in the tournament.

Despite being older than most amateur wrestlers, Klyman is determined to continue. “I won’t quit until I win a world championship,” he said.

“What inspires me about MB is that he put his head to something, and he’s going for it,” Kuessos said. “I’ve seen him train, he can work out three times in a day, all very different workouts, just to ensure that he’s gonna be a champion one day.”

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