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May 28, 2018 8:06 am

Jewish Self-Defense Course Gains Steam, Changes Lives

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

Participants in a Legion Alpha class. Photo: Alan Zeitlin.

When Ortal Kindell exited her car a block away from her Brooklyn home, she never thought that she’d be fighting for her life. Out of nowhere, she said, a man punched her in the face.

“I saw my life flash before my eyes,” she recalled. “He slammed my head hard into my car window. It was the scariest moment ever. I think I was two or three weeks into my training, but I was able to knee him and when he went down to the ground, I ran into the street. He was really surprised [that] I fought back, and if not for Legion, I would have just been frozen.”

Kindell is one of more than 200 members of The Legion, a nine-month course that teaches krav maga, active shooter responses, anti-terrorism principles, and Jewish history. Founded by Jon Loew, Joe Richards, Andrew Goldstein, and Meredith Weiss, The Legion is aimed at helping Jews learn to defend themselves. Kindell said that her attacker spoke Arabic, but wasn’t sure the incident was a hate crime.

There have been several recent attacks against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, as well as violent attacks in France and elsewhere. Last summer, neo-Nazis marched in Virginia and shouted “Jews will not replace us.” With the recent violence in Israel, the end of the Iran nuclear deal, and the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, more antisemitic rhetoric is expected — as well as more attacks.

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Joe Richards says that the writing is on the wall.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Richards told me. “When things are bad and there are strong tensions, Jews get scapegoated. We have to be prepared. You can’t rely on other people to help you.”

Richards said that he saw this firsthand on Madison Avenue, when a man grabbed a young woman and dragged her. He said that he does not recommend that other people do what he did next.

“She’s screaming at the top of her lungs, and [I was] watching people look by and do nothing,” said Richards, who will lead a class in the fall. “God forbid that was my wife or my daughter. No one did anything. So I ran over. [The attacker] ran down the block, and I caught up to him and took him down.”

At a recruitment event last year, Loew told a large crowd that many Jews are waking up to a harsh reality.

“I think Jews are realizing that if you’re in America, you’re a target,” Loew said. “If you’re in New York, you’re even more of a target. If you’re a Jew in New York, you are the bullseye.”

A main instructor in The Legion is Matan Gavish, who founded the Krav Maga Academy in Manhattan, and is a renowned expert in the Israeli martial art.

“I sense you really know what you are doing,” news host Anderson Cooper told him on TV when Cooper allowed himself to be knocked down.

“I give him credit for doing it,” Gavish said of Cooper. “The message I’m trying to spread is that there are practical techniques that can be learned quickly and effectively.”

At 6’4″ and 300 pounds, Andrew Goldstein doesn’t look like he needs a self-defense course. But according to him, there is always more to learn.

“We’re living in a time of uncertainty, not just for Jews but for everyone,” Goldstein said. “Krav teaches that being big isn’t enough. You have to have speed and you have to know what moves to do ahead of time.”

Meirav Azoulay said that she signed up for the class because as a Jew and a woman, she wanted to defend herself. In one class, there was a mishap and her nose was nearly broken. But she came back soon after.

“I was chill,” she said. “The doctor was more nervous than I was.”

The course involves two nights a week of training and a monthly Sunday education class. It costs $900-$1,000, depending on the location. Courses will be offered in Manhattan, Brooklyn, West Hartford, Connecticut, and two Long Island locations.

After her Manhattan class, journalist Lara Berman explained that a great takeaway is “the presence of mind to act when it counts.”

That’s exactly what Kindell had.

“My confidence has gone [from] zero to a hundred in a matter of eight months,” Kindell said. “If you learn how to write and read, you should learn how to defend yourself. You don’t know when these things can happen. It can happen out of nowhere. Why do you have to wait for cops or someone stronger than you? Why can’t you be the one to defend yourself?”

The next recruitment event will take place on June 26 in Manhattan. For more info, go to www.legionalpha.com.

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