Isaac Messinger being presented with a certificate of appreciation last year for his contributions to the Jewish National Fund of Canada and Beit Halochem. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
Isaac Messinger was born in Poland in 1929 and spent some of his early years in Siberia. Although his family tried to flee back to Poland when he was 12 years old, he ended up alone and orphaned in Russia and has spent the years since then living a very colourful life.
Among the notable moments, Messinger worked as a cowboy on horseback, chauffeur to a Polish officer, in a garage, as a prizefighter, a soccer player, a tinsmith and a traveling carnie with a roulette wheel. And he still had time to open a steakhouse and deal in diamonds, while lending money to some of the original landowners along the Las Vegas Strip.
Messinger has long been a strong supporter of Israel and he is currently focused on funding a project of JNF Canada that works with Israeli veterans, a special fitness centre at Beit Halochem Ashdod.
At first glance, the fitness centre at Beit Halochem looks like any other fitness club. There are lots of people working out on the equipment, weight training and stretching. Upon closer examination though, the difference is quite clear. Not only is much of the equipment and machinery slightly different, but the members are as well. Here, veterans young and old, with a wide spectrum of disabilities, come to improve their strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. They exercise side by side, some on special equipment designed for wheelchair access or amputee-specific machines, and there are trainers on hand to explain and assist the veterans.
The physical rehabilitation aspects of working out in the fitness centre are clear to all. Less obvious is the psychological benefit that the disabled vets get from taking an active role in their rehabilitation.