Moshe “MB” Klyman had to jump through more hoops than most while making a name for himself on the wrestling mat. Since enrolling in college more than 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, Teaneck, New Jersey, 36, a father of three, is 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 compete in the Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event held every four years that draws Jewish athletes from around the world for a series of sporting events. He is taking part in the Greco-Roman wrestling tournament in Beer Sheva on Monday.
The Orthodox wrestler does not hesitate to display his Jewish identity on the mat. Klyman’s wrestling singlet features two wrestlers above a Star of David against a background of intertwined Israeli and American flags.
“Seeing someone else standing there and not being ashamed of who they are is one of the reasons I star when I wrestle,” Klyman told The Times of Israel.
In 2018, Klyman founded a Jewish wrestling group called Tribe Wrestling with the goal of bringing together Jewish wrestlers from the New York metropolitan area.
“The kind of stereotypical role model of a Modern Orthodox Jewish person is definitely not MB,” said Paul Schoenberg, member of Tribe Wrestling and 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’ve never, ever competed in competitions that are on Shabbat,” Klyman said. “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 sabbatical year in Israel, Klyman turned down an offer from the Rutgers University wrestling team, as they required him to wrestle on Shabbat. Rather than give up his observance, he started his own wrestling club for Shabbat-observing students, which eventually rose to Division II level in the United States.
Even at Maccabiah in Israel, the Orthodox athlete had to pull strings to ensure competitions would not take place on Shabbat. Although the Maccabi World Union, which oversees the Maccabiah Games, does not hold games on Shabbat, the organization in charge of Maccabiah wrestling competitions operates separately and does not follow the same regulations.
“The fact that he’s able to train and do all of these things despite the hurdles he faces with Shabbat when he’s unable to train is very impressive,” Schoenberg said.
Over the past five years, Klyman has competed in wrestling competitions around the world, winning silver in Norway at its Kolbotn Cup and emerging with a gold medal at Canada’s Concordia Cup and National Beach Championships. Wrestling.
While his peers have been largely supportive, Klyman admitted he faces anti-Semitism in sports. He recalled a time when, while training at a gym in Norway, a Norwegian trainer wouldn’t talk to him and his colleague, Naftali Horowitz, after learning that they were jews.
In a chat with the coach, Horowitz spoke about the fact that he will probably be in Norway next year for the world championship, competing for Israel. “Before that, we practiced there for days, and he didn’t care, he was super smiley, very welcoming, everything was fine, but after that things were weird,” Horowitz said.
The refusal to engage – and even compete with – Jewish and Israeli athletes is far from unheard of in the wrestling world. Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi made headlines in 2017 when he lost a match to Uri Kalashnikov, who was wrestling for Israel at a world championship tournament in Poland.
Andrew Dos Santos, who trained with Klyman at his home, said he was grateful the wrestler was open about his Jewish identity. “I’m a Christian and a black man,” he said. “We had some amazing and insightful conversations through his [Klyman’s] openness to their faith and culture.
Klyman got his start in high school wrestling at Torah Academy in Bergen County, part of the Yeshiva Wrestling Association. “I was actually a really heavy kid,” Klyman said. “I didn’t win any matches for about two and a half years, and then I kind of started dialing after I lost about 65 pounds or so.
That’s when he started getting better at wrestling and winning more matches.
To pass on his love of fitness to others in his community, Klyman founded Underground Training, a gym that focuses on personal training and private lessons from its members. His catalyst was the work he did in college, sending personal trainers to people’s homes. Later, he turned this business into a full-fledged facility.
“His goal is to bring out the best in everyone. He does it on the wrestling mat, he does it in the synagogue, he does it in his gym,” said Rabbi Mordy Kuessos of Ahavath Torah, who often trains with Klyman.
It’s not Klyman’s first time competing at the Maccabiah: in 2017, he was selected to represent Canada, where he was born, at the 20th Maccabiah Games and won a bronze medal in his weight class. This month, the naturalized US citizen will compete for the US national team alongside 15 other teammates. He was, and still is, the first yeshiva league alumnus to participate in the tournament.
Although older than most amateur wrestlers, Klyman is determined to keep going. “I won’t give up until I win a world championship,” he said.
“What inspires me about MB is that he’s got his head on something and he’s going for it,” Kuessos said. “I’ve seen him train, he can train three times a day, all very different workouts, just to make sure he’s going to be a champion one day.”
In addition to Monday’s match, Klyman will wrestle Tuesday in the freestyle competition. Both matches take place in Beer Sheva.