By Binyomin Weiss, COLlive
Ben Weider, Jewish-Canadian businessman well-known in two areas: Bodybuilding and Napoleonic history, passed away suddenly on October 17 in Montreal, city of his birth and lifelong home. He was 85 years old.
In his more than sixty years of involvement in bodybuilding, as Founding President of the International Brotherhood of Body Builders (I.F.B.B.), Mr. Weider worked in close association with his older brother Joe Weider, an iconic figure known as the Father of Modern Bodybuilding.
Montreal, where he was a very well-known figure, has such testaments to his philanthropy as the Ben Weider Jewish Community Center and two Lubavitch institutions – Bais Chaya Mushka Seminary and Rabbinical College of Quebec-Yeshiva Zal headed by Rabbi Leibel Kaplan.
“He used to tell me, ‘Judaism won’t continue because of people like me, but because of people like you,'” recalls Rabbi Avraham Cohen, executive director of the seminary who visited Weider every Friday.
Weider frequently attended Shabbos and Pesach meals at the Cohen residence in the Snowdon neighborhood, where he enjoyed experiencing authentic Jewish tradition.
“He was a very private person,” Cohen added in a phone conversation with COLlive. “He has achieved a lot in the secular and Jewish worlds and his passing is a very big loss to the Jewish community.”
Weider’s Jewish connection dates back to his humble upbringing in Montreal’s old Jewish immigrant quarter, known as “The Main.”
Ben was the third son of Louis and Anna Weider, immigrants from Poland. He, like his older brother Joe, had to drop out of school at the end of the seventh grade to help support the family, which was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Young Ben took jobs in garment sweatshops and restaurants before enlisting in the Canadian Army and serving during World War II. After Ben left the Army, then-overt anti-Semitism kept him out of entry-level positions in Montreal architecture firms, his dream career path at the time.
While he sought work, he pitched in to help his brother Joe, a passionate believer in bodybuilding, who published a physique magazine and operated a mail-order business in weights and exercise gear.
“He was always interested in yiddishkeit,” Cohen added. While Weider never got to meet Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he would frequently write notes asking for blessings and send it with Cohen when he departed to New York.
As every year, the Cohen family expected him at their Sukkah this year.