Believe it or not, body building as an international sport, has Jewish roots. Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of Ben Weider, who, together with his brother Joe, created the International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) and played a critical role in the fitness revolution of the twentieth century.

Born on February 1, 1923, Weider dropped out of school at 13 to work. When he came of age, Weider entered the military and, during World War II, served in the Canadian Army’s intelligence division. When he returned to Montreal in 1946, Weider turned his brother’s interest in body building into a business. The brothers started with a small magazine, Your Fitness, through which they also sold equipment and nutritional supplements. Eventually their publications were expanded to include Flex, Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness and Fit Pregnancy. In 1965, the Weiders introduced the first Mr. Olympia competition, which is still considered a top competition for body builders.

Much of Ben Weider’s work consisted of traveling around the world building up the IFBB and, at the same time, working to enhance peaceful relations between people. He built a gym in the Israeli Knesset and was welcomed in numerous Arab states. In the era of the Cold War, he was invited to countries in the Soviet Bloc. He even managed to have an integrated body building IFBB tournament in South Africa in 1978. In 1984, Weider was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Body building was not Weider’s only passion. He was also a self-taught and highly respected Napoleonic scholar. He published four books on Napoleon and introduced the theory that Napoleon died not from stomach cancer but from arsenic poisoning.

Ben Weider passed away on October 17, 2008 at age 93. Throughout his life, Weider earned numerous honors and awards, such as the Order of Canada and the Order of St. John. For all of his fame, Weider was also a philanthropist who gave generously, particularly within the Montreal Jewish community. The Young Man’s Hebrew Association and the educational complex of the Lubavitch community are two prominent edifices which bear his name.

This Treat was originally posted on February 1, 2018.

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