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A Transfer Student Raises the Bar Celebrity Student: Yonatan Dorfman

I first learned of Yonatan Dorfman from my two iron pumping roommates. Rumors about his legendary strength seem to circulate beyond the confines of the gym. Who’s the man behind that 350-pound bench-press? It turns out Yonatan Dorfman is more than just a body builder.

Yonatan Dorfman was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington for his freshman year of high school. From there he began a home-schooling program called Keystone, taught himself the courses he needed to graduate and earned his diploma by time he was 16. He had “quite tough childhood.” As the eldest in his family, he had to support his younger siblings through a messy divorce. “I get what people feel,” says Yonatan. “Divorce was really tough on me and I feel the pain that people go through.”

Right after he turned 16, he “shipped out to Israel.” He studied for a year-and-a-half in Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalaim, a “pretty yeshivish and very intense place.” He assumed the role of a peer counselor for friends who were going through rough periods; “People called me with all kinds of problems—depression or worse—and I helped people because I was there too.”

His experiences as a child and in Israel attracted him to the field of psychology. “I ultimately want to become a professional therapist,” he said. To that end, Yonatan enrolled in Lander’s College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills and began majoring in psychology. After one semester, he found Lander’s intellectually unchallenging. “I came to YU for a better education,” said Yonatan. “I also transferred because YU has a better gym.”

Yonatan began training at the gym in his early teens. “I used to be overweight and my doctor told me I had to lose it. One day I woke up and just said ‘I’m going to do this.’” He lost fifty pounds by hitting the gym daily. He taught himself techniques, training regimens and the science behind his workouts. “I read up on the books and I was really interested in learning everything about lifting,” he said.

Israel afforded Yonatan a prime opportunity to workout side-by-side with religious study. “I had three to four hours a day that I cold devote to lifting,” he explained. Soon he was lifting five days a week and running every day. Yonatan worked as a personal trainer in Israel, helped friends develop training calendars, and eventually developed a reputation. He was offered to compete in the Jerusalem Strongman competition and trained for the contest for four months. “My gym sponsored me and I was excited to compete.”

At the height of his training, he could deadlift an extraordinary 450 pounds. His heaviest calf raise was 900 pounds. He can leg-press just shy of half a ton. “I literally broke the capillaries in my chest lifting that kind of weight,” said Yonatan. “It was extremely taxing and very hard.” Family circumstances forced Yonatan to fly back and miss the competition. But he still worked out regularly with his “training chavrusa.”

His reputation traveled with him to YU. Though he has been in YC just two semesters, already “people constantly ask for my email and call me all the time.” Yonatan doesn’t mind answering questions, “but it can get incessant; I mean three o’clock in the morning incessant,” he said.  “I’d love to head up a fitness club, I just don’t have the time.”

Time is a precious commodity for Yonatan. As a double major in biology and psychology with a concentration on physical therapy and a student in the IBC morning learning program, Yonatan barely finds time to hit the gym. In addition, this August, Yonatan married SCW student Elisheva Markov ’15, who is also a biology major. “I got married and realized there were a lot of other important things,” said Yonatan.

Indeed, there is another reason why Yonatan made the switch from Landers to Yeshiva. “I went to Landers with no intention of dating whatsoever. In fact, if they see you with a girl in your first year, you could get disciplinary action. It’s a gated community. ” A series of events lead to their eventual meeting. “One of my good friends asked a girl out, but she rejected him. He asked me to try to talk her into dating him and, well, that’s when I met my wife.”

“Elisheva supports, even encourages me to go to the gym, to work hard, and to learn,” said Yonatan. “She has always been there through my transfer to YU. I couldn’t have done it without her.” Yonatan hopes to earn a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in counseling and is hard at work trying to finish YU on time. “Our family is eventually going to be expanding,” he said.  “I want to make sure we’re ready.”