Dahlia Moyal really knows how to throw her weight around.
The 21-year-old Highland Park native is now a fitness instructor in the Israel Defense Forces, training special forces, and a champion weightlifter who won her first major championship by lifting 265 pounds.
“I’m really good at what I do,” said Moyal in a phone interview with NJJN from Israel. “Women from other bases call me to help write workouts. If it’s a strength-training workout, my commander tells them to come to me.”
A graduate of Highland Park High School, Moyal grew up in the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth. She came to Israel in June 2013, joining the IDF as a “lone soldier” (serving without immediate family in the country). Originally Moyal was assigned to logistics, staying on base during the day and going home at night to her Jerusalem apartment.
“That’s really not a great experience,” said Moyal. “It’s not like really being in the army.”
However, a commanding officer was impressed that she came to serve in the Israeli military. Moyal was reassigned to the Maglan base near Ashkelon after completing a four-week course to become a trainer.
She now instructs male special forces and combat units. “We throw a lot of tires,” she said, describing strength-building routines. She also teaches fitness classes on base, including a recent spinning class in which a number of female officers participated.
Ironically, it was on a visit to New Jersey to see her family, including parents Joseph and Rifka Moyal and grandparents Justin and Gittel Footerman of Highland Park, that Moyal was inspired to take up weightlifting.
“I went to a local gym, and one of the trainers came up and said I was really good and I should compete professionally,” she said.
That trainer informed Moyal that her bench-press skills beat the top score in New Jersey for a woman in her weight group. Back in Israel, her commanding officer became “really excited” by the news and encouraged her to compete in Israel. Through his connections, she found her trainer, Eliyahu, who donates his services to his young protege.
“He told me he was really impressed that I was a lone soldier and a girl who can powerlift,” said Moyal. She participated in her first meet in December, the Mediterranean Challenge in Petach Tikvah, which she described as “100 percent raw powerlifting.”
During the completion, Moyal placed first in her weight category as well as in the “absolute” category measuring relative strength. Moyal was able to lift 120 kilos — 265 pounds — from a squat and from a deadlift and bench press 60 kilos, or 132 pounds.
Moyal said she will probably not compete again until August, giving her enough training time to be able to beat her first scores.
Moyal comes to her love for Israel and the Jewish people and her interest in the military through her family. Her maternal grandfather is a life board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County — now the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey. Her brother is in the U.S. Air Force, currently stationed in Florida.
Her paternal grandmother, whose own parents emigrated from Argentina to the Holy Land when she was two, served in the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Hagana, the underground fighting unit in prestate Israel. Her paternal grandfather was in the Stern Gang, the underground organization in prestate Israel that fought to drive out the British.
The couple immigrated to the United States, settling in Linden, shortly before the youngest of their three sons — Dahlia’s father — was born.
“Dahlia was always mad at my husband for not speaking Hebrew at home,” said Rifka Moyal. “She took classes in Hebrew in high school. When my parents took us to Israel for their 50th wedding anniversary, she was trying to figure out what she wanted to do. She saw my son liked being in the military so she thought she might do that — but in Israel.”
Rifka said her daughter, who is scheduled to be discharged from the IDF in December, has worked hard to become proficient in Hebrew.
Dahlia said she is unsure of her plans after the service.
“I think I might want to be a personal trainer, but everybody’s doing it,” she said. “There’s so much competition. But who can say they’ve helped train special forces in the Israeli Army?”