“When I’m working with a client, I try to mix in some of what I learned overseas, in Israel and Europe. There, they have a different type of philosophy. They focus on balancing, agility, and the mind/body connection. I try to find a balance between that and the American philosophy of building strength, big muscles, and lifting weights. I always cater to my client to make it different and fun,” said Eric Campbell, one of the newest personal trainers to join the JCC’s Diamond Family Fitness Center.
Eric developed a love for Israel and a unique approach to personal training after playing professional basketball there—for eight seasons in Israel and five seasons in France, traveling throughout Europe for games. Eric was also a six-time All Star.
After playing forward on the Springhill College men’s basketball team, one of his teammates, who happened to be Israeli, suggested he play professionally in Israel. Though hesitant and with his parents begging him not to go, Eric took a risk he would never regret. “I went to Israel. I went there and loved it. To me, Israel is alive—it has a pulse and a pace you won’t find anywhere else. I just fell in love with Israel,” he said.
While playing for Qiryat Ata-Motzkin, a professional basketball team based in the Haifa area, all his assumptions about Israel were proven wrong. “I had a vision of Israel that was totally different from what it was. I thought it would be just camels, desert, the stuff you see on TV here. But being in Israel was like a paid vacation—it was a mixture of New York and Miami,” Eric explained.
He compared his experience in Israel with his experience in France. “You get off the plane in Tel Aviv and everybody’s moving fast and it’s chaotic. Israel has a heartbeat, and I didn’t feel that in France. We played all over Europe; I would always go into each country we played to get a feel for the people, and there’s nothing compared to Israel.”
One of Eric’s favorite things about Israel was how welcoming and kind everyone was. “Every week I had someone invite me over for Sabbath dinner. In Israel, there was almost no difference between the players, the management, and the coaches—they would all invite you into their homes each week. It was just the custom.”
While in Israel, there were only three times when Eric felt unsafe. He was in Israel on September 11, 2001. “It was surreal. My teammate, Jermaine, called me and said, ‘Turn on the TV.’ It was on all the channels. We were just trying to figure out what was going on.
“Initially, we thought it was a plane accident. And then we actually saw the second one, flying into the tower, live. You couldn’t get phone calls out. They shut down the switchboards because they didn’t know what was going on. The theory was that they didn’t know if somebody from outside the country was calling in telling [the terrorists] what to do. It was tough.
“Then when the U.S. invaded Iraq, we had to evacuate because they had to secure one of the western borders of Iraq. Two weeks later, once it was secured by the U.S., we were allowed to come back. That was the only time I left the country for security reasons.” Most of the time, Eric explained, the mentality in Israel was to continue playing, to persevere in spite of terrorist threats. Though a bombing occurred near one of Eric’s game locations in Haifa, “They didn’t cancel the game because they said that would be like giving in to the terrorists,” he explained.
In 2007, a firecracker was thrown onto the court by an excited fan, causing serious injury to a security guard. Eric and his teammates were most shaken by that. “At the time we didn’t know it was a firecracker thrown by some kid. We thought it was a bomb. For two hours we were on lockdown and it was chaotic.” The tragedy almost led the team’s owner to cancel the season that year.
“But the great thing about that year,” Eric added, “was that we won the championship. We beat the biggest team in Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv, for the championship title. Only about four teams have ever done that. That was the highlight of my career. It’d be like a little small team beating Ohio State in football.” Eric explained how basketball is enormously popular in Israel, a close second to soccer. Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the national team of Israel, is a bit like the New York Yankees in America in terms of popularity and notoriety for Israelis.
Another highlight of Eric’s time in Israel was meeting his wife, Faye. They now have two sons, ages six and two. “Hopefully we can build a foundation here and stay in this area. I would love to stay here long-term. I like Columbus. It’s great to raise kids.” Because Faye’s father, who works for the United Nations, is from Barbados and her mother is Israeli and Jewish, Faye was raised in an interfaith family. The Campbells observe both Judaism and Christianity, too—celebrating all the holidays and speaking Hebrew in their home.
“My kids understand more than me now. When I first got to Israel, I attended an Ulpan and was good for awhile. But everybody in Israel speaks English, and gets so excited to practice their English with Americans. I would use Hebrew with my Israeli teammates,” Eric remembered. “I could order food. The first thing they taught me— Nimi was one of our fitness training coaches, probably the best one I ever had— he said, ‘Tevili keslev b’vakasha.’ I asked ‘What does that mean?,’ and he said ‘Give me my money, please!’ Today, I can still follow the conversation but that’s about it.”
Eric’s family recently moved to Ohio from Ft. Lauderdale, where his oldest son attended a JCC Pre-Kindergarten program. “JCCs are great. It’s the reason why I came to the JCC here, because of the great experience we had there. I like all the programs and events going on, so my sons are exposed to a lot of stuff. It’s important to us to keep that connection to Jewish culture, and being at the JCC has allowed that,” said Eric.
But basketball is what brought the Campbells to central Ohio. “Since graduating high school in 1995, basketball has always driven me to where I’ve landed,” Eric explained. After retiring from professional basketball in 2012, Eric went on to become a certified NASM personal trainer, with experience in speed, agility, and quickness training as well as resistance and plyometric training.
While in Ft. Lauderdale, he worked with athletes training to improve their performance on the field or court. In addition to working with personal training clients at the JCC, he still works with athletes, though they are now much younger. He trains fourth graders through seniors in high school who play basketball for the AAU Hoopsters basketball program based in Westerville, where his friend and former teammate, Jermaine Guice, runs the Lady Hoopsters.
As a personal trainer, Eric’s motto is, “If you love to learn the process of working out, then you’ll keep coming back.” Since coming to Ohio last year, he hopes to keep clients coming back now that he’s at the JCC. “If you’re loving how you feel and look, then you can get into a rhythm and that’s my goal with each client, to get them to that point where they’re gonna stick with it.”
To schedule a personal training session with Eric or learn more about the fitness training program at the JCC, contact the fitness desk at 614-559-6201.