With­out the sup­port of my Jewish clients, I’d prob­a­bly still be in jail

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

PER­SONAL TRAINER Yusef Bouat­toura is a Mus­lim for­mer gang mem­ber with a crim­i­nal record.

But his life is now on the up, thanks to his thriv­ing busi­ness and his loyal Jewish clien­tèle, with­out whom, he be­lieves, he would still be in prison.

Yusef, 22, grew up in Stam­ford Hill, north Lon­don. By the time he was 15, he had al­ready been stabbed twice and jailed for two and a half years — though he is re­luc­tant to go into de­tail about his crimes.

To­day, he lives in Mill Hill, north west Lon­don, and runs a suc­cess­ful per­sonal train­ing busi­ness. And he is full of praise for the clien­tèle who have helped him build it up.

“Nearly all my clients are Jewish,” he said. “They have helped me in so many ways, from ad­vice with set­ting up my busi­ness, to not judg­ing me and my past be­cause I’m very hon­est with peo­ple from the start.”

His large house, which dou­bles as his fit­ness stu­dio and has its own swim­ming pool and spa bath, is not where you’d imag­ine a young ex-of­fender to be liv­ing.

Down­stairs boasts an of­fice, gym and open plan kitchen/din­ing room that would not be out of place on an episode of MTV’s Cribs, which peeks into celebri­ties’ enor­mous houses.

But it is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that Yusef, whose fam­ily is Ital­ian and Al­ge­rian, is not your av­er­age 22-year-old.

He rents the prop­erty from a client who has taken a leap of faith on the for­mer gang mem­ber.

“I was look­ing for some­where to rent for ages but kept get­ting re­jec­tions,” he said.

His house might look like a glam­orous fam­ily home, but he is still a young man whose peers are rent­ing box rooms in univer­sity towns and learn­ing to cook for them­selves.

Yusef, whose clients in­clude some of the com­mu­nity’s most well-known fig­ures, says he has raised more than £20,000 for Jewish char­i­ties such as Nor­wood, One Fam­ily, Gift and Rays of Sun­shine by hold­ing fit­ness ses­sions and get­ting at­ten­dees to do­nate to char­ity.

But be­fore he left prison, he knew lit­tle about the Jewish com­mu­nity.

“Where I grew up in Stam­ford Hill all I knew about was Ortho­dox Jews. They were our neigh­bours, our land­lords. We had a nice re­la­tion­ship with them

but they kept them­selves to them­selves and I thought that they were the only Jews out there.”

Af­ter be­ing re­leased from prison, he qual­i­fied as a per­sonal trainer.

“At the time I went to prison I was obese and de­pressed but the PT course al­lowed me to get into shape,” he says.

Yusef started ap­ply­ing for jobs in gyms but his crim­i­nal record meant he faced a lot of re­jec­tions.

“I didn’t give up,” he tells me, and even­tu­ally he was given a job by Pure Gym in Finch­ley.

“I was the youngest there, with the least ex­pe­ri­ence, so I had to find a way to boost my con­fi­dence. I strug­gled to

get clients at first so to get my name out there I started of­fer­ing free classes. I wasn’t earn­ing enough money to live be­cause I was do­ing ses­sions for free. I was home­less and liv­ing in the gym’s toi­lets and not telling any­one.”

In time, he built up a steady client list and was soon earn­ing enough money from pri­vate clients to leave the gym and work for him­self.

But Yusef had no idea they were nearly all Jewish.

He jokes: “I started notic­ing the Star of David that they were wear­ing. I just thought maybe they have all been on hol­i­day to­gether and it was a sou­venir thing.

“Then peo­ple would tell me they can’t work out on Fri­day or Satur­day. I had so many clients called Co­hen, I kept ask­ing if they were all cousins and they laughed at me and said, ‘No we are Jewish’.”

He and his brother, Idris, who re­cently left school and also works as a trainer, have just re­turned from Is­rael where they ran free fit­ness classes on the beach.

“We were in­vited by a client,” he says. “Ev­ery­one I spoke to said ‘you are go­ing to get ques­tioned’, be pre­pared for it.”

But noth­ing could have pre­pared them for the bed­side man­ner of Is­raeli se­cu­rity.

Idris, 18, says: “We got stopped for three hours and ques­tioned three times and, just when we were about to be let in, these guys pop up from nowhere and pulled us to the side and ques­tioned us again.

“I thought it was a joke or that it was fake. I thought we were go­ing to get kid­napped.”

But they did not let it ruin their ex­pe­ri­ence. “I un­der­stand it,” says Yusef. “They have high se­cu­rity and I could see they were do­ing it to other peo­ple as well.”

In Is­rael, the broth­ers were “amazed by all the dif­fer­ent peo­ple liv­ing side by side.

“You have Mus­lims, Jews, Chris­tians — ev­ery­one to­gether and they were all friendly.

“It is not like they show you on the me­dia.

“Of course, it can be more com­pli­cated but we saw peo­ple to­gether. “In Jaffa there were Jewish and Mus­lim chil­dren play­ing and it was quite won­der­ful.”

Yusef says he has en­joyed get­ting to know more about the com­mu­nity, but thinks “there are too many fes­ti­vals dur­ing the year”. Idris agrees: “We have one or two where you eat lots. Jews do it ev­ery Fri­day night, it’s too much.”

Learn­ing about the com­mu­nity has taught Yusef “a lot about fam­ily, the im­por­tance of be­ing to­gether and sol­i­dar­ity.

“It has taught me a lot about char­ity. The Jewish com­mu­nity is the most giv­ing group I have met which is why I have al­ways wanted to give back to them.”

So many Co­hens. I thought they were all cousins’

Thriv­ing: Yusef Bouat­toura has come a long way from his crim­i­nal past

Fundraiser: Yusef Bouat­toura run­ning a fit­ness event for Nor­wood

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.