Holy Flame War! Blog Fights the Battle of Kosher Gym
While the gym had "promised separate facilities for both men and women, no racy posters, and modestly-dressed workers," reported CBS2's Chris Wragge, the new owners "might not be as sensitive to Jewish needs." Assemblyman Dov Hikind went on camera to call the situation "outrageous," and declared "the contract was for a Kosher gym with certain rules and regulations."
We were interested to learn in our explorations that, earlier in the struggle, Hikind had said that "Consumers have a right to air their grievances on blogs..."
And that they have, especially at the Chaptzem Blog ("The One and Only Heimishe News Center"), which last month became the voice of disgruntled Kosher Gym members.
Aside from some trolling comments at the blog in 2006 ("Come to the Kosher Gym and you will see what I mean, there are Baruch Hashem, more and more Chassidim that are starting to take care of their bodies and their physical appearence, and I am one of them"), readers didn't hear about the Kosher Gym at Chaptzem till July 14, when the blog reproduced a letter a reader said he got from its management, confirming that "The gym will now be like any other gym... The only difference will be is the club will remain a Separate club for Men and Women."
Two days later Chaptzem posted another, more intemperate letter from KG management ("We have really had enough dealing with our thousands of members 'AKA owners' who no matter what we do are unhappy"). On July 18 Chaptzem published "Another letter from the Kosher Gym, OY Vey!" -- which was also published at the "Official Kosher Gym/KG Fitness Info Site" the same day.
Under the title "No More Blogs," the Official Site declared, "Unfortunately the situation has gotten out of control. Blogs are 'popping up' all over with all kinds of allegations about Kosher Gym’s business practices." The site also reproduced a copy of its contract and an FAQ sidebar ("Can I cancel my membership? That depends"), and invited members to "have your Rav be part" of a "Rabbinical Audit and Oversight Board" the gym said it was hiring "in order to properly address the allegations and minimize the Chillul HaShem that exists on the blogs that some people have as to our business practices, policies and 'strong handed tactics'..."
That seemed to have called out Kosher Gym once and for all, but the struggle continued and Chaptzem kept up the pressure. "You mean you wanted treadmills that work too?" said the blog cryptically. "Complaints, complaints, complaints!" This unleashed a fiery series of reader comments, both for the gym ("There only appear to be three treadmills not working. Why don't you count the grass outside. It would suit you better") and against it ("THE KOSHER GYM WAS NEVER REALLY KOSHER. IT WAS ALWAYS A SCAM FROM DAY ONE. LET THE COWARD HIDING OUT IN ISRAEL COME HERE AND FACE THE MUSIC").
On July 29 Chaptzem posted "A Plea to Frum Business" from a "saddened" reader, who said "I know Yehudah and Ori personally from my days as a member and from when my wife was the graphic designer for the gym's magazine," and chastised the gym management: "This has been going on already for several years in the secular world and is now starting to show up here as well... J-Biz owners, WAKE UP! You cannot get away with angering your customers for all that long."
The reader also mentioned Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine and his famous public conflict with Dell. Jarvis' blog campaign over customer service issues with the computer company won major press and satisfaction for Jarvis, and it appears -- with a powerful Assemblyman, influential press, and the local CBS affiliate picking up their cause -- the Chaptzem Blog and angry Kosher Gym customers may be pulling off something similar.