Friday, July 6, 2012

Taking Jewish Public on the Gymnast's Mat: Aly Raisman

cross-posted at
Last Sunday, when the USA gymnastic team for the Olympics was announced, 
Aly Raisman, 18, became a member of that team. Having just moved to 
Massachusetts, my ears pricked up when I heard that she was a native of Needham, MA.

Interviewed on local tv, she shared the moment when they announced the team members: 
“I was really, really emotional, way more than I thought I would be,” said Raisman after 
being named to the Olympic squad. “I thought I would maybe tear up a little bit  but I 
didn’t think I’d hyperventilate like that. I couldn’t even breathe. It was such a special moment
 and I’m so honoured and so excited.”

Prior to this week, she was perhaps best known for performing a routine at the 
2011 World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo, Japan, for which she won 
a bronze medal. And the music that her moves were choreographed to? 
Hava Nagila. In the film of that performance, below, you can hear the commentators 
adding their thoughts about the music, and the way it energizes both the athlete a
nd the audience supporting her.

As reported by the JTA back in 2011, Aly also explained that she was proud 
of the inclusion of this music in her repertoire “because there aren’t too many 
Jewish elites out there.”

Wikipedia hosts a page of Jews who have made it in sports - I don't know how 
accurate it is, but its a good source to get a sense of the scope and nationalities 
of those who fit that bill.  Among them is Kerri Strug, who is a bronze medal 
winner in the Olympics.

For the past six years, as part of the closing ritual with my Eighth grade class at 
Religious School, we have read some excerpts from the book dedicated to the 
memory of Daniel Pearl, 'I am Jewish.'  Following these readings from a broad
 range of voices, each student writes their own brief paragraph to express 
their own sense of Jewish identity, and we close the year by listening to each 
other around a circle as we share these expressions. I always include Kerri Strug 
among them.  The overall theme of our year has been looking at the many ways to 
express our Jewishness, and the many faces of Judaism.  In a field like gymnastics, 
Kerri expresses her awareness of how unusual it appears to be Jewish, and how 
surprised people are when they learn this about her.  It is something, therefore, that 
she is proud to share; a way to break peoples' stereotypes. Now I can add Aly Raisman 
to that ritual.
Good luck in this year's Olympics Aly!

1 comment:

  1. I thought I might offer a few thoughts - or perhaps just the one thought - and, having finished thinking that I might, I have; and here it is.

    The question that occurred to me, a question different to the one you address - is this.

    Why do Jewish people take such an interest in, and delight from, identifying who is Jewish?

    By definition, this does not merely cover contexts in which Jews have, perhaps, been rarely evident, like gymnastics. And, anyway, how would we know that if we did not check up on the religion of all those gymnasts who went before? And why would we do that?

    What a lot of trouble to go to just to know who is Jewish.

    We (I'm generalising) even investigate the most unlikely people, who show no signs of being Jewish (like our UK prime Minister) and then we revel in finding that their great great grandfather had a half-Jewish mother (even numbered days only).

    And where we Jews seem to be disproportionately present - the opposite to your gymnastics case - we take nachas from that too eg violinists, scriptwriters, mohels and shady accountants. (By the way, have you, like me, been surprised that, despite Judaism putting such stress on honesty and integrity so many of our best enter the legal and accounting professions?)

    I guess it has to do with some aspects of association. But I do not see commensurate articles by Catholics or Protestants, etc. For example, have you seen any articles drawing attention to the religion of a non-Jewish violinist (assuming there are some)? Or taking delight in the high percentage of Christians (I’m guessing) in the field of motor racing?

    I have no issue with Jews, in the privacy of their own home (this assumes that their mother-in-law is not living with them) taking quiet pleasure in the success of a fellow religionist.

    But why all the counting and why all the reporting of the results?