Friday, July 6, 2012

Jewish Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman

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 perked up when I heard that she was a native of Needham, MA.

Interviewed on local TV, Aly Raisman 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 and 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!

Rabbi Rachel Gurewitz is a rabbi in Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter at @RabbiGurevitz