By Elizabeth Schuman
The old joke used to be that the term Jewish athlete was an oxymoron.
Except for the stalwart go-to names, subjects of countless Hebrew School reports — Marc Spitz, Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg — as a people, we weren’t so much into sports.
Instead, we were people of the book, more intent on college, graduate school, careers and academic accomplishment.
Things have changed.
At the recent Summer Olympics in London, being Jewish was, well, cool.
Never mind the negligence of the Olympic organizing committee banning opening ceremony recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, when 11 Israeli athletes were gunned down. On social media, people fought back – posting images and words acknowledging the solemn anniversary and skewering Olympic officials. NBC’s Bob Costas denounced the decision during his broadcast, taking to the air for his moment of silence in honor of the slain athletes. The Israeli athletes, 37 proud, marched in during the 2012 opening ceremonies as if to say, “Heneini – I am here.”
And we had Aly Raisman.
Small, powerful – like Israel itself – 18-year-old Aly went about her business of athletics. To the jubilant tune of Hava Nagila, Aly leaped, twirled and soared through the air, earning a gold medal for floor exercises and a bronze on the balance beam, in addition to helping her team earn an all-around gold medal.
With the lilting musical strains resonating in the virtual air, Aly said later: “Having that floor music wasn’t intentional, but the fact that it was on the 40th anniversary is special and winning the gold today means a lot to me.”
And then this petite teenager, born decades after the Munich Olympics, stuck it to the International Olympic Committee:
“If there had been a moment’s silence, I would have supported it and respected it.”
That’s the future of Jewish, yes?
We honor the past. And we soar toward the future, confident in who we are and what we need to accomplish.
Like the Olympics, THE ASSOCIATED’s Annual Campaign marks time. Instead of four years between Summer or Winter games, our work in Baltimore begins anew each fall. And like the elite athletes, our work demands power, determination and just a little chutzpuh.
On our winner’s podium?
A strong community. One that inspires, educates, innovates. One that responds to needs and builds Jewish connections. In short, a winner.
The 2012 Summer Olympics are over. The athletes are home. Israel Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein invited Aly and her family to make their first visit to Israel. With a few simple words, he said, Aly demonstrated a critical Jewish value:
Kol Israel Arevim Zeh Lazeh: All Jews are responsible for one another.
We may not dance on the edge of a four-inch balance beam. Likely we won’t somersault through the air. No matter. When we take a stand for our community, we are all winners.
Just like Aly.