What Ali Raisman Gold Medals Mean to Jewish People
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Olympics!
Aly Raisman's gold medals are not just meaningful to Americans.
I found a great essay by Jamie DeLine about what Aly Raisman's victory meant to Jews.
I'm reblogging it here:
Dear Miss Raisman,
First and foremost, I’d like to congratulate you on all your success at this year’s Olympics in London! You and your teammates have been a pleasure to watch and cheer for these past few weeks.
Yet before I discuss this year’s Olympic games further, I’d like to look back on an Olympic event of the past. Not 1996’s Magnificent 7, not 1984’s Mary Lou Retton, or even 1976’s first perfect 10 for Nadia Comăneci. I’d like to go all the way back to the Summer Olympics of 1928. You may already know (gymnastics being your area of expertise, whereas I have barely been able to execute a cartwheel in all my years on this earth) that this was the first year women were able to compete in an Olympic event. Five countries sent female gymnastics teams, and the team from the host country of the Netherlands won the gold medal.
Five of these young Dutch women, like me and you Aly, were Jewish. Yet unlike you or me, these young women lived in much darker times, where no medal or championship could save them from the evil that would soon arise and take hold of Europe.
Of those five Jewish gold medalists, four of them were murdered at the hands of the Nazis. Estella “Stella” Agsteribbe died with her husband Samuel Blits, their six-year-old daughter Nanny, and their two-year-old son Alfred in the Auschwitz. The other three were murdered at nearby Sobibór extermination camp. Helena “Lea” Nordheim was murdered with her husband Abraham and their ten-year-old daughter Rebbecca. Judikje “Jud” Simons was murdered with her husband Bernard, their five-year-old daughter Sonja, and their three-year-old son Leon. Anna “Ans” Dresden-Polak was murdered with her six-year-old daughter Eva. Her husband Barend Dresden died a few months later in Auschwitz. The young women’s coach, Gerrit Kleerekoper, was also Jewish. Along with his wife Kaatje and his 14-year-old daughter Elisabeth, he too was murdered by the Nazis at Sobibór. Twenty nine days later, his 18-year-old son Leendert died in Auschwitz. Elka de Levie was the sole survivor, but her country still failed to remember the victory she had brought them and she died in anonymity in 1979.
I share this with you not to depress you in your moments of glory, but to share with you why your success meant so much to Jews in the United States and around the world this year. While Jews are fortunate to have many positive and successful role models at this time in history, something about you Aly, has seemed particularly inspiring throughout these games.
Many would like to claim that we are living in a “post-racial” America and the fact that you are Jewish should not matter. I believe this line of thinking is flawed for many reasons, but particularly because it denies us the pride we feel for our own individual heritages alongside our patriotism for the USA. It is the same pride that African-Americans felt when your teammate Gabby Douglas won the all-around gold. While it had nothing to do with her actual performance or hard work, it was still a noteworthy milestone. Besides, I think your choice of music for your floor routine is confirmation that your heritage matters to you. And unlike many of those to whom this detail would matter, it seems important to you for all the right reasons.
While Jews have never been known to be the most athletic of peoples, you have never seemed too caught up in defeating this stereotype. You don’t have to prove you are a terrific athlete simply because you are Jewish. However, your Judaism is still something you appear to cherish. It is never something you have tried to hide or brush aside in favor of a more impartial image. You seem genuinely proud of who you are and you are not afraid to publicly embrace it.
This attitude seems especially important in today’s world. While the worldwide Jewish community continues to work to ensure that no one ever again meets a horrible fate like that of the 1928 Dutch Women’s Gymnastics team, make no mistake that there is still ignorance and hatred in this world that denies talented individuals like yourself their right to thrive because of who they are. It is my hope that in your success, we can remember and honor those like you who were not as fortunate. Just as the USA was blessed to have you as its team captain this year, you are very blessed to represent a country whose ideals ensure your victory can never be taken away from you on the basis of intolerance and that you will always be remembered for your greatness.
So whether it was for a gold medal or no medal at all, an elite American-Jewish gymnast performing to the music of “Hava Nagila” at the Olympics for all the world to see, with nothing but class and superb leadership on and off the floor, already guaranteed that you are and always will be a champion.
(I’m sure the gold medals help though, right?)
So Mazal Tov, Aly Raisman! You inspired two nations with your talent this summer; the United States of America, and Am Yisrael – the Jewish nation. We are all very proud of you!
That was excellent.
Featured on the front page of NY Post: "Just when we thought that gymnast Aly Raisman couldn’t do any more to solidify her status as the official Jewish heroine of the 2012 Olympic Games - after choosing “Hava Nagila” as the music for the floor exercise routine that got her into the all-around finals, having a video of her worried parents watching her perform go viral, and finally, winning the gold in floor and the bronze on beam, making her the most-decorated U.S. gymnast - she’s taken it to another level."