An Olympic golden opportunity

An Olympic golden opportunity

Alexandra “Aly” Raisman is probably a household name in many Jewish homes this week. The 18-year-old from Needham, Mass., whose parents reportedly keep a kosher home and are frequent shulgoers, was captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team that took home the Olympic gold this week. She earned her own bronze medal, and then a gold one.

Raisman is not passive about being Jewish. Especially at the 2012 Summer Games in London, which opened with controversy because of the moment of silence that was not, she let the whole world know she was Jewish when she flawlessly executed her opening floor routine to Havah Nagilah, one of the most instantly identifiable Jewish songs in the world.

She is a young woman with great poise and gracious demeanor, and she has impressed all who have come into contact with her.

What she should be most remembered for, however, is something almost no one noticed. During the competition known as the all-arounds, a Russian gymnast, Aliya Mustafina, overtook Raisman after the second round. The U.S. team captain had scored 15.9 points in the first round, to Mustafina’s 15.23. In that second round, however, on the uneven parallel bars, Mustafina blew away all competition, scoring an amazing 16.1 points. No one came close.

Raisman had no way of knowing that she would recover from that to tie with Mustafina for the bronze, which she did. (Mustafina won the medal on a mathematical technicality.) Raisman should have been disheartened by Mustafina’s stunning performance on the bars. If she was, no one could see it on her face. What they could see was this: As Mustafina returned to her seat to rejoin her fellow Russian teammates, Aly Raisman walked up to her and gave her a big congratulatory hug.

There were many examples of good sportsmanship at the Olympic Games in their first week, but not often like this. Going over to another nation’s star athlete and offering a congratulatory hug with half the event still remaining is not the usual custom.

This was Jewish values on display for the world to see. Unfortunately, the moment passed by so quickly, few did see it.

Nevertheless, it provides an opening for the rest of us. We are renewing our call of several months ago for a “Year of Jewish Values.” We urge the two rabbinic bodies – the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis – to form a joint committee to work between now and Rosh Hashanah to come up with 12 “values” topics that would be the subject of sermons, adult education classes, and anything else a rabbi or a teacher may devise.

We live in a sick world. The shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin (see the next editorial) are just two examples of that. What is happening in Syria is another example. The rising murder rate in Chicago, and even the increased crime rate in New York City, are yet other examples.

Our community is not immune to bad behavior, but fortunately we have not experienced the kinds of trauma seen elsewhere. Focusing on core Jewish values for an entire year is one way to address the issue before it becomes a problem.