Aly Raisman: best Jew ever? After winning the gold medal for her festive Hava Nagila floor routine last night—which, coupled with her bronze medal on the balance beam, makes her the most decorated of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnasts—the 18-year-old told reporters the win was even more special because it fell on the 40th anniversary of the murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games. (Here’s a GIF-filled guide to just how insanely good Raisman was last night.)
The International Olympic Committee notoriously refused to grant a moment of silence at this year’s Olympics, prompting many in the Jewish community to speak out against their decision. Raisman, who is from Needham, Mass., gracefully handled the additional spotlight as the U.S. Olympic team’s most prominent, and promising, Jewish athlete. According to the New York Post: “‘If there had been a moment’s silence,’ the 18-year-old woman told the world, ‘I would have supported it and respected it.'”
Willa Paskin writes thoughtfully in Salon about Raisman’s tribal appeal for Jewish viewers, who have instinctively claimed and championed the gymnast as one of their own:
If the Olympics are a time for even the most unpatriotic of us to confront the America-lover within — to turn on the Olympics and find oneself instinctually rooting for the American — they’re also a time to confront something a little more tribal, or, in my case, the fact that I am always going to root for the Jewish gymnast who dances to “Hava Nagila,” and, as she did last night, inspires an entire stadium full of people to clap along, like the Olympics were actually one giant Bat Mitzvah (which would help explain the Katy Perry).
While she may have succeeded in the unlikely task of turning the Olympics into the best bat mitzvah ever, Raisman was shouldering an even greater burden as she performed in London. She was suddenly representing Jews everywhere, and on the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre—which most Jews felt wasn’t being properly memorialized by the IOC. Raisman’s decision to address Munich, and the lack of an official moment of silence, in her post-win interviews revealed an 18-year-old far more poised and courageous than most. As they say, had she won the Olympic gold medal after performing her floor routine to “Hava Nagila” (or even just performed to that song at all, really), it would have been enough for us.
So dayenu, Aly Raisman. You are beyond awesome.
Previously: Jewish Gymnast Aly Raisman’s Parents Nervously Watch Her Olympic Routine
Related: Jewish Blood is Cheap [Tablet Magazine]