Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Stella Umeh

I love watching women's NCAA gymnastics because the routines contain one or two highly difficult skills executed perfectly, maximum, instead of the half dozen or so being chucked by international elites. In addition, when a college gymnast performs on the floor exercise,it seems as though that she hears the music and moves accordingly (instead of the movements being independent of the beat).

Here is are some of my favorite NCAA floor routines.

Stella Umeh (UCLA)

I love how organic her movements are, how fluid they are. It doesn't seem like she's dancing, rather, just naturally responding to the rhythm.

Liz Reid (ASU)

Kate Richardson (UCLA)

Ariana Berlin (UCLA)

I guess I do seem to enjoy UCLA floor routines more than the rest of the teams. The coach, Val Kondos-Field is a former dancer and actually teaches the gymnasts how to interpret the music. What a concept.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Family

I spent the first days of Passover with my first cousins and their families in Norfolk, Virginia, and for most of the holiday, I was frustrated with them. They’re too frum, I kept thinking. I was annoyed when I saw them dump their ice cubes into the toilet because they might have chametz on them. “But it’s ice,” I said.
“But there might be crumbs,” Marcy, my cousin’s wife explained. On Friday, before the start of the holiday, I was not allowed to set a clean Starbucks cup on the table.
“But it’s clean and it only has water in it.”
“Dvora, it was on a chametz table.” I grunted and went outside and drank the water until it was gone. I didn’t tell her that after three hours of sitting in a cushy Starbucks chair full of crumbs, I probably had more chametz on me than the cup did. I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed back in the house.
I spent most of the first seder, which ended at 3 a.m., saying little as I mentally rolled my eyes and listened to my cousin, Shalom, a black hat rabbi, explain to the 25 present how wonderful it was that “HaKadosh Baruch Hu was for taking the Jews out of Egypt.”
Wonderful? Yeah, right. How about the fact that God was contractually obligated to do so based on the terms of His covenant with Abraham?
The second night was more of the same- same number of people, same earnest declarations of God’s love and the Jews’ (un)worthiness, same mental eye rolling.
It was time open the door for Elijah and I was resting my annoyed head on the couch near the front door, where just a few moment earlier I saw Moshe, my semi heretical first cousin rush past me and outside. A few moments later, the youngest at the seder, Adina, 11, and Elisheva, 10, were sent from the table to greet the prophet. Adina turned the knob and my 47 year old cousin jumped out and screamed BOO!
Adina went down. Her sister burst out laughing as did the rest of the table. As did Adina when she finally pulled herself up.
I went back to the table and joined the laughing, which went on for about ten minutes. Every time it seemed to be at end, someone would start giggling and it would begin anew.
Finally, Adina and Elisheva were sent back to the front door. This time no one jumped out at them and the entire table sang “Shfoch Chamatcha...”
Pour out your wrath…
The entire night, I had been directing my anger at my family, thinking that they represented what I disliked about Orthodox Judaism. But then a 47 year old man scares the living daylights out of his 11 year old niece and I realize that I’m not mad at my family. They are not the institution of Orthodox Judaism.
They are insane.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More kosher aluminum

My mother knowing that I'm both too lazy and cheap to buy food for Passover (or year round, as my roommate has discovered), dropped off a care package full of matza, cheeses, cans of tuna, and paper goods. When I unwrapped the package of aluminum tin, I found this label inside.

I have a couple of questions-

1. Since when would one think that disposable aluminum pans require tevilah (ritual immersion)?

2. Is there no proper English translation "treifus"? And no transliteration of "chashash"? (I managed to come up with one!)

3. Where does my mother find this stuff?

This is my joke!

I suffered through twelve years of all-girls yeshiva. I earned this joke.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Will this start a trend?

Will this be found in ultra-Orthodox homes next year on Passover?

(To give credit where it's due- this picture was forwarded to me by my roommate. It was forwarded to him by his sister. I don't personally know the genius behind the photograph.)

63 Year Old Gymnast

My body gave out on me five years ago, when I was twenty. This guy is ridiculous!

Friday, April 18, 2008

It keeps popping up...

I was at the airport waiting for my plane to depart for Norfolk, Virginia (where I'm spending the first days of Pesach with my cousins) when I remember that I forgot to purchase milk and eggs to leave in the fridge for when I return. I call my roommate and leave a message, asking him to buy these items for me before he leaves for his parent's home.
Some might say- Now wait, why do these need to be purchased before the holiday? They are not made of leavened material.
While true, my cousin (a rabbi, mashgiach and the family's authority on all things Jewish) explained that if a chicken or cow ate chametz over Pesach- when it is forbidden- then traces of it could be found in the food it produces. Nevermind that our food is not even that fresh, that there is no way that the eggs laid by a chicken on Passover would find their way into a store on the very same Passover. But, my cousin said, to be on the safe side, you need to buy milk and eggs before the holiday.
A few hours later, my roommate calls me back. "How frum are you?" he asks, laughing into the phone.
"Not at all," I respond quickly. And then I laugh. It's funny. Even though I've asserted that I'm not so religious anymore, the vestiges of frumkeit keep popping up at the most unexpected times.
"Nevermind," I finally tell him. "I'll buy them when I get back."
Yep, I'm a rebel.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lipstick for God

The term was coined by my old college roommate. It was right before Passover and we had just left the campus cosmetic store with a new tubes of lipstick (and other assorted goodies.) "Lipstick for God," she called our purchases and we both laughed.

The reason we considered these tubes sanctified was simple- we bought them not because the store had just unveiled its spring colors (though it had). We bought them because they were free of leavened materials. Our open lipsticks were tainted by year round use. After all, what if I ate a sandwich and then applied lipstick to my lips and microscopic crumbs became imbedded in the tube?

The trip to the campus makeup store became our yearly tradition and even after I graduated, I continued to buy new lip products on the eve of Passover.

In the past year, I've become much more lax in my religious practice and considered skipping the trip and going to my family with the makeup I already owned. But I was walking down Broadway and saw the Sephora. They had their new spring colors in the window so I went in and bought a pot of lip gloss. You know, for God.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tax Break

Accountant teaches break-dancing to Brooklyn teens

Saturday, April 12th 2008, 4:00 AM

Richard Santiago leads break dancers at Brooklyn's Bushwick-Hyland Community Center.
He may not get you a break on your taxes, but some Brooklyn kids are getting breaks of a different kind from accountant Richard Santiago.

By day, the 41-year-old sits behind a desk in his midtown office crunching numbers.

After work, he swaps his shirt and khakis for sweatpants and a windbreaker to teach teens about popping, locking and rocking.

Santiago - known as Papa Rich or Break Easy to his students - has been giving free break-dancing classes to kids for more than 10 years.

Even though this is his busiest time of year with the April 15 tax deadline looming, he never misses a beat at Bushwick-Hyland Community Center on Humboldt St. where he spends three nights a week helping others perfect their moves.

"What's beautiful about accounting is it's all mental; the physical movement is all the b-boy," said Santiago who refers to break dancing by its original name "break boy" or "b-boy."

"One is a mental challenge; one is a more physical challenge. It helps me balance it out."

Santiago began break dancing when he was 12 and says it helped him attract public attention and vent his feelings in a nonviolent way.

It steered him away from drugs, gangs and trouble and taught him important life lessons in discipline.

"I used all my energy for that - then I was exhausted," he said.

"That's what happens now. ... We get these kids active; it keeps them exhausted; they express themselves."

Santiago, who was raised in Williamsburg and lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, graduated from Alexander Hamilton Vocational and Technical High School in 1985 and joined the Marines a year later.

When he returned to New York, he went back to the books, graduating from City College with a degree in architecture and then earning his associate degree in accounting from the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

"B-boying gave me structure," said Santiago, who also offers his accounting services for free to people in his neighborhood.

"The same energy I used to better my moves, I used in school and in my work.

"If it works for b-boying, it can work for anything - that's the message I want to give."

And the kids he teaches have similar aspirations of aiming high, with some heading to Baruch College, Pace and also Columbia University.

"They are all getting blue- and white-collar jobs. I tell them don't be afraid to follow what they like," he said.

"It doesn't matter about your color or language; it's how you will face a challenge."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's that time of year again...

Found at

Growing up, it took weeks to prepare our house for Pesach. We cleaned every room, regardless of whether we ate food in it. This did not seem illogical, and when I complained, it was to get out of cleaning however necessary I believed this cleaning to be.

And I did think we had to dustbuster every crevice and cover every surface in the kitchen with aluminum foil so that it resembled the interior of a spaceship. My family purchased Rabbi Blumenkrantz's book and emptied our medicine cabinets of anything that he said contained wheat or ethyl alcohol or any kitniyot derivative. We even shopped at the drugstore with his list in hand.

But one year, I took it a little too far.

After I had learned about a pious rabbi who unscrewed the handsets from his phones in order to remove any food particles that might've been spat into the receiver during a year's worth of conversations, I tried to do the same in my house. After all, I didn't want to even accidentally possess chametz and be punished with karet, which I learned might be an early death, or excommunication or loss of my portion in the world to come. I discovered that the bottom of our modern handsets didn't unscrew the way my teacher had described. I needed tools. In the kitchen I found a screwdriver and returned to the phone. I was about to open up the machine when my mother caught me.

"What are you doing?" she asked, standing over with a broom.

"Looking for chametz," I responded.

I told her the same story my teacher had recited in front of the class, the one that inspired me to go to such lengths. I looked up at my mother expecting her to applaud my piety and efforts. She rolled her eyes. Apparently, this was too much.

"If you're looking for chametz, why don't you get your butt into the kitchen? There's a lot of it there and it's much easier to find."

She took the screwdriver from my hand and replaced it with the broom.

Now, this may sound absurd (hence the label), but to some, not nearly enough. Some might even know people who've cleaned their phones. Or computers.

A couple of years back my shul in Los Angeles circulated an email with Pesach cleaning instructions for computers. It began with a simple (and even logical seeming) directive to wipe the mouse clean with a disinfectant cloth and remove any obvious crumbs from the keyboard. Not so crazy, I thought. Besides, it's not too hard to clean a mouse. I read on. The next paragraph outlined the directions for kashering your keyboard or laptop- dunk it into a pot of boiling water.

At this point, I stopped. That's ridiculous. It has to be a joke.

Right? Are people actually going to do this? (I thought of one or two)

Well, I'm not going to do this. I'm not that frum anymore.

I mentioned the email to my friend, Chava. Her father was the executive director of the shul. "Yeah, he's been sending that out for the last few years. The first time he did it, he got a lot of confused emails back. People actually thought it was real, What does that tell you about how ridiculous people get around Pesach?"

I laughed and did not tell her that I initially half-believed the email.

Gymnastics causes injuries? Who knew?

"A study, conducted by researchers in the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and published in the April electronic issue of Pediatrics, examined data on children 6 to 17 years of age who were treated in hospital emergency departments for gymnastics-related injuries between 1990 and 2005. According to the findings, on average nearly 27,000 injuries are reported each year – nearly 426,000 injuries during the 16-year period."

“Many parents do not typically think of gymnastics as a dangerous sport,” said study senior author Lara McKenzie, PhD, MA, principal investigator in CIRP at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “In fact, many parents consider it an activity. Yet gymnastics has the same clinical incidence of catastrophic injuries as ice hockey.”

The part that I find really amusing is when one of the physicians that ran the study says that, "Many parents do not typically think of as a dangerous sport." Perhaps I've spent too much time around gymnasts, having been one myself that aches, pains and injuries are the first thing that comes to mind when I think about gymnastics. Or when I climb the three stories to my apartment in my Manhattan walk-up (I had surgery for a torn meniscus).

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Another one of my favorites...

Terin Humphrey, another one of my favorites has retired from college gymnastics due to injury. She had been competing for the University of Alabama. She had also been a member of the silver medal winning U.S. team in Athens.

Here's a link to an online interview that Inside Gymnastics Magazine has conducted with her.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jewish Gymnasts

This is the start of my new (mini) series, Famous Jewish Gymnasts.
Here's the winner of the 1992 Olympics Balance Beam final (and my favorite Jewish gymnast of all time) Tatiana Lysenko.

It's a beautiful routine even if it did beat out a performance by my favorite Christian Scientist gymnast of all-time, Shannon Miller.

Back to Blogging...

So it’s been awhile since I last posted. I blame work, school and a master’s thesis that just won’t go away. Though none of that has changed, I’ve decided to return to the blog because it’s an Olympic year!

I know that many of us gymnastics fans out there measure our lives in quadrenniums and spend the time between Games reliving the previous Olympiad. From comments on the gymnastics message boards (where I skulk and read, but rarely post), many have expressed wonderment at the approach of Beijing. To these posters it seems as though Athens was just last year.

I feel the same way. Though it’s certainly been four years in linear time since the competition in Greece, it has felt significantly shorter. This is different from how I used to experience the time between Olympic Games. Before the 2004-2008 cycle, the wait between Olympics used to feel interminable. All I had in the intervening years were tapes of the competition, which I watched repeatedly and alone because I could never tempt my friends in joining me. When I tried to speak with them, my mother or my sister about the 1996 Olympics in say, 1998, they’d roll their eyes. “Didn’t that happen two years ago? Why are you still talking about it?”

If only, I thought. If only I were still talking about it. If only I had someone to discuss the minutia with.

Fast forward to 2004. In the months before the Games, I discovered the online gymnastics community. There the past was not past. The results of all competitions could be debated ad infinitum. And they were. A year after the competition, the 2005 World Championships were being contested in Melbourne, yet the threads related to the previous Olympics were still appearing on the message board. When YouTube was introduced and fans posted their personal tape libraries to the Internet, no competition was done, no gymnast ever retired. We could keep going back. With this increased focus on the past, it is not surprising that the time elapsed between Beijing and Athens doesn’t feel like four human years.