Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From the message boards to the mainstream

I just finished reading ESPN's profile of Jordyn Wieber, predictably titled "Wieber Fever." I think we're going to be reading a lot of articles with that title between now and London and possibly after. Journalists and editors can be an uninspired lot.

The article was actually pretty interesting--from learning that Jordyn had freakish muscle development (hardly surprising) from the age of 11 months to seeing how normal the Wieber family is--it was nice to see a well-rounded profile of a gymnast. Also, the little snippets of video of Jordyn as a young kid were adorable to watch.

What was most interesting to me came at the end. When discussing the decision to select the team immediately after the Olympic Trials rather than wait until after two training camps, the author comments:

The feeling from gymnasts and coaches, past and present, is this is a good thing for the sport. It makes the trials more exciting for the fans and rewards the gymnasts who do well there. Many in the sport disapproved of the Karolyi way, saying the pre-Olympic camp caused overtraining and placed unnecessary stress on the athletes.
It's hard to argue with that assessment. The 2004 and 2008 teams were heavy favorites in the team all-around heading into the Games but underperformed and returned home as silver medalists.

What a difference a couple of years makes. The conventional, mainstream media wisdom about the Karolyi system at the last Olympics was that it worked. There were no doubts about it. The NBC hype machine had the U.S. women as heavy, almost inevitable, favorites for the gold medal. It was only those of us in the gymnastics community that questioned this conventional wisdom, pointing to the higher start values of the Chinese, wondering why the U.S. team, so deep in talent, hadn't managed to increase its degree of difficulty. And then after watching the girls compete, we collectively wondered why the Chinese looked happy and rested while the Americans looked thoroughly drained and beat up. Most of us were saddened to see these incredible athletes perform below their potential at the biggest meet of their young lives.

Now it seems that the doubts frequently expressed on the message boards and in conversations with knowledgeable fans have seeped out into the mainstream. Will the Olympic year coverage change at all? Will a healthy dose of skepticism be part of the commentary? Or will jingoism continue to rule the day?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Misogyny on a spectrum

For the past month as the news of gender segregation and abuse of women has come out of Beit Shemesh, I've been wondering how to respond here. Being yet another person to wag my finger at the ultra-Orthodox and condemn them for their misogyny didn't appeal to me. I've done it on this blog many times and folks are doing it all over the internet.

Also, I've felt that the response has been lacking. Sure, the haredim involved are deserving of condemnation (and more), but is their behavior truly shocking? Stories like this have been coming out of Israel for years and have increased with frequency as their percentage of the population has grown. But what about the complicity of the plain ol', not ultra-Orthodox and even the modern Orthodox? Aren't they also participants in the same system and laws that have generated these displays of misogyny?

Sure, they aren't violent and that is an important distinction to make. And they don't seek to impose their way of life on nonbelievers. But aside from those examples, I couldn't help but wonder, is moderate Orthodoxy really all that different from the more fundamentalist version now widely condemned? Is separating women from the men during prayer, not allowing them to lead services or read from the Torah or a thousand other things just? Aren't they also pernicious, if only more subtly so? The ultra and centrist and even modern Orthodox all seem to be on the same continuum. They all accord women second-class citizen status. They are argue that they are hamstrung by Jewish law and tradition and cannot make changes, cannot give women full rights.

In a blog post on Jewesses with Attitude, Susan Reimer-Torn articulates this point much better than I can. She writes about what has led to a "deeply festering misogynistic impulse" and finds evidence of it not just in ultra-Orthodoxy but in the gender distinctions that pervade the whole Orthodox enterprise. She writes:

By the age of 10, I had come thousands of mornings to the bifurcated blessing when a boy gets to thank God "for not making me a woman" and a girl thanks the Creator for having fashioned her "according to His will. I knew that the Bible excluded females from legal inheritance or bearing witness, and that our sacred texts permit a man to have more than one wife while a woman even suspected of adultery endures a terrible ordeal. I had stood on the sidelines while my dad prepared my older brother for a bar mitzvah, understanding that it was not in the natural order of things that I be celebrated. 

True, what the writer describes isn't behavior that involves attacking women or forcing them to sit at the back of the actual physical bus, but what about the spiritual bus? The social bus? What is good about telling girls that their potential is dictated by their biology regardless of their actual talents or ambition?

This post perfectly explains why I haven't been able to muster any outrage when confronted with the news coming out of Israel. I don't see why I should work so hard to defend one subtle system of misogyny from another more flagrant and occasionally violent one. I'll leave them to fight it out, each one clubbing the other with their interpretations of Jewish law, both of which marginalize women. Sigh.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Oh Israel, you're even more frustrating than I originally realized. And I'm not talking about gender segregation this time.

Two of their athletes--Felix Aronovich and Valeria Maksyuta--earned berths to the 2012 Olympics at the recent test event in London, but they shouldn't start packing their bags just yet. If they want to use the ticket they earned in London, they will have to place top 12 all around or top 6 at the upcoming European Championships. While this should not prove too difficult for Maksyuta, who is a known commodity at this point on the international competition circuit, Aronovich, presently a student-athlete at Penn State, has much less experience and may not make the cut. But then again--hasn't he already made the cut by qualifying at the test event?

Now why would Israel, who aside from Shatilov (who already qualified to the Games when he won the bronze medal on floor at the world championships) deny their athletes opportunities to gain experience at an Olympic Games when FIG, the governing body of the sport, has given them the green light? Israel is not known for its gymnasts. And gymnastics is a judged sport--so the more Israeli athletes get out there and compete and improve their rankings, the more success the program will have down the line. It's what we call laying the foundation for the future. While Aronovich wouldn't medal in London, he can improve his international rankings, which should help him out in the coming years and Israeli gymnastics as a whole.

(Source: Gym Examiner)

Friday, January 20, 2012

If only there weren't an age minimum

Her coaches might try to pass her off as 16...

A Genesis inspired explanation of dating and relationships

Over at The Anti-Girlfriend today, I put up a post explaining my dating and relationship behavior as it pertains to the creation of Eve--the whole taking a bit about how God took a bit of Adam's rib and fashioned him a wife from it.

I write about how I have subverted (what else would you expect--I'm not the type to support the patriarchal status quo) this story by being surgically "fixed" by using part of my own rib. Creation upended!

If one takes the lesson of the rib story and the way it was taught to me to its logical extreme, you would get men saying something along the lines of this--"Excuse me beautiful woman, but do you have a part of my rib?"...Anyway, back to the rib line--not only is it serial killer creepy, it kind of turns the search for a soul mate into a matter of orthopedic urgency. That makes two I know a lot about--futile searching for a boyfriend and orthopedic surgery.

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

But you don't look Jewish

Yet another video in the series in "Shit ___ Say" series, this time for Jews!

In the "Shit Christians say to Jews,"Allison Pearlman explores the questions one fields from non-Jews about Judaism and culture.

While I've NEVER gotten, "But you don't look Jewish," I have often been asked, "Are you from Israel?"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Judaica flow

I've often accused the Jews of trying to make everything Semitic--hip hop, sports and now, maxi pads.

Thanks to Eli V. and the Judaican't tumblr, I now know about the Hanukkah gift I never knew I wanted but must have, even belatedly.

For six dollars on Etsy (where else?), you can purchase a reusable cloth maxi pad decorated with menorahs and well wishes for the holiday. A small price to pay for environmental sustainability and Jewish pride in your underwear.

Before you start asking the obvious, "Why?" ask instead, "Why not?"

Why shouldn't your maxi pads be decorated? We put ducks and cartoon characters on the outside of baby's disposable diapers. Why shouldn't ladies and moon goddesses be able to bleed all over religious symbols? God knows, the religion has taken many dumps, historically, on us. Fair is fair. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Less and less

I've been thinking less and less about Judaism these days. Though I often joke (on and off camera) that I see the world through "Jew colored glasses" and probably always will, the degree to which this presently happens has greatly decreased over the past year. More and more of my writing ideas have little to do with matters of religious law and faith and I consider Judaism less when making decisions about the rest of my life. (Perhaps this is not a great thing to admit publicly since I still frequently write for Jewish publications--Dear editors, I still have pitches for you! This post is all lies!)

During the first couple of years that I ceased to be Orthodox, I thought about Judaism constantly. I wondered if I would ever return to a greater level of observance. I was often negotiating with Jewish law--how do I feel about driving on Shabbos? How about flying or using money? I was in a constant conversation with tradition and text despite observing the rules less and less.

But now that I feel settled in what I do and how I do it, now that I'm figuring things out less, I don't analyze the religion and tradition as much. Judaism, for better or worse, has become more of a part-time activity. I'm a weekend Jew. And I'm pretty happy about it. My circle of friends has greatly expanded as have my range of experiences (perhaps the reason for my non-Jewish ideas). It all feels like a natural part of my life's trajectory.

During this process I've noticed that others that come from a similar background and have made the move away cling, if not to their observance, then to their old social circles and orders. They seem to hang out mostly with others who have left the community, in whole or part.

Obviously, each in his or her own time, but part of me always felt that this defeats the purpose of leaving the insularity. While I understand the desire to be around people who really understand what you're going through and understand how destabilized and uprooted you may feel at times (especially if you were like me and never truly thought that this would be the route you would be taking), I still believe that it is imperative to get out there and find friends and a social network that doesn't seem to be based on where you came from. When I'm in those social settings, I frequently find myself talking about how my life used to be, not where it's going.