The publication this year of the Forward 50 is happening a little differently. We are rolling out videos of the Top 5, the American Jews who we think top our list of those who have impacted the news most significantly in the past year. Count down with us through Monday as we profile the new faces of Jewish power.
In an Olympic year when not one member of the Israeli team won a medal, Alexandra Raisman, an 18-year-old Jewish gymnast from the Boston area, became a symbol of Jewish athletics.
Raisman, who goes by “Aly,” entered the 2012 Olympic Games as the U.S. team captain and a strong contender on the floor exercise, but was considered an underdog when it came to the Women’s Individual All-Around competition. But she rose to the occasion, beating out her teammate and favored medal contender Jordyn Wieber for a spot in the all-around competition, in which she would take fourth place. At the end of the games, she walked away with a team gold medal, an individual gold for floor exercise and a bronze for balance beam.
Her flawless floor routine was set to the Jewish folk song “Hava Nagilah”, which was suggested by her mother and her Romanian-born coaches Mihai and Silvia Brestyan, who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s. “I really liked the music and wanted to get something people could clap to and relate to,” Raisman told the Forward.
Although Raisman competes on Shabbat, her Jewish identity affects other aspects of her life. She changed her post-Olympic tour schedule to return home for Yom Kippur and joked in an interview with the Forward about the fashion-themed bat mitzvah party she planned with her mom. (“I’m a girly girl,” she said.) Still, Raisman was pleasantly surprised by the amount of support she received from the Jewish community during the Olympics.
As Raisman’s rabbi, Keith Stern, wrote this summer for the Forward: “She doesn’t whisper, ‘I’m Jewish.’ On the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre she twists, jumps, flies through the air, declaring with every muscle in her strong body, ‘I am a strong Jewish woman and I own this event.’ Can there be a clearer declaration of Jewish power and pride?”