Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
News

EXPLAINER: Olympian and Gymnastics Phenom Gabby Douglas ‘Used To Be Jewish’

As American Jews (and their media) are fawning over Olympian gymnast Aly Raisman, fewer know about her teammate Gabrielle Douglas’ complex religious background — a mixture of Christianity and Judaism.

“I used to be Jewish,” she wrote in her 2012 memoir. “Well not exactly Jewish — but my family practiced some of the Jewish traditions.”

Douglas, whose team won gold in Rio and who in 2012 was the first U.S. gymnast to receive both the all-around gold medal and the team gold in a single Olympic Games, has said that “Christ strengthens” her but also practiced some “Jewish traditions.”

She was raised in Virginia going to a Pentecostal megachurch and also briefly attended Temple Israel, a Conservative congregation in 2004, according to her memoir. (The temple’s rabbi had no recollection of her family’s attendance.)

She told Teen Vogue she loves “spinning the dreidel during the holidays.” More recently, her Olympic playlist includes songs from Christian musical acts and earlier this year she wore a leotard emblazoned with Hebrew letters spelling out “Elohim,” one of the many names used for God in the bible.

Douglas’ Hebrew leotard:

Hebrew: Douglas once wore a leotard emblazoned with the Hebrew word Elohim.

And the early design for the outfit, designed by her sister, according to the producer’s website:

Faith is a central theme to her memoir “Grace, Gold, and Glory,” and she has also explored the topic of her beliefs in multiple interviews.

“My mom has always taught me and my siblings the Word, and I don’t know what I would do without my faith and strong beliefs,” she wrote. “When I got hurt, I would just meditate day and night, ‘By His stripes I am healed.’ And when I was having struggles in the gym, if I kept falling multiple times, I kept quoting, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”

At the same time, she continues to express her love of parts of Jewish culture. “I really love matzo ball soup and I just had matzo ball soup recently,” she told Religious News Service, “and it’s just one of my favorite Jewish meals.”

Email Sam Kestenbaum at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.