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Gym Class


Remember back in gym class when two students would get to choose the teams? Just the sound of the teacher announcing who was captain would fill my heart with dread. We’d line up in front of them and wait to hear our names called. They always started with the most sought out teammates and ended with me. On a good day, I’d get second to last.

It’s not that I was a total klutz. I was graceful in a dancer sort of way. My main shortcomings were that I didn’t throw very far, flinched basically every time the ball came at me (those things go fast!), and ran – well – like a girl.

And what’s the deal with dodge ball, anyway? Why on earth would an institution of education encourage a bunch of rowdy eleven-year-olds to peg each other with a veritable rubberized torpedo?

Where was the justice in this game? The kid who struck me would be cheered on, while I, usually limping off the battlefield (er, playing field), would get booed. I would have gladly provided warmth to any bench anywhere in order to have avoided that embarrassment.

Indeed, the only thing worse than getting chosen last was when I would lose a point for whatever team got stuck with me. Boy, those boys were mean. I can’t remember the exact epithets they used, but let’s just say that in eight years of bi-weekly gym class, I heard them often.

There’s something about one person behaving cruelly to another that makes us worse than even the most vicious animal, according to Jewish thought. That’s because when an animal hurts another animal it’s not doing so out of malice, but rather out of instinct. When we humans are mean to each other though, it’s because we choose to be. (We often even enjoy it.)

But what if we act with kindness? What if we choose to take care for another person when we could easily remain indifferent? In that case, Judaism says that we’re greater than even the highest angels in heaven. That’s because when it comes to angels, they (like animals) lack free will. So although following orders straight from God seems like a good thing, it’s not particularly commendable if you couldn’t choose to do otherwise.

My first grader just told me about a girl in her class who lost a bunch of points for their team during a recent game in gym. Some of the other classmates were so mean to this little girl that she started to cry.

My daughter, who was also disappointed over the lost points, made a decision though, and ran over to her crying classmate, gave her a hug, and told her that it was OK, and how happy she was to be her friend.

This cheered the little girl up and filled my heart with joy. I was so proud to hear how my daughter went out on her own and chose kindness over cruelty. I was also proud to hear that she’s fairing better in gym class than her old lady.




  1. thanks for this article, I very clearly remember the exact feeling of being last or close to last to be picked for a team. I also never understood why dodgeball was always the favorite game – and I went to an all-girls school! I hope my kids grow up to realize there are more important things to take into consideration when choosing a teammate than who can hit hardest. Great lesson learned.

  2. Your daughter is such a little mensch. What a wonderful thing for her to do for that little girl. My daughter gets ragged on like that at school, and unfortunately doesn’t have anyone willing to show her such kindness. It’s nice to know that there are kids out there with that kind of empathy. 🙂

  3. Melanie Levenstein : February 24, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Even though I was never the last one picked in gym (and played pretty well), your entire post still rang true and definitely hit a nerve. I know this may sound silly, but I just teared up a little when I read how your daughter reacted. If more people in the world were like her, and less interested in deliberately trying to hurt one another, Mosiach would be here a lot sooner. Otherwise, he may have to come because we’re so hopeless (but I hope it’s because everyone is following the lead of a wise-beyond-her-years 7 year old). Great post!

  4. I really understand this post. I was very good in dance and athletics. But at 14 I started a new school in another part of town (my mother had died) and I was so shy that I could not step up for anything in spite of my skills. It was very painful. Over the years I learned to be more outspoken, assertive and self confident. I now try to do what this little girl has done: comfort and reassure others. I wish I had someone there for me like that when I was young and needed her. Bless her.

  5. tinoket shel beit rabban

  6. I too was usually the last girl picked for a team & am able to relate to your article on a personal level. The humiliation was awful. It would have been awesome if gym class had included taught sportsmanship. You are blessed to have a sensitive daughter.We helped our son to blossom into the sensitive caring individual he is by giving him karate lessons. Karate was instrumental in helping him to develop his self esteem and his gentle caring ways..

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.