I recently connected with a non-Jewish Olympic gymnast. I read that there was this new pushback in the gymnastics world, where female gymnasts were asking for more fabric like their male counterparts get. It reminded me of the skin gap – a feminist term we coined at Jew in the City which speaks to the discrepancy in the amount of skin men and women are expected to show in the same social settings. It shows that choosing modesty is actually about equality, not subjugation.
While I was expecting to discuss the choice for women to cover up with this Olympian, the conversation started off in a totally different direction, and I was left wiser after our call.
The gymnast told me her life story: she grew up in gymnastics from a young age and it was a toxic environment. There was no love or support among her mentors, just judgment, ridicule and all forms of abuse. She hated gymnastics and as soon as she grew up, she ran away, vowing to never touch gymnastics again.
As she told me this, I thought, “strange – that sounds like a lot of the experiences of the members of Makom.” But she went on, and the story got even more familiar. While she had vowed to never go near gymnastics again, in college she connected with a new gymnastics community made up of healthy and positive people. She dipped a toe back in and suddenly found herself in a wonderful environment. For the first time in her life, she loved doing gymnastics and being a gymnast. This too was exactly like the story of our Makom members. When they get to our organization and meet healthy Orthodox Jews and learn a thoughtful and positive Orthodox approach, so many feel a pride and positivity they never had before.
But wait – there’s more. Now that this gymnast understands what healthy gymnastics looks like instead of unhealthy environments, she is building a system to revamp how the gymnastic culture works, in order to keep kids safe and make gymnastics a positive experience for everyone. This is exactly what we are doing with the Tikun branch! While we have worked on systemic changes in other areas over the years, our first major project is an overhaul of school professionalism to make sure every Orthodox Jewish school has transparency, accountability and checks and balances.
As she finished her life story I told her how stunned I was. I explained to her that I already knew her story because it’s the work our organization is involved with everyday, except substitute gymnasts for Haredi Jews.
And I asked her if she knew what gymnastics and Orthodox Judaism have in common. She didn’t, so I explained. They both use human beings.
Human beings have a range of behaviors. The healthy ones will make experiences positive. The abusers will destroy everything they touch. As a community, it’s up to us to make sure our organizations are transparent enough so that no creep or crook can slip through. Then, we need to make sure we are providing our children with healthy environments which help them flourish instead of tear them down.
There is often a shame in admitting fault, but as we can see from this Olympian, the issues in our community exist because we’re human. We can systemically fix them because as Jews, it’s our job to repair. The only shame we should feel is if we fail to live up to our Jewish values.
And with that, we’d love to share our new Tikun branch tagline. It’s “Broken Can Be Fixed.” It comes from the Rebbe Nachman teaching: “If you believe it’s possible to break, believe it’s possible to fix.” We’re asking for your help to fix. August is Change Makers month. This means that you can change lives by changing perceptions by becoming a monthly donor at any level and allowing us continue to make impacts in our community which will last for generations. Partner with us today.