Israelis may have been disappointed by the performance of their country’s Olympic athletes on Sunday, but American Jews were collectively kvelling at the showing of gymnast Alexandra Raisman, who was the undisputed star of the NBC Sunday night Olympic broadcast.
Raisman, 18, a nice Jewish girl from Massachusetts known by her nickname Aly, not only stunned spectators by grabbing one of the two spots in the all-around individual finals for the U.S., but she did it by performing a floor exercise routine to the tune of “Hava Nagila.” Her win pushed her teammate – favorite Jordan Wieber – out of the final and ‘sent shockwaves’ through the arena, vaulting her to the new focus of the U.S. squad.
Raisman is certainly not the only gymnast to utilize the catchy tune – it has been a favorite over the years and is a proven crowd-pleaser with gymnastics fans. But she may very well be the first Jewish gymnast to do so – and if all goes well and American hopes are realized, she might be the first to ride the Hava Nagila train to an Olympic medal.
The song was carefully chosen, according to a JTA story about her last summer:
Raisman, of Needham, Mass., is trained by the Romanian couple, Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s and also is training world vault champion Alicia Sacramone. The coaches and Raisman’s mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches.
Raisman, a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York, says she is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there.”
Even more important to Raisman than the tune’s Jewish connotations, however, is the quality it shares with similar folk tunes — it inspires audience participation.
“I like how the crowd can clap to it,” she says.
Here’s a clip from March of the Hava Nagila floor routine she has been busy perfecting over the past year:
On a more comic note, the NBC broadcast also featured a clip of Raisman’s parents watching their daughter perform her routine on the uneven bars, her weakest event, which was mocked on the website Gawker. It’s a classic illustration of what any nervous Jewish parents look like when their kid competes in the Olympics.
I don’t blame them at all. If it were my daughter flying around in the air, I don’t think I would be able to watch without flinching, either.