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ברוך פוקח עורים • Blessed is the One who opens unseeing eyes

Why is Aly Raisman naked?

In synagogue last week we read a Haftara from the prophet Micah. The prophet addresses the Israelites in exile and offers a series of prophecies and instructions. We are warned. God will not stop at vanquishing our foes and lifting us from exile. The Holy Blessed One will bring punishment upon those among us who worship foreign deities, practice sorcery, and seek out soothsayers. The Haftara ends with the following famous verse, "God has told you, Human, what good is and what God requires of you: Only to do justice, to love goodness, and walk modestly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Medieval French commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) explains this verse with a parable. When one publicly embarrasses another, the offender must gather together those in front of whom he caused the embarrassment and approach the offended together to ask for forgiveness. Rashi goes on to say that this is not so with God. One's return to God is only between offender and Creator. Therefore, to "walk modestly with your God" means that there are some things that are solely between the individual and God.

With all of this in mind,
I was disappointed to see this article pop up in my newsfeed early this week. It seems that Aly Raisman, the 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist stripped down for an ESPN video on body image and athletic focus. The article tried to convince us that though ESPN photographed Raisman completely nude, "she hardly shows 'it all'". I beg to differ.

During the Summer 2012 Olympics I was working at a Jewish overnight camp in Hampstead, NH. The vast majority of campers hailed from neighborhoods surrounding Raisman's hometown of Needham, MA. Reports of our hometown hero spread through camp all summer long. Campers of all ages bragged about their varying degrees of separation from the now famous Olympian. When we returned to Massachusetts later that summer,
Needham had erected signs throughout its downtown area marking it as the "Home of Aly Raisman, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist".


The local Jewish community also got in on the action. Raisman's Rabbi was quoted in various publications praising his Jewishly proud congregant. Everyone was talking about her floor routine to
Hava Nagila and its serving as a dig against an Olympic Committee that had chosen not to hold a moment of silence in memory of the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre. It was hard to imagine a more deserving modern Jewish heroine.

Now, In the name of trying to teach that "imperfection is beauty", Raisman shows off her skills on the beam and rings sans leotard. While trying to send the message that we must embrace our flaws, Raisman says,
“At the last Olympics I got two golds and a bronze, but I think more about the fact that I didn’t medal in the All-Around than the fact that I did really well. That kind of pisses me off—I always think that it’s never good enough. I almost fell and put my hand down; it was stupid, I never make that mistake on the beam." To be sure, I think it is perfectly natural to harp on our teeny flaws even when they fall among huge accomplishments. For me, doing so while naked is a little too natural.

It's not surprising that Raisman's exposé set me off. After all, I am trying to raise my daughter in a world where potential role models (men and women!) are encouraged to strip down by publications that are designed to tout their excellence at various athletic endeavors. I won't rant here about the many societal pressures on young women and how they are showing themselves at increasingly younger ages. I'll simply say that thrice in the past several months I have come home from clothes shopping for my daughter with shirts that seemed innocent enough for a 2 year-old in the front, but after washing discovered that I had overpaid for shirts with incomplete backs. As I try to teach my daughter to "walk modestly with your God", immodesty continues to rear its ugly head. This is by no means the fault of one open Olympian, but she didn't help the cause either. I don't mean to rag on Aly, but I am saddened by her choice.

The heroine who took the Jewish community by storm in 2012 could have shared her tradition's affinity for modest living. Aly could have told the world that we are all made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), muscular athletes and fluffy rabbis alike. Rather than learning to love her (imperfect!?) muscles, she could share how she's come to love her wholly perfect self. This is my wish for Aly and for all of us.