Ear­li­er this week, Dvo­ra Mey­ers wrote about being an Ortho­dox Jew­ish gym­nast and the design­er of her book cov­er. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

What hap­pens when the sad­dest day on the Jew­ish cal­en­dar, the Ninth of Av, which memo­ri­al­izes the destruc­tion of King Solomon’s Tem­ple in Jerusalem, coin­cides with you learn­ing about the U.S. women’s vic­to­ry at the 1996 Olympics, arguably the hap­pi­est gym­nas­tics moment in my twen­ty-year rela­tion­ship with the sport? Should I cry for the Tem­ple? Or flip for the Mag­nif­i­cent Sev­en?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the rab­bis nev­er both­ered with these (and oth­er) ques­tions in their respon­sa. I was forced to answer them on my own (I flipped and then felt guilty about it, thus cov­er­ing both my Jew­ish and gym­nas­tics bases).

The text above is a snip­pet from the intro­duc­tion to Heresy on the High Beam. In it, I allude to a sto­ry that I nev­er end­ed up writ­ing out (though I did tell it at my Leo­tard Option­al book launch par­ty, which was just like a black tie” event except with a lot more span­dex). Since I didn’t include the anec­dote in any of the essays, I’m giv­ing it away for free here.

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 1996, I was at sleep­away camp in upstate New York. This camp, a place I attend­ed for nine sum­mers, had strict rules about cor­re­spon­dence — let­ters only. You weren’t allowed to receive care pack­ages nor were you allowed to make or take phone calls from your par­ents. This was only fea­si­ble in a pre-cell­phone, pre-inter­net age. I know that I’m dat­ing myself here but I don’t mind. I’ll even do the math for you — I’m 29. (Can some­one tell me how it works at camps nowa­days? Do kids check in on Foursquare when they arrive at the din­ing hall? And what does the may­or of the mess get? An extra cup of bug juice?)

Any­way, back then I was 13 and was quite sad to be miss­ing the broad­cast of the Sum­mer Olympics from Atlanta. The 1996 Olympic Team was my Dream Team, com­prised of ath­letes I had fol­lowed ever since I start­ed doing gym­nas­tics at age 8, includ­ing Shan­non Miller, Dominique Dawes and Ker­ri Strug. I demand­ed reg­u­lar let­ter updates from my moth­er back in Brook­lyn to know what was going on in the gym­nas­tics com­pe­ti­tion. She also sent me infor­ma­tion about the plat­form div­ing since it was sim­i­lar enough to gym­nas­tics to mer­it my attention.

Dur­ing the wan­ing hours of the Ninth of Av, which for Jews is the sad­dest day on the cal­en­dar because it is when the Tem­ple in Jerusalem was destroyed, I was sum­moned to the camp office. Weak from fast­ing, I trudged over. You’ve got a phone call,” I was told. It’s your moth­er. She said she needs to talk to you about your scoliosis.”

I took the phone, utter­ly con­fused. Though my sco­l­io­sis had already been diag­nosed, my moth­er and I were both under the impres­sion that it was minor. (In a few months, how­ev­er, we’d dis­cov­er that it was severe and would require spinal fusion surgery. But I digress.) Why would she be call­ing me about that, I wondered.

Mom?” I said.

They won!” my moth­er prac­ti­cal­ly shout­ed into the phone.


The Amer­i­cans! They won the gold medal!” she yelled.

In the back­ground, I could hear my old­er sis­ter add her two cents. Tell her about Ker­ri Strug on the vault!”

This, as many of you prob­a­bly recall, was the famous vault on a sprained ankle that the squeaky-voiced (and Jew­ish) Strug did to the bel­low­ing chants of You can do it!” from her Roman­ian coach, Bela Karolyi. She vault­ed, stuck it and then had to be car­ried off the podi­um, help­ing clinch the first ever team gold medal for the U.S. (Actu­al­ly, it turned out that they didn’t need her score after all of the num­bers were crunched. They would’ve defeat­ed the Rus­sians even if they need­ed to count a fall from Dominique Moceanu. But for­get I men­tioned that. Math ruins stories.)

I want­ed to tell you myself,” my mom said, explain­ing her decep­tion in get­ting me to the phone, which I obvi­ous­ly couldn’t open­ly sig­nal in any way since a camp admin­is­tra­tor was watch­ing me care­ful­ly. I thanked her tone­less­ly and hung up.

There was still an hour left to the fast and I had been taught at camp that I should feel sad because the Tem­ple was still burn­ing, at least in a his­tor­i­cal sense, and would be for sev­er­al hours, even after we’d been giv­en the OK to eat.

But as I walked along the path back to my bunk, I wasn’t remote­ly sad. I was hap­py, jubi­lant even. My ear­li­er lethar­gy had been replaced by joy. I start­ed to skip. Then I stopped. Then I start­ed again. I couldn’t help it. My gym­nas­tics idols had won the gold!

I tried a few more times to rein my feel­ings in and feel sad for some­thing that hap­pened over two thou­sand years pri­or but I couldn’t, not when some­thing so won­der­ful hap­pened less than 24 hours ear­li­er. And I was so touched that my moth­er, who used to com­plain end­less­ly about dri­ving me to and from gym­nas­tics prac­tice, had gone so far as to lie to tell me about the gold medal as soon as possible.That, I thought, is what fam­i­ly is all about.

And, two days lat­er, the entire news­pa­per arrived in the mail.

Dvo­ra Mey­ers has writ­ten for The New York Times, Dead­spin, and Tablet. She was nev­er allowed to com­pete pro­fes­sion­al­ly, but she is the recip­i­ent of a gold medal for gym­nas­tics obses­sive­ness. Her new book, Heresy on the High Beam: Con­fes­sions of an Unbal­anced Jew­ess, is out now.