She came out of cheerleading practice holding something. I, as usual, was waiting for her in the car. Hiding, actually. I am not a good cheerleading mom. I have spent hours sitting in the lobby with much more knowledgeable mothers, pretending I know the terminology. Through years of watching my daughter in cheerleading showcases, practices and competitions, I am still no closer to knowing what a “full-out” or a “whip” is than I did when we began this activity four years ago.
I have, however, learned one very important thing about cheerleading: as the team’s flyer, my daughter tends to break things in her body. Only one week back into practice this past August and she had already broken her foot. (Previous broken body parts have included her pinky finger, and the other foot.) After six weeks in a cast, she was back at practice, and I was back waiting for her in the car. When practice ended, she walked out of the building and headed towards me, sitting in my usual illegal parking spot in the tow-away zone. She was holding something on her neck. As she got closer, I saw what it was: an ice pack.
“Well,” she said, as she slowly got into the car, “I fell on my neck tonight. I think I sprained it. I can’t really turn my head right now.” Tears began to fall from her eyes. “Why do these things always happen to me?”
Feeling my body fill with sorrow, I turned to her and said, “Honey, it’s time you knew the truth.”
“About what?” she asked.
“About why you keep hurting yourself in cheer.”
“What is it?” she asked, her eyes growing wide with fear.
“You see, sweetie, you are a Jew. Jews were not built to be athletes. It’s not part of our genetic make-up. It is not your fault. It’s just part of who you are.”
“But the Jews wandered for years in the desert!” she cried. “That takes a lot of physical strength!”
“We wandered, honey. We didn’t run or jump or tackle each other along the way. We strolled. That’s why it took so long for us to get there.”
“So you are telling me that Jews can never be athletes? Is that what you are saying?” She was enraged.
“No, Jews can play sports. But we do ‘nice sports,’ like tennis and golf. We can play softball. We can even swim laps.”
“So we don’t have any famous athletes from any of the other sports?”
“No, we do. It’s just that you can google ‘famous Jewish football players” and a list will appear. You can’t google ‘famous non-Jewish football players’ because that’s basically everyone else. Same with basketball or soccer or gymnastics. And usually we can’t do volleyball because we are too short. Our bodies were just not designed for contact sports, or ones where you fall and get hurt, or ones where you need to be tall.”
“What about professional dancing? Like ballerinas? Can we do that?”
“No,” I said sadly. “That requires having a very tall frame. And skinniness to the point of starvation. Jews are not very good at withholding food. That’s why we only do it one day a year, as punishment.”
“So, what are you saying? That I will never be good at something I love? Is that what you are saying? You would never say that to Sam or Aidan!”
“Well, Sam is an actor, and Aidan likes math. Those are things that Jews are actually designed to do.”
And with that, we pulled up to our driveway. She was furious. She got out and slammed the door and started to run up to the house.
It had been raining that night. The gravel was slick. I watched her run fast towards the front door. Then I watched her slip and fall.
“Slip” and “fall”- two words that sound like they are sports terms. And they are, in a way, associated with a sport. A professional sport.
So don’t be sad, my Lauren. One day, your Jewish genetics will give you a unique athletic advantage. In this game, you will choose a side. You can chase and even tackle your opponent. But in the game of law, you use your brain to leap over obstacles and to out-maneuver your opponents, instead of your body.
And the only thing you will break, hopefully, will be the bank.