For those of you up to date with Israeli happenings, the country is presently hosting its 19th Maccabiah Games – a sort of mini-Olympics for Israelis and Jews worldwide. While I’d like to consider myself an Olympic nut, the truth is that there’s only one sport I’ve ever really cared about: gymnastics. Having dedicated my entire childhood to doing gymnastics, I was always (and still am) fascinated by watching the pros. Last year’s gymnastics Olympic games were particularly exciting for Jews worldwide, as Aly Raisman – a Jew – won gold medal for her floor routine, bronze for her beam routine, and was part of the gold medal winning Team USA. This year she was honored by being the athlete chosen to light the Maccabiah torch at the opening ceremony last Thursday.
Last Thursday… the first day of the 19th Maccabiah Games. I’d been looking forward to watching the gymnastics events ever since I first saw the Maccabiah advertised on the streets of Jerusalem. According to the Maccabiah website, there would be a week of gymnastics practices before the final competition. Not knowing whether or not I’d be able to go see the competition, I decided to make sure I at least got to see a practice. So that’s how I found myself last Thursday at Tel Aviv’s Hadar Yosef Olympic arena trying to watch the gymnastics practice. It was an almost-worthless trip. Apparently the schedule listed on the Maccabiah website was for competitors, and not spectators. When I arrived at the arena, I was greeted by a sign on the door that read, “Entrance for gymnasts only.” Well, nothing said I couldn’t stand in the doorway and watch. Unfortunately it meant I was blocking the doorway, and I couldn’t see much anyway. In the end, I didn’t stick around very long.
I did, however, stick around long enough for this to happen:
I had to use the ladies’ room. It was quite a nice ladies’ room, complete with toilet stalls, showers for sweaty athletes, and a long mirror with sinks. One thing they did not have though was a handicapped stall. I had my baby in her stroller, but the stroller couldn’t fit into a regular stall (at least, not with me at the same time). My options were limited. Fortunately, there were some other people hanging out in the bathroom – namely the USA women’s gymnastics delegation (I’m pretty sure, after researching names and pictures, that it was the Junior league). They had finished up their practice already, showered, and were getting dressed and ready in their red, white and blue “USA” tagged sweatsuits and baseball caps – the USA delegation’s uniforms for the opening ceremony that would be starting a few hours later. I asked these girls if they were going to be there for another couple of minutes, knowing full well that they would (after all, even elite gymnasts take a while to straighten their hair), and if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on my baby while I went about my business. Once they agreed and I turned to find a stall, it suddenly occurred to me that I was leaving my most prized possession with a bunch of strangers. Without missing a beat, I whipped back around and said in my most threatening voice, “My baby had better be here when I come out. If she’s not… I know what country you’re from!”
And that’s the story of how I both threatened the USA gymnastics delegation and got them to babysit my daughter for a few minutes. Who knows… any of these junior gymnasts could go on to be in the 2016 Olympics, and then I can tell my daughter when she’s older that an Olympic gymnast once babysat for her!
[Update, July 25, 2013]
Despite all odds, I made it, daughter in tow, to the gymnastics finals, exactly one week after the above story took place. Seating space was limited, and I was fortunate to be able to sit at all. I was walking around, baby strapped to me, trying to figure out which seats were being saved for late-comers and which seats were actually available, when a kind elderly couple asked if I was looking for a seat and motioned to the seat next to them. I thanked them profusely and took my seat, front and center in the spectators’ box. The elderly couple asked me if I was related to any of the competitors. I told them no, that I was simply a big fan of the sport, having done it myself for many years as a kid, and I was excited to expose my next-generation to it. Well, it turns out that they were the grandparents of a competitor. Not just any competitor, but one of the young ladies from the USA junior delegation who babysat for my daughter in the bathroom! Her parents were seated on the other side of the grandparents, and her teammate’s families were seated in the row behind me. I shared the babysitting story with them. They thought it was cute. And then we talked gymnastics, “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed at the routines, and chatted amicably about little things. They took pictures of me and my baby, picked up her pacifier when she threw it down, and gave her fingers to hold onto and chew. Seems like gymnastic folk are nice folk all around… at least when a baby is involved.