SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 – Aly Raisman, of Needham, is a modern-day Jewish hero. At 24, she has achieved more than most people do in a lifetime. Raisman is a two-time Olympian, and was the captain of the 2012 and 2016 women’s Olympic gymnastics teams. She has won 6 Olympic medals – 3 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze. She is the author of “Fierce,” a memoir, and over the last year has advocated for women’s rights – speaking out against the former USA Gymnastics doctor convicted of molesting young athletes.
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Q. Happy New Year, Aly! Do you have any plans this year for Rosh Hashanah?
A. I will be spending the holiday with my family. I always look forward to the holidays because we get to spend quality time together as a family!
Q. What’s your favorite food for the holiday?
A. Potato latkes.
Q. You’re a role model for Jews across the world. Could you ever have dreamed that you would win a gold medal?
A. From the moment I watched the 1996 Olympic gymnastics team competition, I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics one day. I had no idea how much work it would take to get there and how hard it would be, but that’s the best thing about being a kid is that no dream is too big! I always dreamed of winning a gold medal on the floor – I thought about it often as a teenager.
Q. At the 2012 London Olympics, you performed your floor routine [for which she won a gold medal] with ‘Hava Nagila’ as the background music. What made you choose the song, and do you still listen to it?
A. I chose ‘Hava Nagila’ because it is a song loved all over the world. I wanted a song that people could relate to and when I was performing, I wanted people to feel like they were a part of the performance! There is an excitement in an arena when the crowd claps to the music.
Q. How important is family in Judaism?
A. Family is an integral part of Judaism and its traditions. I have many great memories of spending the holidays with my family, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them!
Q. You lit the torch at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel. What did it mean to you to visit Israel?
A. I was honored to be invited to be a part of the Maccabiah Games, and it was very special to be able to light the torch. The opportunity to visit Israel and to share that with my family was very special to us all. We had a great time and certainly something that we’ll never forget.
Q. What were your impressions of Israel, and what were your favorite places to visit?
A. It was amazing to visit a place with so much Jewish history. Seeing all the historical places and doing fun things like swimming in the Dead Sea was spectacular. Tel Aviv was my favorite. The beach was amazing and the atmosphere in the city was great. Hopefully, my family can visit Israel again.
Q. Earlier this year you read a victim impact statement against the US Olympic doctor [Larry Nassar] who abused you. That took a lot of strength and courage. How are you doing these days, and what can your fans do to support you?
A. I am doing well, thanks for asking. I make time to take care of myself, as I would not be able to constantly speak out if I didn’t have balance in my life. I go to therapy, do acupuncture, I read, I meditate. I make sure to carve out time every single day to check in on my mind and body. I recommend it for everyone. “Me time” is so important. My fans have been great and I am so grateful for all of the support.
Q. You’ve dedicated a lot of your time to fighting sexual abuse, and earlier this year you posed for Sports Illustrated with the word ‘survivor’ written across your chest. What’s your message to young women on the subject of sexual abuse?
A. Women are not the only survivors of sexual abuse: men and boys are survivors of sexual abuse, too. I would encourage anyone out there who is battling something to remember: you matter. Everyone has a voice and should be heard. I would also encourage all the adults out there to take the Darkness to Light course ‘Stewards of Children,’ which educates on the prevention of child sexual abuse. I have taken the course and recommend all adults take it so we can protect children. I have partnered with them to make the course available for free – all you have to do is enter the code ‘Flip the Switch.’ It is important to keep the conversation going so predators are stopped and children feel comfortable speaking up if something isn’t right. The change in our society has to start with each and every single one of us.