To paraphrase an old joke: Are the Ultra Orthodox now going to forbid figure skating because it can lead to mixed dancing?
Uriel Heilman writes on the JTA Blog, “It was probably the first time in Olympics history that a kippah was an integral part of an athlete’s uniform. When the Israeli brother-sister ice dancing team Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky took to the ice in Vancouver on Sunday night, the pair chose a ‘traditional Israeli’ folk dance.”
The couple danced to the Jewish folk song “Hava Nagilla,” often sung at Jewish weddings. Heilman notes that the appearance of the yarmulke on Roman Zaretsky’s head makes him look like a nice Orthodox Jewish boy, but his “earring was a bit incongruous.”
While it was great to see an Israeli wearing a kippah while figure skating in the Olympics, I thought the costumes were a little over the top in the “stereotype department.” Not to mention that Alexandra Zaretsky’s skirt would not have gone over well in the Fiddler on the Roof shtetl. And yet, the performance by the Zaretsky brother-sister duo wasn’t the one deemed the most controversial in the Olympic competition. This year, the theme for the ice dancing original dance was folk dancing, which was supposed to represent the “flavor” of one country or another.
Some pairs, like the Israelis, chose folk dances that represented their own country (although I’m not sure all Israelis identify with a 19th century Eastern European shtetl dance). Other couples honored cultures other than their own. The Russian pair of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin did an Australian Aboriginal dance that drew criticism from Aboriginal leaders who found the dance and costumes offensive.
I’m sure the Israelis could have skated to an Israeli folk song without dressing up in the most stereotypical Jewish costumes. After all, if they wanted to represent Israel they should remember there are other populations in Israel, such as the Sephardic Jews, who don’t feel a connection to the Jews represented in The Fiddler on the Roof. As for the Russians, they should have learned their lesson from their last performance when they dressed up in Aboriginal costume and set off a firestorm of criticism.
Here is the video of Israeli Ice Capades