Shattering Stereotypes in Seward Park (one sit up at a time)
By Jessica Hoffman
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author Half of a Yellow Sun
In an industrial space in an old Rainier Avenue building, unassuming except for the large tin sign of a rocket hanging in the parking lot, athletes stare at the writing on the whiteboard, attempting to decipher the relative difficulty of the day’s workout. Everybody greets each other and the light jokes about soreness, bruising, and exhaustion begin.
It is noon on Friday, Erev Shabbos, and I refill my water bottle, pull out a rowing machine, and warm up with the group. I start to think about three years ago when I joined Rocket CrossFit in Seward Park and had noticed immediately how varied the athletes were. They had lived right near me my whole life and we’d never met. Sure, being polite Seattle natives, we had advised each other on the best granola at PCC, or stopped to pet each other’s dogs walking around the Loop. But there was always a separation, brought out by a natural leading of separate lives. Not at Rocket, a burgeoning City on a Hill.
I think that the Jewish crew has exposed a lot of people to elements of Orthodoxy that were probably pretty foreign.
“I lived in the neighborhood for thirteen years and never felt what I feel at Rocket,” says Alyssa Royse, who co-owns the gym with her husband Brady Collins. “Although we are a diverse neighborhood, the diversity of goals and lifestyles often leads to an accidental segregation that isn’t the same as any sort of institutionalized segregation. There is an almost ‘foxhole’ mentality to breaking down and sweating together. It seems to unite people around shared experience in a very powerful way. I think that the Jewish crew has exposed a lot of people to elements of Orthodoxy that were probably pretty foreign. Which is awesome. I think so many problems in this world stem from not being able to see the humanity that connects us. It’s easy to see things like a woman who covers her hair and wears skirts as somewhat odd in this day and age, but when you’re sweating alongside them and get to know them for who they are, that just changes things.”
One look around during any given hour at Rocket speaks to this truth. The diversity is obvious to an outsider, but for each athlete, it disappears the first time you are lying on your back after a workout, sweating and proud of yourself and the people you’ve been cheering on.
“We have Christian, Muslim, Jewish and atheist folks peacefully coexisting around a shared purpose and supporting each other.
“In many ways, Rocket is a perfect microcosm of the world that I wish we lived in,” says Royse. “We have Christian, Muslim, Jewish and atheist folks peacefully coexisting around a shared purpose and supporting each other. (Not to mention gay, straight, bi, trans, and poly.) It’s just the way the world should work.”
There are quite a few of us Orthodox Jews. Women who cover their hair while they work out, men who walk in wearing a yarmulka, none of us touching any of the food at the gym potlucks or New Year’s parties. And we come with our families. My mother, sister, brother, brother-in-law, and husband, are all members. I walk in and see the names “Dan B.” and “Red” already written on the whiteboard from the 7 AM class.
It occurs to me that our uniqueness as Orthodox Jews contributes to the beauty. We wouldn’t want to change to fit in, and nobody would want us to.
It occurs to me that our uniqueness as Orthodox Jews contributes to the beauty. We wouldn’t want to change to fit in, and nobody would want us to. Each of us has our individual level of observance, filled with nuances that we aren’t asked to explain. It is only when we are surrounded exclusively by non-observant Jews or nit-picked in the media that we are asked constantly to explain ourselves in a compare-and-contrast discussion that ultimately leads to an unwinnable debate on theology. But at Rocket, nobody seems to notice. And if they do, it is only with a happy appreciation for the magnificent mixture of Seward Park.
Jessica Hoffman is a writer, mom, CrossFitter, and teacher at Derech Emunah. Jessica has written for Kveller, LadyMama, Jewneric, JOFA Journal, NW Beauty, and more. She and her husband Ari have 3 children, operate Seattle NCSY, and are active members of the Seward Park community.