Erica Brown
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My Peloton Hanukkah inspiration

When the instructors say they see me, it's sappy, but it works: my holiday workout made me feel visible as a Jew, despite the baseless hate out there
Illustrative. A Hanukkah menorah (Flash90)
Illustrative. A Hanukkah menorah (Flash90)

On my 438th Peloton workout, I finally felt part of an elusive virtual exercise family.

Early Sunday morning, on the eve of Hanukkah, I sat on my stationary bike, prepping for a week of fried-food temptations. I saw with surprise that Peloton posted both a “Hanukkah Ride” and a bonus “Hanukkah Cool-Down,” words I’ve never associated with the red and white Peloton logo. The workout started with “Hanukkah Blessings,” a sweet song by the Barenaked Ladies, who are not exactly a popular Sunday School choice. They acknowledged the sad stepchild that is my holiday: “With the jingle bells and the toys/And the TV shows and the noise/It’s easy to forget at the end of the day/Our whole family will say/These words for Hanukkah.” Then they actually recited one of the blessings and did their best with its guttural pronunciation.

(via Twitter)

This song was followed by Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” a reminder of the Maccabean revolt of the first century that required courage and bravery. I was told to turn up the cadence for the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” and make my resistance tougher for Ellie Goulding’s “Lights.” Gloria Estefan took us to the cool-down with “Coming Out of the Dark.”

Suddenly spandex Jews with water bottles can enjoy a nod of recognition. Enough with the cheap, battery-operated Hanukah Harry dressed in blue and white from Bed Bath & Beyond that gyrates strangely and serves no purpose. Down with navy potholders and kitchen towels covered in dreidels from Target. The commercialized leftovers that feel like weak holiday handouts to poor cousins were now eclipsed by the elation that comes with a genuine gesture of belonging.

Between Kayne West and a month of radio carols, I entered this December feeling unusually lonely and invisible in society. Every year, I battle this niggling sense of not belonging, but this year it is worse. The treacherousness of antisemitism is everywhere. It has become unacceptably normative today in ways unimaginable to the daughter of a Holocaust child survivor. And it’s psychically exhausting to carry around all that baseless hate. The beautifully decorated trees in offices, stores, and apartment lobbies that always dwarf the 12-inch menorah with the ugly orange light bulbs bother me more this year than before. I feel smaller and less at home.

But my holiday workout this year made me feel visible in a way that my ugly Hanukkah sweater did not. Peloton instructors are always telling me they see me. It’s how they got me through COVID. It’s how they drag me through mornings when I just don’t have the strength. “I see you,” they goad. “You can do this.” I never believed them, of course, but always appreciated the sappy encouragement. And, they were right, I did manage to build up strength and resilience.

My instructor for the Hanukkah ride was the charming and overly optimistic English actor and athlete, Bradley Rose. Bradley, I really appreciate the way you said latkes and sufganiyot, the Hebrew for donuts, which you pronounced almost perfectly and certainly enthusiastically. You even told me to be a mensch. You were trying. And I noticed. I see you.

And you said something else that I will not forget when I’m off the bike. Mimicking and adding to the lyrics of John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice,” you said, “We are not going to sit in silence anymore. We will stand up. Side-by-side next to each other.” You explained why you were doing this ride: “Personally, right now, I think more than ever that we need to stand shoulder by shoulder. I’m an ally for this community.” You told me you were an ally more than once during the ride. And I hope you’re not an ally because your last name is not really Rose but Rosen or Rosenberg — because the victims of hatred cannot be its only street fighters. Thank you for fighting with me, shoulder to shoulder, even if our stationary bikes are going nowhere.

Then, as you told me amid the sweat at 79 cadence and a resistance of 50, “It’s time for a little more tolerance.” You told me to “care for every individual’s beliefs and rights.” You said, “Bring it on. Stand by my side because I stand by you.” Bradley, thank you. Thank you for caring. Thank you for creating 20 minutes of inclusivity this December. May your generosity of spirit spillover well beyond the Peloton family and help others appreciate that you can never fight hatred alone. To all of you in the fight: “You got this.”

The ride was over. It was time to exhale, get off the bike, shower and get the menorahs ready. Night will come. Darkness will cover the sky, but those small lights will grow larger each night. Bradley, thanks for encouraging us to be that light. When it comes to the fight against intolerance, I treasure the words of your fellow instructors: I am. I can. I will. I do.

About the Author
Dr. Erica Brown is the Vice Provost for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University and the director of its Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks–Herenstein Center. Her latest book is Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning (Maggid Books).
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