From almost its inception, Roller Derby has been a fertile ground for “exhibition” teams built around a common experience, from the light-hearted (“Tall and gangly skaters”) through the more heartfelt (“surviving a serious injury”, “possessing a hidden or invisible illness”). National Teams are themselves built on the same concept: an expression of a common aspect of identity, drawn from a sense of belonging to or of a particular geographical region, culture or ethnicity.
A positive effect of all such teams is that they can give visibility to the concerns and experiences of the community they represent; this can be, and commonly is, the founding aim of such a team. This is certainly the case for the newest such project: the Jewish Roller Derby team, which launched only a few weeks ago.
We talked to Jewish Roller Derby’s founders, Tiggz and Jodi Bon Jodi, both from Rose City Rollers, about their aims for the team, and how you can be involved.
Tiggz was drawn to form the team partly from her experience within another team drawn from shared history: the 2018 Team Russia Roller Derby. Whilst she enjoyed her time in a National Team and at the World Cup, she was conscious that she didn’t experience the same level of shared-history as the rest of the team did with each other. As the only team member qualifying via a relative with Russian-Jewish heritage, Tiggz was drawn to think about the importance of that other aspect of her culture.
This experience was, perhaps, emphasised by living and working in Portland, itself a city with a very small Jewish population (as Jodi noted to us, “if I played for Gotham, maybe I’d not have felt the same need to make a team to represent Jewish people”, given New York’s ownership of the largest Jewish community outside Israel).
But, more than that, it was also the feeling that this was a time when Jewishness needed more voices to counter rising bigotry which drove the pairs’ final decision to make the team.
It would take considerable ignorance of history to not be aware of the long-standing spectre of anti-Semitism across the world. Whilst many vocal proponents of this insidious bigotry became quieter in the later half of the 20th century, over the last few decades (and especially the last few years), anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy theories have once again become a dangerous thread in politics, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and elsewhere. Only a few days ago, for example, a CNN International poll reported that around a quarter of Europeans polled believed that “Jews have too much influence in business and finance” and “have too much influence in conflict and wars worldwide”, and similar figures are reported from the USA. Coupled with dog-whistle attacks from powerful world leaders, and an alarming increase in anti-Semitism motivated murders and assaults worldwide, it’s an increasingly dangerous and difficult time to be Jewish.
One way in which we can counter bigotry is to educate and shine a light on those groups discriminated against; bigotry stems from ignorance, and merely being more visible can help to fight fear and intolerance.The word and concept of “Jewishness” incorporates, inherently, a number of interrelated-yet-distinct qualities – belief in (and or practice of) a particular religion, participation in a particular culture, possession of a particular ethnicity or lineage – which any particular Jewish person may participate in all aspects of, or only some or one. (Indeed, there are multiple ethnic divisions within the overall “Jewish ethnicity”, with distinct traditions and languages.) As such, Tiggz and JBJ consider the question of “eligibility” of applicants to be one that should be settled by the applicant themselves, not imposed by a strict definition.
“I’d say to someone wanting to know if they can apply: ask yourself, ‘what would it mean to you to be part of a Jewish Roller Derby team?’, and decide based on that”, says Tiggz.
In fact, the founders are excited to see what a spectrum of Jewishness sign up for the project: from people of the Ashkenazi heritage who form the basis for much of Europe’s idea of “Jewish”, through Sephardim, Mizrahim, Maghrebhim and others; and to take opportunities to educate both each other and the Roller Derby community about their diversity.
The first “competitive aim” for the Jewish Roller Derby project is to field a WFTDA-gender-policy team at the next Rollercon, against an opponent to be decided. After that, the founders have no concrete plans, although there’s always more teams that can be challenged; from National teams to others attached to important campaigns.
More importantly, of course, the Jewish Roller Derby project aims to, whatever bouts it participates in, provide both a space in which Jewish skaters can find community with one-another, and a space and platform for educating and advocating for the Jewish community, at a time when it is needed once again.
If you want to apply to be in the team for the exhibition bout at Rollercon 2019, you can do so via this form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfEUYxozZdqzMXfPFQsJe2K4I3ZaD411U0NZSVApkWHMMv5Cg/viewform