Gymkana troupe members stay performance-ready through Passover

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By Alexander Tuerk
For Mitzpeh
@Mitzpeh

Jason Nekritz, a senior general biology major, performed in Gymkana’s show on April 27 as part of the annual Maryland Day festivities. A stunning feat of acrobatics and flexibility, the show was not for the faint of heart.

It also provided a challenge for those members of the troupe who had gone a week without leavened bread.

Maryland Day took place on the last day of Passover, but Nekritz was up on stage with the rest of Gymkana’s members, jumping through hoops and balancing on the backs of other students.

Nekritz said he owed his success on Maryland Day, despite observance of Passover food restrictions, to his protein-heavy diet and his Jewish friends with culinary inclinations.

Jason Nekritz poses in his Gymkana tracksuit. Nekritz is one of several Jewish students who have found a family among the troupers in the Gymkana program. Alexander Tuerk/Mitzpeh.

“They are very creative when it comes to cooking during Passover, so they were able to help me and my dietary needs,” Nekritz said.

Nekritz joins several other Jewish students who take part in Gymkana, a gymnastic and acrobatic performance troupe at this university founded in 1946 that seeks to “inspire healthy, drug-free lifestyles through performances and mentorship,” according to their website. They perform several shows each semester, including a “Home Show” and half-time shows for Maryland basketball.

Nathan LeBauer, a junior bioengineering major, said the biggest pull to Gymkana for him was the inclusivity of the troupe.

I keep showing up to practice because it’s a fun way to stay active, and for the community that I have in Gymkana,” LeBauer said. “I’ve rarely felt as welcomed and included.”

LeBauer said he and his family had become less religious, attending fewer services as he grew older and athletics and academics took priority. But he still credits his Jewish ancestry and history in shaping him.

LeBauer said Gymkana usually schedules their shows on Saturday or Friday nights, which means that more observant members cannot attend.

“A couple [troupers] have been unable to attend shows because of Shabbat or other holidays, but they are entirely accommodated for despite the shows typically being mandatory,” he said.

Rami Eisenman, a senior economics major who observes Shabbat, said he didn’t go to practice at all during Passover. He said the practices which fell on the week of the holiday were optional for Gymkana troupe members, given that the major shows of the semester were over.

Eisenman said he joined the troupe as a junior, with no prior experience in gymnastics. He was more interested in juggling club and diving at the time.

“When I first joined, I was not at all sure I wanted to stay, just show up for one night and do some cool things on the equipment and leave,” Eisenman said, “but then I became friends with everyone in the gym.”

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