2 , 2006 | Mid-September
at the Los Angeles Coliseum. A scorching
85 degrees. Dallas is leading, 14-7,
late in the fourth quarter. The
Raiders have the ball, fourth and
goal from the 3-yard line. The Raiderette
cheerleaders prepare to launch into
a sideline routine. I pick up my
pom-poms and hear the quarterback
make the call:
near left, 94 in flair zero on two."
to run it!
The sound of
bones cracking, and a scream.
Was that his
leg breaking? Uh-oh, the music's
starting. Time to dance. Five, six,
I was a cheerleader
for the LA Raiders for five years.
I danced and moon-walked in high-heel
go-go boots for four hours straight
in front of 60,000 adoring fans.
Everything was great—the attention,
the autographs. I cheered for a
TV audience of one billion when
the Raiders went to the Super Bowl.
I was living the All-American girl's
I never planned
to be a professional cheerleader.
Sure, I cheered in high school and
college. But my parents encouraged
me to stay more focused on my studies
— I majored in Foreign Language
at UCLA and performed my final project
by playing the castanets while reciting
I was more than a little overweight.
At the time my best friend convinced
me to try out for the NFL, I weighed
170 pounds. I didn't make the squad
and I didn't understand why. Weren't
they looking for good cheerleaders?!
I was devastated. Then I looked
over at all the finalists, and saw
that none of them were heavy. Now
I got the concept! So I made a commitment,
lost weight, and tried out again.
I made it!
For an NFL
cheerleader, there is tremendous pressure
to be physically beautiful. I was
surrounded by 47 gorgeous girls, each
one prettier than the next. To survive,
I figured out some tricks to the trade.
For glamorous eyes, we'd use false
eyelashes, although we'd cut them
in half to avoid looking too artificial.
For me, the
hardest part about being a cheerleader
was the world famous Raiderette
Calendar. With 12 months in a year,
only 12 of the 48 cheerleaders got
a full-page photo. The rest got
small pictures. I took it personally.
To me, a big picture meant "I'm
pretty," and a small picture
meant, "I'm ugly." In
the regular world I was looking
good, but in Raiderette land I was
failing. I had a small picture every
I decided to leave the cheerleading
squad. What triggered it? Maybe
it was the ruthless carnage on the
football field that didn't seem
right to me. Or the lingering sense
that I was somehow contributing
to the objectification of women.
Or the empty feeling inside as I
danced my heart out on the field,
but wanting to use my talents for
something more fulfilling.
it was the strong hand of my mother
reasserting itself. Growing up,
I wasn't allowed to look in the
mirror and would get spanked for
putting on makeup. I remember my
mother's lectures about how looks
were superficial, and how important
it is to develop one's character.
My mother wanted me to be strong
on the inside. Her fear was that
people would place so much emphasis
on my looks, that I'd come to rely
on that at the expense of developing
myself in other areas.
message was a good one, even though
her Russian style may have seemed
too stern growing up.
So I left cheerleading
and became a standup comedienne.
(I got that talent from my father,
who had an act in the Borsht Belt.)
I performed on TV, in film, live
at The Improv, and overseas for
But I still
felt an emptiness. My struggle with
overeating kept coming back to haunt
me. (Like in many Jewish families,
food represented love.) Externally,
my life was great — exciting career,
limousines, stylish clothes. But
I didn't have any tools to deal
with the feelings that food had
suppressed all those years. I was
overlooking my spiritual side. That's
the emptiness I was trying to fill
with food. And at some point the
food took over.
So I joined
a self-help program to help with
the weight loss. I learned that
it's not what you're eating; it's
what's eating you. A byproduct of
that effort was that I became more
aware of the spiritual spark inside
me. I shifted my priorities -- I
wanted a home, a soul mate and a
stable, secure life.
I found a quiet
9-to-5 job, and began meeting Jewish
men. As I dated successful professionals,
I came to realize that what I was
truly seeking was a spiritual soul
mate. So how was I going to meet
the right one?
I turned to
the one voice I knew I could trust:
I prayed to God for direction. The
reply I received was: "Why
not become the type of person you'd
want to marry?" So I asked
God to help me be the best woman
I could be — spiritually, emotionally
and physically — so that my soul
mate may recognize me.
I figured if
I wanted to marry a Jewish man,
I had a lot of work to do. Because
my knowledge of Judaism consisted
primarily of bagels 'n cream cheese,
and Yiddish songs. But no spiritual
component. So I started studying
Judaism at various locations, and
looked for a shul that I felt comfortable
in. I fell in love with Aish LA,
and increased my commitment to learning.
I started wearing
more modest clothing — a long way
from go-go boots and pom-poms. Matchmakers
would approach me at synagogue and
ask tons of questions. "Excuse
me, are you single? I think I may
have someone for you. May I have
your phone number?" People
were investing time and effort to
try to "match me up" with
the right guy. This "blind
date" way of meeting men was
so different, yet so refreshing.
It was Sunday.
I had lunch plans with a girlfriend
and she canceled, so I went to a
local kosher restaurant and ordered
Chicken Caesar Salad, no croutons,
with dressing on the side. (Does
anyone else besides me remember
exactly what they ate?)
A man was eating
lunch alone, and he introduced himself.
He was very brief and extremely
polite. "Excuse me, are you
single? May I have your phone number?"
I thought. This sounds familiar.
He called that
night and we got married. (Well,
not that night, but a few months
later.) My husband is a businessman,
and also an ordained rabbi — the
grandson of a famous rabbi, Shraga
Feivel Mendlowitz. He is working
to establish another Aish branch
in southern California.
our courtship, my husband and I
never touched, not even holding
hands until our wedding day. But
we did connect on an emotional and
spiritual level, which meant the
world to me. We spoke about everything
from children, money, where to live,
and what we expected from each other.
It was liberating to know that he
was interested in who I am inside,
and not for my physical self.
For the dating
process, I asked a man in my community
to act as my surrogate father, since
my father had passed away. He took
his role very seriously, even asking
questions about my future husband's
financial affairs. My husband-to-be
lugged two suitcases full of documents
to a meeting; my surrogate father
wanted to see if he was willing
to go to any length to prove he
would be a good husband.
I was new to
Judaism and the transition was not
always easy. I recall going to shul
and seeing people standing outside
the bathroom near the drinking fountain,
moving their lips and saying something
in Hebrew. I didn't know they were
saying the blessing after using
the bathroom; I thought they were
all blessing the holy water fountain!
I'm still growing
and I still have a lot of questions.
My knowledgeable husband is very
patient, kind and humble. He answers
all my questions about Judaism and
tells me he's beginning to wonder
if he's on a high enough level to
be with me. Imagine that: The rabbi
doesn't know if he's spiritual enough
for the Raiderette. God does have
a sense of humor.
I often think
back to my life as a cheerleader.
At the time I felt it was such a
great career. We would get a lot
of fan mail, people would send us
bouquets of flowers to our practices,
we'd sign autographs at the games.
Like the other women on the squad,
I was taught that cheerleading is
wholesome and All-American -- just
like mom, baseball and apple pie.
The women I cheered with were sweet,
good girls who would volunteer to
help the elderly and went to church
But I never
thought about what my job really
stood for. I actually thought the
Raiders had cheerleaders to help
the team win! Now I get it what
it's all about. I was so naive.
As a NFL cheerleader
I was more valued for my external
traits, not the person inside. Now
I realize how that contributes to
low self-esteem. (Wasn't that my
mother's message all along?)
I'm still in
touch with the cheerleaders and
they're thrilled for me. Sometimes
they call and ask questions, particularly
about the way I dated and my new
modest wardrobe. I'm finding that
all women are craving modesty. Our
society spends billions of dollars
pulling the country in the opposite
direction. But I think we're seeing
a backlash against this and that
modesty is the wave of the future.
That's why it's so important to
have a strong sense of community
and religion to show another way.
I'm still on
my path to becoming closer to God,
which I know will be a lifelong
journey. I now serve as a theater
director at various religious girls'
schools in LA, directing the end-of-year
shows. A little Torah, a little
Tap —it's perfect! I also had the
privilege of teaching a class to
Bat Mitzvah girls. (And when they
found out I was a former cheerleader,
I relented and taught them some
cheers in the last five minutes
of class, which was fun for me as
My main project
now is as a dating coach for marriage-minded
women, using my life experiences
to help others attain their relationship
this growth and change, it helps
to have an extraordinary husband
who loves the part of my soul that
reaches out for more.
Yes, I used
to be a Raiderette, but now it's
my husband who cheers me on. I guess
everyone needs a cheerleader.
As for me,
I still do cheers around the house:
— Shabbos is coming, don't
Wolshin Mendlowitz is a dating coach
at DatingForMarriage.net, and peforms
a one-woman show called TheRabbiAndTheCheerleader.com
article originally appeared on Aish.com.