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Torah and the Mormon Snowboarder

February 22, 2018 | by Rabbi Benzion Scheinfeld

Why was a small Australian ski town plastered with signs, “Torah is the best”?

Sometimes truth is actually stranger than fiction. During the summer of 2010, Camp Kanfei Nesharim, an orthodox teen ski and travel South Pacific adventure camp, passed through the small Australian ski town of Cooma, located in the Snowy Mountains section of New South Wales, six hours outside of Sydney, on our way to the ski slopes of Thredbo, Australia.

To our astonishment, hanging from the lights and traffic poles throughout the town were the words “TORAH IS THE BEST!”

This was a small town with no Jewish community and no Chabad House. Why was this town promoting the greatness of Torah?

We stopped in the small Chamber of Commerce and inquired. We were told that Torah was the first name of the 2010 Olympic Halfpipe Gold medalist. Her full name was Torah Bright. Torah grew up in this small town of Cooma and had taken the women’s snowboarding world by storm. She won the Gold medal of the 2010 Olympic games and the signs around the town were celebrating her achievements.

My curiosity was piqued. How did she get this name? I asked the gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce if Torah was in town and if we could possibly meet her. He said that he didn’t know but that her mom owned a small fragrance store on the main street in town. We drove our bus to the front of the store and I went inside to find Torah.

Torah’s mom met us and explained that her daughter was currently training in Utah but invited us to come inside and hear Torah’s unlikely story. The Bright’s are devout Mormon’s who grew up skiing and boarding. As a devout Mormon, Mrs. Bright usually felt some sort of inspiration when she was pregnant with each of her kids that helped her choose an appropriate name. When she was pregnant with Torah, she felt that the baby she was carrying was destined to be someone very special but she uncharacteristically did not feel any inspiration regarding her name.

Torah's mother, with the sign "Torah is the best" in the background

Torah’s older sister was taking piano lessons from a local teacher who happened to be Jewish (something extremely rare in Cooma). One day, Mrs. Bright mentioned her inability to feel any inspiration about a name for her soon-to-be born daughter and asked the piano teacher if she had any suggestions. The teacher mentioned that in Judaism the word Torah means spiritual message and that perhaps that would be a fitting name. Mrs. Bright immediately felt that that was the name she was searching for and decided to name her daughter Torah, alluding to Judaism’s spiritual message.

The mother explained to us that from the moment Torah was born it was evident, both in temperament and in ability, that she was very special. Torah grew up not only to be a world class snowboarder but in contrast to the “free-living lifestyle” of the snowboarding culture of the time, she was very disciplined and modest. She even started her own clothing line to promote a more modest way of dressing.

Torah Bright

While we were there, Mrs. Bright called Torah in Utah and told her that there was a Rabbi ski instructor in town who came to visit with his students. Torah spoke to us on the phone and expressed to us that from a very young age she was taught that it is a religious obligation to develop whatever talents God has given you. And the expression of those talents is a glorification of God and fulfillment of your mission in this world.

"Boredom is the shriek of unused potential."

Mrs. Bright also shared with us a few of the “teachings” that had inspired her family as a whole and specifically Torah to grow up in such a special way.

Each Olympics since then, I check to follow Torah Bright’s career. In Sochi in 2014, she won the silver medal and in the 2018 PyeongChang games she injured her wrist prior to the Olympics and was not able to be included on the Australia team. Each Olympics, I recall the unlikely intersection of a Jewish piano teacher, a Mormon snowboarder, a Rabbinic ski instructor, a Jewish ski camp and the important message that “Torah is the best!”

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