Meet the Orthodox ‘Ninja Warrior’
Yeshiva University rabbinical student Akiva Neuman decided to keep his kippah, his tsitsit and his shirt on while competing on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.” The 25-year-old, who lives in Queens, is 5’6″ tall and weighs 150 pounds, but he wanted to show that he had large abilities.
“I was representing the Jewish people and I wear my yarmulke when I play sports, so I thought this shouldn’t be any different,” he said.
Neuman said that while his goal was to complete all of the obstacles, he knew that he had to conquer the first obstacle, at the very least.
“Oh my gosh, you have no idea,” he said. “The whole day of the event, I was telling myself that no matter what, there’s no chance I’m getting out on the first obstacle. [Antisemites and others] would have loved that. ‘Now we know why Orthodox Jews don’t come on this show.’ I didn’t want to give that impression. I wanted to show that we could do it.”
Neuman had no trouble with the Floating Steps, which consist of five angled platforms of increasing height. Next was the Log Grip, in which competitors must hang on as a log drops 25 feet. Some males take their shirts off to get a better grip.
“It makes it easier, but obviously taking off my shirt was something I couldn’t do,” he said.
He then made it across the Paddle Boards, which tilt and must be crossed quickly. On the wall drop, however, Neuman was finally eliminated as an NBA announcer said, “somebody sing a lullaby for the rabbi.” The commentators also said, “I think it’s Hanukah time; he’s celebrating,” and “don’t get your yarmulke wet.”
“I thought the jokes were in good humor,” he said. “It made the show better and I enjoyed watching them.”
Neuman said that he first saw the show on TV while working out at a gym, and decided to apply. He arrived in a suit.
“They said I was the best dressed ninja to come there.”
He added that he doesn’t have time to have a regular gym membership due to the smicha program, getting a master’s in taxation from St. John’s, and serving as the youth director for Young Israel of Holliswood in Queens. He does a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups to build strength. He said he would like to possibly be an assistant rabbi but would not lead a congregation as a pulpit rabbi, opting instead for a job at Deloitte.
Neuman said now that he’s run the course, he would fare better if he had a second crack at it.
“I was happy with how I did,” he said. “Obviously I would have liked to finish and I think I could have.”
He said his wife, Chani, had a great reaction to his decision to go on the show. “She was like ‘I love you. I support you. I’ll be there cheering for you, but you’re crazy,’” he recounted.
He got a lot of positive feedback from being on the show and said he would consider going on other competitive TV shows.
“I like breaking down stereotypes,” he said. “If it fits and it’s appropriate, I’m there.”