Finding Jewish Community in My Peloton Tribe
I first discovered the power of community nearly a decade ago during a weekend retreat with a diverse group of women, all of whom were raising children with disabilities and most of whom were total strangers. On Friday night, we were learning each other’s names. By Sunday, we felt like lifelong friends, all because we understood the unique joys and challenges of parenting children with disabilities. We didn’t need to explain our thoughts, feelings or experiences.
It’s a lot like being Jewish. Don’t we we play Jewish geography and refer to fellow Jews as members of the tribe in order to feel a kinship with those who are otherwise strangers?
Being part of a tribe means belonging to a community based on shared customs, values or experiences, and that is especially valuable during challenging times. As a Jew, that sense of belonging makes the world feel a bit safer and smaller in the aftermath of the horrific Hamas terror attacks in southern Israel on October 7.
A few years ago, at the height of the Covid pandemic, I found another tribe in an unexpected place—through my newly acquired Peloton bike.
Peloton sales surged during Covid because its classes allowed participants at home to keep exercising in a quasi-group environment with both live and on-demand classes, helping to ease the isolation many of us felt. The in-studio vibe is recreated, particularly during live classes, where instructors recognize participants for birthdays and reaching milestones. The instructor is visible on the screen, and participants are listed on a leaderboard under a self-selected name preceded by a hashtag. I’m #Writer_Jen. Trading virtual high-fives with fellow participants makes the workouts more fun.
The community is enhanced when riders join identity groups through another hashtag, which is also visible on the leaderboard. The one I’m currently displaying is #IstandwithIsrael. Riders can select up to eight tags, but only one can be displayed at a time. A small group of women—eight to be exact—use #Hadassah.
Over on social media, a Peloton ecosystem flourishes. On Facebook, Peloton enthusiasts unite over the love of a particular instructor or special-interest topics such as skin care, travel, parenting, weight loss—and Judaism. The Official Jewish Peloton Riders is made up, as the name implies, by Jewish Peloton riders, more than 3,600 of them. This group has been incredibly valuable in the last few months as so many of us have struggled with the rise in antisemitism post October 7.
The group also has been a safe space for frequent discussion about the absence of Jewish content from Peloton, a company that prides itself on diversity and inclusion and recognizes members of the Black, Latino/Hispanic and LGBTQ communities, for example, through an extensive collection of themed classes for Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month and LGBTQ Pride Month. These sessions feature music by relevant artists and instructors paying homage to members of the respective communities.
Ongoing discussion in the Jewish Peloton group documents how Jewish Peloton riders have reached out to the company, asking for similar classes to recognize its Jewish users and how we consider the five Hanukkah-themed classes, released in December, a small victory in our quest to be acknowledged.
In one of those classes, an adorable British instructor named Bradley Rose leads participants through a 10-minute arms workout. As music by famous artists, including the Jewish Maccabeats and Matisyahu, plays, Rose, who isn’t Jewish, shares a message about being a light in times of darkness. He talks about the holiday’s miracle and changes the names of some movements to fit the theme. An overhead press becomes a menorah reach, while bicep curls become candlestick curls.
Jewish riders use the Facebook group to encourage others to participate in live rides using the same Jewish or Israel-related hashtags. Last month, someone organized a solidarity ride for the hostages and instructed participants to use the hashtag #BringThemHomeNow.
The Facebook group is also where we point out Jewish references made in a class or on an instructor’s social media accounts, including posts from the two known Jewish instructors, Robin Arzón and Jenn Sherman (neither of whom Peloton would make available for interviews).
My all-time favorite Peloton Facebook group, the one where I’ve made the most meaningful connections, is called JSSTribe in honor of Sherman (her initials are JSS). Although the group isn’t exclusively Jewish, it’s no coincidence it’s referred to as a tribe.
Through messages and Zoom gatherings, gift exchanges and more, I find myself immersed in a community where the common denominator is a piece of exercise equipment and our shared devotion to a 55-year-old fitness instructor who plays great music, drops the F-bomb frequently and isn’t afraid to bring her authentic self to the bike.
Group members are some of the kindest, most supportive people I’ve ever met—though not in real life—and a lot of that is a testament to Sherman, who understands the importance of community.
Less than a week after October 7, Sherman was on the bike teaching classes, quieter than usual, visibly upset and occasionally crying. “I wanted to have something to say,” she said tearfully during one class soon after the Hamas attacks. “I just don’t have anything to say. The girl with the biggest mouth cannot find words. I can just tell you this, I needed you guys more today than you needed me.”
She also posted on Instagram how the situation in Israel was affecting her, how she was feeling stuck and unable to sleep or get out of bed.
The support from the 11,000-plus JSSTribe has been unbelievable for Jewish riders like me. One person who is not Jewish wrote during Hanukkah: “To all my dear Jewish friends and community, may these lights keep shining, may that oil that burnt for 8 days in that temple keep staying strong in your hearts so that you don’t lose your faith and strength during this holiday season and new year.”
At a time when connection among Jews is more crucial than ever, and when empathy from non-Jews is especially welcome, I’m beyond grateful that an exercise bike parked in the corner of my basement has brought friendship and support.
Jennifer Lovy lives in Michigan and writes about culture, parenting and all things Jewish. Her work appears in a variety of local and national publications.