Hava Negillah routine lets local gymnast rejoice

Morgan Chall executes precision leaps, daring pirouettes and difficult tumbling passes in her gold medal–winning floor routine — all with “Hava Negillah” blaring over the loudspeakers.

She personally chose the music to reflect her pride in being Jewish, and the stirring music in turn helped carry Morgan to a Northern Cal-ifornia championship in March in the floor exercise.

“Every two years, I get a new routine, and I thought it would be cool to use ‘Hava Negillah,’” said the 15-year-old San Mateo resident. In part, she got the idea when U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman won a bronze medal in the floor exercise for a routine choreographed to “Hava Negillah” at the 2011 World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo.

“Some pride goes with it — I think it’s cool to be Jewish,” Morgan added. “And when I do the routine, I always wonder who in the room recognizes the music.”

Morgan Chall performs a split jump during practice at Peninsula Gymnastics in San Mateo photo/mikhail margulis-peninsula gymnastics

Morgan, who plans to attend the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team trials this weekend in San Jose as a spectator, is not an Olympics-caliber competitor — but she’s no slouch, either.

A rising sophomore at Aragon High School in San Mateo, Morgan is a level 9 gymnast (10 is the highest) and one of her goals is to compete in gymnastics on the collegiate level. Now, for her club team, she competes in all the events — vault, bars, beam and floor — and in March, she won a gold medal on the mat at the NorCal State Gymnastics Championhips in Stockton.

“My favorite is floor,” said Morgan, who trains at and competes with Peninsula Gymnastics in San Mateo. “I like the dancing part of it. The floor exercise is my time to show off, be myself.”

After Morgan told her coaches, Jessica Wickizer and George Iusan, that she wanted to use “Hava Negillah” (which means “Let us rejoice”) for her floor routine, Wickizer went to work cutting the song down to the requisite 90 seconds. The music, by the way, has no lyrics, because if it did, the rules would force the judges to deduct points from Morgan’s score.

“I downloaded 15 different versions and went through each one,” Wickizer said. “The version we used is just a bit more modern and has a lot of dance quality. Choreographing it was easy. The music told me what we needed to do. It starts slow and dramatic, and builds to a fast, high energy.”

Morgan, whose long-range goal is to become an orthopedic doctor, has been competing in gymnastics for more than 10 years, said her mother, Jodi Chall, a lawyer for a software company based in Israel.

“We are all proud of her,” Jodi Chall said. “Gymnastics is a lifestyle, and it has given her the discipline and organization to be an exceptional student, even when spending 25 hours a week at the gym. It also teaches good life skills, self- esteem, positive body image and competitiveness, which is important for girls to learn.”

Before high school, Morgan attended the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City. She and her family are members at Peninsula Temple Beth El, where she reads part of the Torah each year on Yom Kippur.

Making time for gymnastics hasn’t been easy — she had to give up softball when she was in middle school, although she still manages to play the piano and sing. But time management is not the hardest part, she said.

“The hardest part is that in competitions you have one shot at doing it right. Consistency in a routine comes from practice — and from confidence.”

Before every routine, she focuses on tapping into that confidence. “I know my Judaism has helped me with that,” she noted, “shaped me as a person.”