A recent college grad from Culver City takes on a daunting obstacle course in the L.A. City Finals of the NBC competition series “American Ninja Warrior,” airing Monday July 16, and his Modern Orthodox family couldn’t be more thrilled. Sporting identical tee shirts reading MAZAL TOUGH, Jesse Orenshein’s parents and brother cheer him on as he tackles the torturous obstacles against the clock.
Why did a nice Jewish boy want to do this? “I had a few reasons. My life is driven by a philosophy of self-improvement, and ‘American Ninja Warrior’ seemed like the perfect vehicle to drive my improvement in the physical arena,” Orenshein, 21, said. “I have a playful and childish heart, and the course looked incredibly fun. Who wouldn’t want to swing and jump and climb like a monkey?”
He also wanted to represent the Orthodox lifestyle to the world. “I don’t claim to know what everyone’s perception of the Jewish people is,” he said, “but it probably doesn’t involve us conquering ninja courses. Until now!”
Orenshein admitted he had to conquer his fear to participate.
“I’m afraid of getting seriously injured, and that prevents me from breaking certain boundaries,” he said. “In the end of the day, I’d rather play it safe so I can live to be a husband and father than take the risk and possibly learn how to double backflip off trees.”
Always athletic, Orenshein favored pursuits like swimming, boxing, running, rock climbing and parkour over team sports, although he does enjoy soccer.
He grew up in a religious home, attending Yavneh, Hillel and YULA schools, Jewish camps, and spent a year studying in Israel at Yeshivat Ashreinu, where he volunteered as a first responder for Mogen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross.
“Judaism is my identity, and I absolutely love it. I celebrate all the holidays with a huge smile on my face,” he said. “It’s a culture, a community, a religion, a set of values, a tight family structure, and overall a very specific, very detailed lifestyle. Orthodoxy is difficult to digest even for Orthodox people, but those of us who have let it in with an open mind know truth. It’s incredible, and I would die before giving it up, without hesitation.”
Armed with a degree in screenwriting from California State University Northridge, Orenshein plans to make comedy films set at high school for American High, a production company founded by Jeremy Garelick, Orthodox Jew from his community. Orenshein has written nine scripts and six children’s books, the first of which to be published, “The Boy Who Owned A Candy Store,” is now available on Amazon.
“My heart aches with joy when people send me pictures of their children reading it,” he said.
“American Ninja Warrior” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on NBC.