Coping with the yomtov feet of endurance

Soles, as well as souls, need careful attention at this time of year

By Naomi Greenaway, September 24, 2009

Last week, during a break from Israel-bashing, the Trades Union Congress championed the plight of air stewardesses, bank clerks and receptionists who are forced to wear high heels to work.

They should only know what we female shul-goers endure over the High Holy-Days — long walks, steep stairs and those never-ending Amidahs. Add in obstructed vision from under a hat brim and perhaps a child or two hanging off each appendage, and the trolley dolly’s slow totter up the aisle hanging off a drinks cart begins to look like a walk in the park (and they don’t even do any of the cooking).

If you are a man reading this, you may perhaps prefer to turn the page to look for more appropriate fodder but, if you’re still here, you are probably muttering about how we should simply wear more suitable footwear to shul. You just don’t understand.

Allow me to enlighten you. A few weeks ago, due to freak fashion circumstances (brought on by congestion in the laundry, which forced me to don a maxi-skirt too short for wedges), I made my first ever shul appearance in a pair of flats. The good news (for all the other women) was that the fashions were fabulous; everyone seemed to be taller and slimmer than ever. They looked stunning. The bad news (for me) is that I felt quite the opposite. There is no denying, the more mega the heel, the more striking you look.

Unfortunately, though, a quick poll of the ladies’ gallery over Rosh Hashanah revealed that most of us were suffering in (not quite) silence from fashionable-shoe-induced blisters, backache or knee pain. It also revealed that most of us have experienced at least one embarrassing shoe-related incident in shul.

A quick ladies' gallery poll revealed all kinds of shoe induced pain

Common catastrophes included collapsing from cramp when attempting to stand for the Amidah, navigating the kiddush lop-sided, as a result of a heel breakage disaster, and tripping up the stairs on the way to the women’s gallery (often accompanied by a cringe-worthy knicker-flashing moment).

Being a good Jewish woman while retaining your poise is never easy. But there are ways of lessening our suffering. According to chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo: “If you are walking up steep stairs in high heels, it helps to use your tip-toes; then, on the way down, feel the step with the back of your leg for extra stability.”

She also suggests some pre-Amidah warm-up exercises. What better time than during the rabbi’s sermon to flex your lower leg muscles? “Pump your feet up and down and, most importantly, point your toes to the ceiling to stretch your calf and avoid killer-heel cramp,” advises Sammy. During the Amidah itself, a bit of shockelling does wonders. “Rocking from toes to heels gives the balls of your feet a little rest,” she explains.

So, with Rosh Hashanah behind us, and armed with a new exercise regime, we should all still be able to walk when the yomtov season draws to a close in mid October. But, whatever you do, when it comes to succahs, just say “no” to decking.

Naomi Greenaway is a former deputy editor of Glamour SA

Last updated: 10:42am, September 24 2009