What’s So Jewish About Swim Lessons?

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This past summer was my first summer with a child. As a Jewish education professional, I have dedicated my life to learning and to hoping to inspire others to learn in all sorts of different ways. But I have found as a new mother that there is so much I can learn about myself through this new little person in my life.

I knew when my son, Dovid, was just a few months old that he loved bath time, and I quickly learned at the onset of summer how much he loved swimming. He simply loved to be in the water.


A few weeks ago I was contacted by the Goldfish Swim School, which offered my son a free three-month trial. I now realize why I was so quick to say yes to this opportunity.

It says in the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) that “our Rabbis taught: A father has the following obligations towards his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him, if he is a firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife and to teach him a craft or a trade. And there are some who say that he must also teach him how to swim.”


You might not think of swimming as a holy action, but I believe one can read this passage and equate it to one.

Water literally runs through the biblical stories of our people, and at the edge of the Sea of Reeds, we meet Nachshon, a Jewish figure who teaches us about leadership through taking risks in the water. Seven days after leaving Egypt, the Israelites found themselves trapped between a raging sea and the vengeful Egyptian army. Then G-d gave Moses a command that seemed impossible to fulfill: “Speak to the people of Israel; they shall travel.” The order was given to go forward, sea or no sea. But who would make the first move? At that moment, Nachshon’s devotion and bravery came to the fore. The Midrash and Talmud share the following account: “When Israel stood facing the Sea of Reeds, and the command was given to move forward, each of the tribes hesitated, saying, “We do not want to be the first to jump into the sea.”

Nachshon saw what was happening — and jumped into the sea.

And so it was. Following Nachshon’s lead, the Israelites entered the sea and were saved.

I truly believe by following the commandment to teach my child how to swim, I am fulfilling my role as a parent to teach my son how to be a leader, approach life with less fear and take advantage of all that this world has to offer.

Lisa Bodziner is executive director of Towson Hillel.

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