Laura Ben-David
Sharing Israel with the world through my lens

Sink or swim…and other options

I’d like to say exercise is really important to me. I have cute workout clothes, an iPod nano filled with great tunes, and I regularly plot out ideal times in which to incorporate my exercise routines. Unfortunately most of these workouts never make it from the planning stage to the sweating stage. I guess you can say that I am a theoretical exerciser.

Despite my tendency towards the sedentary, I actually have a pretty high energy level and was blessed with a decent amount of strength for a woman who does not utilize it beyond carrying grocery bags or sleepy children to their beds. That strength comes in handy on the occasional hike, a marathon shopping day, or a spontaneous clambering onto a jungle gym. Somehow, however, it has never – EVER – served me well in the water. I am a swimming lessons failure.

For some reason, despite annual lessons at the local town pool, at camp, even some one-on-one instruction with my dad, and with my grandfather, it just didn’t take. I mean, I can dive passably, I can do a fairly good impression of the crawl stroke, and I play a mean game of Marco Polo. But real swimming? As in laps? Treading water? Forget it. My breathing is moronic and my body sinks like it has lead weights attached. It just does. No, you can NOT teach me, no one can. My. Body. Just. Wont. Take.

Now don’t go jumping to conclusions. At the end of this article, I will STILL be a swimming failure. But that didn’t stop me from participating in the COOLEST, all-women swim-a-thon ever. I just did it in my own way.

Last year Vivienne Glaser reached out to me to participate in this one-of-a-kind fundraiser to raise money for Sadnat Shiluv B’Emunah, an integrative project in Gush Etzion that she helped found, which helps special education children and young adults who fall between the cracks and find no solution for their needs in the special educational system. She explained how the women swim the Kinneret on two optional ’tracks’ – 1.5 K and 3.5 K, and how it is such an incredible experience, and a great physical challenge. I loved the idea. I thought about it. For about five minutes. I decided that no matter how awesome of an experience, it was not worth drowning over. I skipped it. 

Women taking a break on the floating docks. Photo credit: Laura Ben-David
Women taking a break on the floating docks. Photo credit: Laura Ben-David

This year Vivienne approached me again. This time I didn’t even need the five minutes to realize that swimming the Kinneret was out for me. But perhaps I would be willing to help out with their marketing efforts, she wondered. I didn’t need five minutes for that either. As it is a cause that is close to home – so close, in fact, that Elchi, Vivienne’s son, was in the Sadna class that was parallel and mainstreamed-with my own son Eitan’s elementary school class, and so I had known Elchi since he was but a boy. 

I dove into the work head-first and watched all of the pieces come together as I helped with my bit, mostly social media. I pushed the #Swim4Sadna all over (and now here…)

As the big event drew ever closer, one member of the team asked if I was planning on coming. Was she kidding?? After everything, I wasn’t going to miss it for the world.

At the last minute one of the volunteer photographers backed out and Vivienne asked if I could take pictures. She didn’t have to ask me twice!

I was thrilled that my daughter Lexi agreed to come along and help out. The day before the swim we spent at the hotel at Kibbutz Ha’On registering the 300+ women and girls who were all a-smile, excited for the following morning’s event.

After a lovely dinner that reminded me of a last-night-of-camp banquet, we went to sleep much too late with our alarms set for 5:25 AM.

Dragging our exhausted bodies to where the group was assembling for coffee, the irony wasn’t lost on Lexi that most of her friends were ‘still’ up while we were ‘already’ up. The excitement among the women and girls was palpable. Girlfriends, sisters, mothers and daughters, even grandmothers and granddaughters, were gathering at the edge of the water, getting ready for the main event.

Meanwhile Lexi and I got comfortable on a boat with Tova, Sharon and other staff and volunteers.

It really was heaven. My way of being part of such a special event, photographing and interacting with the swimmers as they took breaks on the floating docks or slowed down with a relaxing backstroke, or even treaded water and posed for a picture.

One of the swimmers stopped to pose for a pic. Photo credit: Laura Ben-David
One of the swimmers stopped to pose for a pic. Photo credit: Laura Ben-David

At one point I decided to jump in the water, which I did. After I appreciated the cool refreshing quality of the Kinneret at 8AM in June, my sinking body reminded me that I’m a terrible swimmer and I clambered back onto the boat.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about the ones who made a real difference that day: the swimmers. Certainly there were some hard-core athletes. But many of them? Just regular women and girls, challenging themselves beyond what they’d ever thought was achievable.

There was a group of ‘girls at risk’ who before several months ago didn’t even know how to swim. An instructor named Lisa Revivi worked intensely with them to get them up to speed. Most of them swam the longer route of 3.5 kilometers. That was HUGE!

There were several families there that had three generations swimming together. Imagine that!

A number of girls from the Sadna itself participated. These are girls that face all sorts of physical and mental challenges in their daily lives, and they got themselves in the water and did what I can’t even imagine doing. It brought tears to my eyes when I saw some of them arriving at the finish. That look of incredible, intense pride!

Swim4Sadna 2014 group photo. Photo credit: Sharon Altshul
Swim4Sadna 2014 group photo. Photo credit: Sharon Altshul

All in all the event was fun, exhilarating and truly inspiring. What a feeling to be a part of something so much bigger than yourself – and yet simultaneously obtain so much personal gain.

Looking toward the future, I’d like to think I was inspired to do some actual exercise. Amazingly, I scored a somewhat buoyant wetsuit from a swimmer there who didn’t need it. Maybe if I had just a bit of buoyancy I could actually swim next year’s Swim4Sadna after all…? Hmm…on second thought, a boat is even more buoyant. And I can sit in a chair. I can watch all of those swimmers and imagine I am swimming alongside them… Yep, sounds like me.

About the Author
Laura Ben-David is a photographer, public speaker and Israel advocate. Inspired by her Aliyah experience, Laura began writing and never stopped. She is the author of the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has spoken all over the world about Israel, Aliyah and other topics, often with beautiful photographic presentations. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B'Nefesh, Laura is the director of marketing at Shavei Israel as well as a marketing consultant.