| SisterSchmooze |


Come plunge into the Kinneret with “Team SisterSchmoozePlus” — named for the three of us plus two next-generation daughters

Evening fades into night on a Kinneret beach. We’re sitting among 560 women who have just enjoyed an elaborate dinner and lots of schmoozing. Tomorrow morning we’ll be participating in a special event: the annual fundraising swimathon for the Sadnat Shiluv — a village for cognitively challenged children and young adults.

We listen to a pep talk by the event’s chief organizer.

“Nothing is more flexible than water,” she proclaims, “and nothing can resist it.”

The words sink in as we mentally prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s challenge: to swim across the Kinneret.

Flexible? Yeah, we’re not planning to stick to any schedule. We’ll take our time. Like Sadna’s special-needs population — from kindergarten through young adulthood — we’re not in a competitive race. Rather, we’re aiming to reach our personal goals.

Some, like us, will be swimming 2.2 kilometers. Others will start from a different beach and swim a 4-kilometer course. But all of us hope to reach the same beach across a corner of the Kinneret. And none of us will be looking at our (waterproof!) watches.

Irresistible force? Yeah, like the Sadna residents — who work untiringly to gain self-confidence and become independent — nothing is going to stop us from reaching our goal.

Come plunge into the Kinneret with “Team SisterSchmoozePlus” — named for the three of us plus two next-generation daughters — as we stress out before the swim, meet new friends during the event, and gain fresh insights as we reach the shore.

Marcia starts composing…
Before the Swim

Two months before the swim. Should I do it? Or shouldn’t I? I’m worn out. I’ve been jetting across the country just about every month for the past year, traveling from simchah to simchah, snowbirding between Maryland and Florida, packing and unpacking suitcases. Simchahs and snowbirding are wonderful — but they take koach. Where do I get the koach to get on yet another plane, to fly to Israel?

Even more daunting… will I have the stamina to swim a 2.2K marathon in the Kinneret? Okay, I did it once. But that was four years ago. I’m older now.

Then I have a conversation with my friend Pearl*. It’s totally unrelated — about finances, not swimming. She advises: “Marcia, all your life you’ve been saving up for your old age. Well guess what. It’s here.”

Something clicks into place. Pearl’s advice doesn’t just apply to money. It’s about living my life. Who knows… will I have more koach next year? In two years? Let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger.

I decide: I’m doing it — Now! I book a ticket. I register for the swim. I start fundraising. I start training. And….

Uh, oh… training… a new set of stressors.

For me, swimming’s always been about exercise, relaxation, mental clarity. Pure joy. It’s when I solve problems, plan menus, write Schmoozes in my head. Talk to the Creator. But now? It’s about counting laps, timing myself, building speed. No more relaxing backstroke, no more easygoing breaststroke. Just the strenuous crawl, the grueling butterfly.

I get discouraged. It takes me more than two hours to complete the 84 lengths approximately equivalent to 2.2 kilometers. Much longer than it took four years ago.

A new worry: Will I slow down our SisterSchmoozePlus team? My two sisters are five years younger than I am. And my two nieces are a generation younger than the three of us.

I remind myself: It’s not about speed. It’s about endurance. But still…. Maybe I should just back out of the whole thing.

Then I get inspiration from another friend — Sarah*. Out of the blue, she gets an awful diagnosis. I witness the challenges she faces every day: the debilitating effects of chemo, the prospect of imminent surgery, the unknown course of her future. Yet, she faces each challenge with courage, with humor, one day at a time.

And I’m daunted by a little swim?


Two weeks before the swim. I’m in Israel, training with Emmy Leah in the Beit Shemesh pool she frequents, then with Miriam in a Ramot pool. I’m no longer training alone. Swimming alongside each sister, I should become more relaxed. But no… the anxiety returns.

I realize I really am much slower than they are. I tell myself it’s because I’m not used to circle swimming. I’ve been spoiled, never having to share a lane with more than one person. I’ve even been fortunate to often have a lane all to myself.

Or am I just making excuses? The anxiety slows me down even more. I tense up. Where’s the fun? Where’s the joy? This isn’t my type of swimming.


Teveria, the day before the swim. We check in at a tzimmer up in Yavniel, then visit the kever of Rabi Meir Baal Haneis. Now we cross the street to the chof hanifrad, a women-only beach for a practice swim.

We step into the Kinneret.

Suddenly, magically, the stress and anxiety and worry just melt away. For the first time in four years, I’m swimming alongside both my sisters. My two nieces join, too.

The Kinneret has a magical quality that lifts you, buoys you, keeps you moving. Sometimes I’m slower than my sisters — but sometimes I’m actually faster. Eventually, we fall into a rhythm. I relax. I start composing our next Schmooze in my head.

After an invigorating and inspiring hour or two, we stop to schmooze in the water. Apparently, my sisters have also been mentally composing. Our excitement builds as our next Schmooze starts taking shape.

“Ooh, ooh,” I exclaim. “I have an idea for how we can really make the Schmooze ‘flow!’ We can….”


Emmy Leah continues…
During the Swim

…we can do it!

We can practice for months, more-than-doubling our standard 40 pool length swims to 84, equaling the 2.2 kilometers of the swimathon. We can count on generous relatives and friends to raise sponsorship money, passing our team goal in just three days.

But now… can we face a tougher challenge? Can we wake up early enough to get to the Kinneret beach where the swim begins at six in the morning???

We can! Too excited to sleep the night before, we’re ready to go by five. We’re among the first swimmers to splash into the Kinneret.

All of us are wearing our personal “buoys,” a pink blow-up “pillow” attached to each swimmer by a long cord. The buoys float behind us; we can each lean on them to rest. The very visible hot-pink color, like the shiny-pink swim caps we wear, allow safety crews on boats marking the way to make sure nobody swims off course.

Waiting for the start signal, I turn around and see hundreds of swimmers behind us, looking like a flock of eager, bright-pink flamingos about to fly over the cloudy waters of the lake. And we’re the earliest flamingos, in the front row!

And now… countdown… 10, 9, 8… 3, 2, 1 — we’re swimming! As we move forward, the pink mass behind us passes us handily, and suddenly we’re in the back of the flamingo flock.

That’s okay. We Sisters plan to take our time. We send my daughters, the “Plus” in Team SisterSchmoozePlus, ahead. At twice the age (three times? Impossible!) of the average swimmer, shouldn’t we take twice (three times?) the amount of time to cross the lake?

Mathematics aside — we’re going to take it slow. We’ll enjoy the scenery, schmooze when we feel like it.

And we discover that our slower-paced swim allows us to meet new friends.


Swimming slowly, we meet…

A pair of chatting women, swimming at a leisurely pace, even slower than we are. Hearing them speak English, we tread water and stop to say hi. One of them came from Lakewood especially for the swim. We laugh together, remembering an enthusiastic, if geographically challenged, Israeli speaker at last night’s swimmers’ dinner announcing that women from all over the world had come to swim — including, she proclaimed proudly, some from Lakewood, New York (!).

Our Lakewooder’s friend arrived from Baltimore. Marcia, from Silver Spring, comes up for air from her crawl, and they find mutual connections. In the distance we see the beautiful geography of the Kinneret coast; in the middle of the lake we plunge into Jewish geography at its best.


And swimming slowly, we meet….

An elderly woman swimming close to the “border” of boats marking the course. A young woman manning a kayak shouts out to her, “At b’seder? — Are you okay?”

She answers in Hebrew, “Yes. Can you bring me some dates?”

The kayaker rows quickly and delivers fresh dates (maybe grown on the palm trees still visible on the faraway shore?). I ask the kayaker if the elderly woman is alright. “Sure she is,” she answers smiling, “She’s my Savta, and she loves her temarim!” We exchange brachos for all the generations, and she returns to her watching post.


And swimming slowly, we meet….

A group of five, swimming together. I recognize one of the young, cognitively challenged women we met at the dinner. The proceeds of the swim will renovate her apartment in the beautiful yishuv that is home to the Sadnat Shiluv. The young woman swims slowly, slowly, flanked by two strong swimmers watching over her, protecting her. I shout a greeting, they all wave, and then continue swimming.

Tradition tells us that when Miriam’s well stopped giving water to the Jews in the desert, it moved to the deep waters of the Kinneret. Seeing the team watching over this young woman with such care, I think of Miriam, carefully, lovingly watching over her baby brother Moshe in the waters of the Nile.

Almost three hours pass. Ahead of us, the final push to shore, where both the shorter and longer course ends; behind us, memories of our new “swimming buddies.” We don’t know their names, but the moments we’ve shared in our slow swim have created memories deep as the wavy waters of the Kinneret….


Miriam brings us to…
The End of the Swim

…ah, the wavy waters of the Kinneret!

So far, everything’s great. I’m reveling in the water, in the women who pass us, the women — 560 of us! — who share love of swimming and of Eretz Yisrael. Mostly I’m reveling in our sisterhood — three sisters, flanking each other, protecting each other, checking that each of us is doing fine.

But… it’s taking us a very long time. The Kinneret at this hour is usually calm, but today there are waves. Not threatening, but definitely pushing us — in the wrong direction. That, and perhaps those snazzy pink buoys we’re attached to, and (could it be?) the four years that have passed since we’ve done this, are slowing us down.

And we’re getting very tired.

Suddenly, I see it. The shore! Through my goggles I can make out a banner welcoming the swimmers. And, yes, those are figures on the beach, women who’ve already reached the other side.

We’re almost there! Straight ahead — the finish line!

I’m swimming on the left, Marcia in the middle, Emmy Leah on the right, always keeping within shouting (schmoozing?) distance. But now, I see clearly, Marcia and Emmy Leah should come closer to me, so we can finish up together. Emmy Leah, especially, has drifted a bit too far, and if she continues, it will take longer to get to shore.

So I yell to her to come join me.

And she yells back. Telling me I’m too far to the left, come toward her, we’ll reach the shoreline faster.

So there we are, our goal is in sight — and we’re fighting. Fighting? Apart from the occasional bickering when we were little and hungry (Mommy would feed us and all would be well), Emmy Leah and I don’t fight. We just don’t.

But now we are shouting at each other, each demanding that the other one swim her way, while Marcia, in the middle, doggedly keeps her slow but steady crawl. I don’t want to move toward Emmy Leah — I’m too tired to swim more than I have to.

And she doesn’t want to move toward me, for, oddly, the same reason.

We’re at an impasse — when Marcia gets a leg cramp!

She shouts for help. All arguments forgotten, we dash to her side, grab her under the shoulders to hold her up. Within seconds, a kayak is next to us. The lifeguard offers to row Marcia to the beach.

Marcia, in agony, refuses. “I’ve been swimming for hours. I’m gonna walk out on my own two feet.”

We look up. With all the craziness, we’re not far from the beach. Emmy Leah spots her daughter Devora, a physiotherapist, waiting for us.

“Devora, get in. Marcia’s got a cramp!”

Devora flies into the water and massages the cramp out. Malka, Emmy Leah’s other daughter, joins us.

And Team SisterSchmoozePlus walks slowly and proudly onto the shore.


We’re enjoying the post-swimathon breakfast, and I’m wondering: What in the world was that all about? I don’t quite understand the physics of it, but apparently, we were all equidistant from the shore, just seeing it from different angles.

A thought strikes me. Two thousand years of galus. We’re tired. Exhausted.

We see the shore, so many signs that the long journey in exile is coming to a glorious end. And we’re sure that if we follow our way — we will reach shore faster. But if we follow your way — it’s the wrong way.

So we yell. We fight. Sometimes, we even fall into the hole of sinas chinam, which got us into galus in the first place.

What brings us together? When one of us is in need, in peril. The screaming stops. The chesed begins.

And… we reach the shore at last.


Preparing to return to Yerushalayim, I utter a few quiet prayers.

I thank Hashem for this swimathon, for my sisters, for our beautiful Land.

One more tefillah: Hashem, it’s been so long. We’re so tired. Lead us to safety, as You led us safely to this beach. Let every Jew reach the shore we’re all longing for.

The shore that’s called geulah sheleimah.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 856)

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