Different strokes: Englewood rebbetzin swims for charity
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Different strokes: Englewood rebbetzin swims for charity

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From left are Swim4Sadna participants Cheryl Mandel, Barbara Goldin, Vivienne Glaser (coordinator), and Sharon Katz. Aside from Goldin, an Englewood resident, the other women live in the Gush Etzion region where Sadnat Shiluv is located.

Eighty-five women in red-and-yellow bathing caps waded into Lake Kinneret early on June 16 to “Swim4Sadna,” raising funds for an innovative private special-needs school south of Jerusalem. All but three of the swimmers were Israeli. One of the out-of-towners was Barbara Goldin, rebbetzin of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah.

“As you’re swimming, you see in front of you all these yellow and red ‘balls’ bopping up and down. It felt like a dream,” said Goldin.

In Israel this summer to visit friends and family, Goldin learned of Swim4Sadna when a fellow passenger in her sister-in-law’s car mentioned it. “As I am an avid swimmer, I was excited,” she said, “and when I heard it was for a tzedaka, I was hooked.”

She had never heard of Sadnat Shiluv (“Integrated Workshop”), a program in the Gush Etzion village of Rosh Tzurim that incorporates special-needs kindergartners through young adults into the greater community. The center provides therapeutic animal care and horseback riding, assisted living, and employment (see box).

“I was quite nervous because I didn’t know anyone else doing the swim, but I thought if I can raise awareness of this tzedaka, and help somehow, that would feel so great,” said Goldin, who e-mailed shul members asking them to sponsor her. A speech therapist at the Passaic County Elks Cerebral Palsy Treatment Center in Clifton, she has a particular affinity for the cause and quickly befriended Vivienne Glaser, the Sadnat Shiluv mother who organized the swimathon.

Glaser’s 19-year-old son lives in the first of several planned group residences and is about to begin a two-year vocational program. “My aim had been to find 50 friends to swim and have them get 50 sponsors each to help us build more desperately needed apartments,” said Glaser, a British native. “We’re trying to make this into an international learning center offering holistic solutions for a range of challenges.”

In the end, 85 swimmers participated, including Glaser, her daughters, and her 75-year-old mother. Each pledged to raise a minimum of 2,000 shekels (about $525) and pay her own expenses. (Tax-exempt credit-card donations are still being accepted through IsraelGives.org; enter “Sadnat Shiluv” in the search field on the home page.)

Goldin signed up for the shorter 1.5-kilometer (9/10 of a mile) option. “I was too intimidated to do the 3.5 [kilometer] and now I’m sorry,” she said the next day. “It was about an hour’s swim, and I wasn’t even that tired. It’s exhilarating to see the mountains as you’re going along doing the breast stroke. Next year, if I can do it again, I’ll do the 3.5. Maybe I can convince one or two of my friends to do it, too.”

Glaser does intend to make Swim4Sadna an annual event, and even hopes to offer a tourist extension package to attract more foreigners.

She got the idea from a long-running national charity swimathon at the Kinneret on the first Saturday of every September. As a Sabbath-observer, she was never able to participate. “I had seen the advertisements since I was 14, and at age 50 I decided to do something I had always wanted to do and make it benefit the Sadna,” she said.

Not only did she schedule it for a weekday, but also made it exclusively for women – and not just to accommodate Orthodox participants. “In Israel, 30 percent of sports activities are now women only, and that has nothing to do with being religious,” she said. “The combination of being women only and the excitement around something so unique made it such a positive experience.”

Since the swimmers had to hit the lake at 6 a.m., they stayed in the area the night before. Goldin, who has grandchildren in America and in Israel, was one of a handful of adults who opted to sleep on the beach rather than in a hotel. “At Camp Morasha, I loved overnights and the great outdoors, so being on the beach sounded cool. We had to be on the bus at 5 – it was like getting up early to raid another bunk.”

Her enthusiasm didn’t wane throughout the experience. “There is such an electricity doing something you love with so many other women. All of them were passionate swimmers and all of them wanted to help others.”

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