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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Learning to Swim
by Rabbi Sharon Stiefel

I am often amazed by how many older adults tell me that they don’t know how to swim. And even more astounded by men who served in the Navy who never learned. For me, growing up at the View Ridge Swim Club, swim lessons were de rigueur. Rain or shine, I learned to swim outside in Seattle summers.  Much later in life I discovered that the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) commands us to teach our children how to swim. Literally, we are to provide them with the skills not to drown. We are trying to keep our kids out of danger and help them survive. It’s not about making them into Olympic swimmers. It’s the basics that are necessary.

When examined metaphorically, this teaching invites interpretation. How do we pass on tools of survival so kids do not drown in our often-scary world? We want them to keep their heads above water; and yet we know, to continue the imagery, that we cannot do the swimming for them. They will need to learn when to go with the tide and when against. They may flail and have to spit out some before they learn how to tread water easily. We want them to be able to be on their own and also to know to always swim within sight of a lifeguard.


What tools of survival do all adults need to navigate this world? What do you wish you were taught as a child? What do you need to learn now as an adult that wasn’t even thought of as necessary when you were growing up? Who could have ever imagined the challenges technology brings to us today?


Please join me as we explore these issues on Tuesday, June 27, at 7:00 PM. As part of the Hineni series Talmud at the Lake, I will be teaching, “Learning to Swim: Survival Skills We are Obligated to Pass On.” Swimmers and non-swimmers welcome.