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I have shared victories that have come from striving toward a common goal with other swimmers: Lauren, Brittany, Lizzie, Kelley. Those ten-year-old girls would cheer with spunky screams when participants of our neighborhood swim team would out-touch the opposition in a race. More recently, I am grateful for the inspiration my teammate Alysha has provided me behind the blocks every August at the JCC Maccabi Games. Now warmth fills my coach’s soul, as I see the love of swimming I have helped to enrich in little Caroline’s blue eyes.
I also recognize the concept of my soul when I apply my Jewish heritage to my views and actions. This enables me to make more ethical decisions involving myself and others. I pursued my passion for Judaism during my sophomore year by attending a weekly Confirmation class with other tenth graders. Presiding over my class, the tall and broad Rabbi Friedman would pace the room, hands in pockets, proudly responding to every question. One evening, the discussion involved Judaic law regarding the separation between men and women. The rabbi declared his strong conviction that males and females should remain at relative distance from each other prior to marriage, and should cover their bodies while in the presence of one another. Perplexed, I hesitantly raised my hand, and let the inevitable query fall from my lips: “When members of the opposite sex swim together in a pool, what are they supposed to do? Swim with their clothes on?”
While gazing into his eyes, I heard but could not accept the clergy’s response. Simply, he replied, “Men and women don’t swim together.” My heart skipped a beat, then it sunk. I froze. “I swim in my jammer in the presence of girls six times a week!” I exclaimed to myself. Were all those personally sustaining childhood relationships and accomplishments shared with the female swimmers of my community sins? Had I been immoral in not separating myself from people of the other gender? Being a fifteen-year-old boy, I was not yet prepared to answer such questions.
Lately I have begun to identify my own individual stance between orthodox Judaic thought and my joyful fervor for swimming with loyal friends. As much as I respect Rabbi Friedman for his willingness to hold a traditional opinion in the modern and more liberal world, I have developed a philosophy different from his. I have realized that the notion of teamwork among people of all different backgrounds is far more important than physical modesty before those of the opposite sex.
While swimming at Maccabi in Austin this August, I helped my teammate Stephanie design a race plan for her butterfly. In return, she cheered for me with her face virtually over the edge of the water during my own race. Ultimately, we both obtained personal record times and a great camaraderie. I have concluded that the activity of swimming should not be considered lecherous. Contrarily, it is an ethical endeavor.
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