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The Quirks of Israel—Swimming in Tel Aviv

March 21, 2023

by: Peter Fast, CEO-elect

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From the pen of Peter Fast, CEO-elect, comes the seventh installment of the Quirks of Israel. Join Peter on a journey through the wonderfully peculiar culture, traditions, heritage and daily life of this singular nation as he unpacks, introduces and celebrates the quirky aspects that make Israel so wonderfully unique.

If you’re fond of the beach, the place to be in Israel is Tel Aviv. The city features an idyllic stretch of sand where people lounge in the sun, eat ice cream, go for a swim, surf and play matkot, the Israeli version of paddle ball—all while passenger planes fly overhead on their way to land at Ben Gurion International Airport. A bustling boardwalk stretches the entire length of the beach, providing the ideal spot for people jogging, cycling or taking the dog for a walk. It was in this environment that I was persuaded to learn how to swim.

You heard me correctly. I said learning how to swim. It happened while serving as a Bridges for Peace volunteer for the first time. I had befriended a few other young adult volunteers like me, and one day, the topic of an outing to the beach came up. I protested, explaining that I couldn’t swim. One of my new friends didn’t believe me. Everyone could swim, he insisted. Another new friend informed me that she had once been a lifeguard and promised to give me some swimming instructions once we were in the water. Finally, I was convinced. Off to the beach we would go.

On the day of the outing, we arrived at the beach in Tel Aviv mid-morning. We hadn’t been there for 20 minutes when someone suggested a swim. All eyes were on me as I entered the water. I wanted to appear brave, like I could easily take on the churning waters and crashing waves.

As soon as I was waist-deep in the water, my former lifeguard friend gave me a crash course on how to float. At first, I was on top of things. I even remember thinking, “This isn’t so bad. Actually, this is kind of nice. The water is so soothing and gentle. I’m floating! Wow!”

But then things took a turn for the worse. I soon began to tire, and turning to my former lifeguard friend, I suggested that we make our way back to the beach. I anticipated walking out of the waves, and tried to plant my feet on the sandy bottom to start the walk. Only, there was no bottom. Starting to panic, I saw just how far the shore really was and instinctively started doing something that resembled treading water. However, I soon realized that my attempt was rather ineffective. That didn’t stop me from trying to make my way to the shore in a rather sad doggy paddle. I must have looked like the Little Engine that Could, chugging away to the familiar chant, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” I tried to remain calm and positive. I even tried to admire the sunshine and the beach, which wasn’t getting any closer.

What I didn’t know was that I had been caught in an undercurrent. The result? No matter how much I paddled, I continued being dragged back. I remember seeing my friends in the distance, much closer to the beach. They noticed my plight and one of them promptly swam to my rescue, trying to haul me to the beach. But it was no good. I was not strong enough to break free from the undercurrent and the waves.

Then I saw them…Two men on a paddleboard appeared as if from nowhere, rowing with all their might in my direction. I was impressed, to say the least. These two looked like Navy Seals, Green Berets or Iron Man contestants. The only problem was, they were steering straight for my head. I was desperately trying to doggy paddle out of their way when the two drew parallel with me and then came to a stop. Then one of them bent down, shouted at me in Hebrew and extended his hand.

Embarrassment washed over me like another wave. In that moment, I realized that the Navy Seals had come to save me. They were lifeguards. The embarrassment was fleeting though. I knew full well I was in trouble, so I grabbed the lifeguard’s outstretched hand and he hauled me out of the water and onto the paddleboard like a flapping fish gasping for breath. The next moments were incredibly awkward. I flopped onto my belly, and with one of the men’s knees pinning me down between my shoulder blades on the board, we cruised across the water and skimmed professionally through the shallows with my legs and arms straight out in all directions in a spread eagle.

As we skidded to a stop on the beach, I could see looks of concern and pity on the faces of every beach goer. I tried to muster some of my dignity as I climbed off the board. The Navy Seals looked me up and down and then asked with a smile, “You okay, my friend?” I surveyed the damage. My knees were skinned and bloody. So were my elbows. Pointing at a building on the horizon, one of the lifeguards instructed, “That’s the hospital. Go there, my friend.”

I limped my way across the hot sand toward the building, thanking God for a second chance at life. The nurse on duty looked up, bewildered, asking, “Why are you here, my friend?”

“I need bandages,” I managed.

He shook his head. “No bandages.”

I stood dumbstruck. Before I could help myself, out came, “Of course you wouldn’t have bandages. You’re only a first aid station.”

My sarcasm was lost on the nurse though. He simply handed me some paper towels. I stuck four pieces on my body: one on each bloody knee and one on each bloody elbow. Patched up the best I could manage, I trudged back to my spot on the beach to salvage whatever was left of the day. A few moments later, my friend who told me everyone could swim appeared next to me. Kneeling by my side with a sheepish grin, he said, “My goodness. You really can’t swim!”

Israel is quirky indeed.

Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit

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