Moving along swimmingly to raise money for special-education

Since it began six years ago, Swim4Sadna, in which women swim the Kinneret to raise money for a special-education center and school in Gush Etzion, has become an annual tradition.

June 16, 2015 15:24

Swim4Sadna. (photo credit: LAURA BEN-DAVID)

Vivienne Glaser simply wanted to give back.

After all Sadnat Shiluv b’Emunah has done for her son Elchie, Glaser felt it was only right for her to offer something in return.

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That emotion was what led the British-born Glaser to establish Swim 4 Sadna, an annual women’s swima- thon fund-raising event in Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), with all the proceeds going to Sadnat Shiluv b’Emunah, an integrative special-education center and school in Gevaot, Gush Etzion.

Glaser’s 24-year-old son lives in one of the Sadna’s apartments for young adults with special needs, and takes part in its vocational training and employment program. After helping build a visitors center with a small coffee shop selling goods made by Sadna students using the proceeds from last year’s event, the goal this year is to raise NIS 600,000 in order to establish an educational and therapeutic kitchen.

It all began six years ago, when Glaser decided that the only way she would be able to take part in a swimming event in the Kinneret would be if she arranged it herself. Being an observant Jew, Glaser grew frustrated at her inability to participate in other swims in the Sea of Galilee, which all took place on Shabbat.

“I realized that if I don’t do something myself, it won’t happen,” she recounted. “So to celebrate my jubilee, I decided I’m going to do my own swim in the Kinneret.”

Glaser, who lives in Alon Shvut, just a few minutes’ drive from her son, asked a few fellow swimming enthusiasts at her local pool if they might like to join her. She was stunned by their response. “I was thinking maybe one or two crazy people will say why not, but I was absolutely amazed by the ripple effect of my question,” she explained. “So I said to them that if everybody helps raise funds for my son’s school, I will organize a swim in the Kinneret.”

After the success of the first year, in which around 85 women participated, Glaser was happy to move on.

However, people began to ask when next year’s swim would be held – and the Swim4Sadna became an annual tradition.

“There is a fabulous atmosphere of camaraderie because it is a women-only event,” noted Glaser. “The most important point is to make people realize the Sadna in Gevaot is so unique and outstanding. This is my thank-you to them for bringing a solution to my life that is second to none; there is nothing like it anywhere.

The children go through this school system empowered and are encouraged to continue developing.”

The guiding principle of the Sadna is that one is not defined by his needs but rather by his ability to give; this principle is applied daily in learning, social activities and work. The Sadna caters to special-education children from the age of two and up, who fall between the cracks and find no solution in the special educational system. Among them are students who with the aid of a therapeutic program will be mainstreamed into other frameworks; others will remain connected to the Sadna throughout their lives.

Among the Sadna’s different programs is a kindergarten employing several special-needs young women as kindergarten helpers together with a senior teacher, where 20 normative children learn together with children with special needs. There is also the inclusive Reshit elementary school in Rosh Tzurim, consisting of eight classes with both mainstream children and those with varying disabilities; the inclusive program continues into the Sadna, with the mainstream students then leaving for high schools.

An after-school program for all pupils in the school; an agricultural farming program that provides vocational training and employment opportunities for those with special needs; assisted living in Gush Etzion communities, with three apartments for young men with special needs in Gvaot and one unit for special-needs women in Migdal Oz – all are part and parcel of the Sadna.

Over 300 women are set to participate in the swim today (June 5). There are two swimming routes ending at Tzemah Beach: A 3.5-km. course starting at Haon Beach and a 1.5-km course starting at Ma’agan Beach.

For those who are not expert swimmers, there will be a large raft at each end of the 300m. rectangle course at which one can rest if necessary.

Among those taking part will be Glaser’s 80-year-old mother and daughters, as well as eight members of the extended Loecher family. Leading the pack is 70-yearold Chana Loecher of Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, a Netherlands native who moved to Israel from New York and will be swimming with three of her daughters and four of her granddaughters.

“The Kinneret always had an enormous pull on me,” she revealed, “the feeling of swimming without boundaries.”

Loecher is a dedicated fund-raiser, once raising over $1 million for ALUT: The Israeli Society for Autistic Children, by crossing the Kinneret on her own. She recently completed the 10K run in the Jerusalem Marathon, raising money for Shalva: The Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel.

“It is really not about you – this is the power of the mitzva,” asserted Loecher. “You are doing it for someone else, not for yourself.

“It is wonderful that I can share the things I enjoy with my family. Raising the funds and enjoying it: It’s a win-win situation.”

Loecher has taken part in the event since its first year, and her daughter Shoshana Berman Loecher will participate for a third straight year on Friday.

“At one stage in my first year I looked around and asked where my mom was, as it was more important to be with her than to finish first,” she remembered. “I swam back to find her, and when I reached her she said she likes going on her own and it isn’t about the race. In the middle of the Kinneret, she started to talk about the mountains and what Hashem [God] made, and began saying the Shir Hama’alot prayer. For me, it was a divine experience to swim next to her; a year later, my sisters and daughter joined me.

“There is something amazingly euphoric about it. I don’t even know how to explain it.”

Glaser was convinced this year’s target would be met, and she couldn’t wait for the swim to begin. “It’s always chilly but exhilarating to walk into the Kinneret at 6 a.m., but the atmosphere is warm and supportive and we help each other across.

“It’s all about empowerment – empowering ourselves to swim, and empowering the Sadna students to learn crucial life skills and develop their independence.”

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