Maccabiah: The healing powers of the swimming pool

Dr. Jane Katz is anything but your regular Maccabiah participant.

jane katz 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jane katz 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Jane Katz is anything but your regular Maccabiah participant. The 66-year-old, who will be taking part in her 52nd Maccabi swimming competition next month, is a pioneer in fitness and aquatics and was awarded the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) Certificate of Merit to honor her "dedication and contribution to the development" of the sport of Swimming, during the XXVII Olympiad in Sydney, Australia, in 2000. However, it is not only this recognition which sets her apart from the many other thousands competing at the Games. Katz has suffered several personal tragedies in recent years and her first visit to Israel in 12 years this summer holds far more importance than just another swimming competition. "I haven't been to Israel since the 1997 Maccabiah because my mother passed away, my aunt passed away and there were a number of family things," Katz told The Jerusalem Post. "My husband, who died last year, had been ill. So it kept me from coming and now it's coming home, it's the healing waters. Hebrew healing is what I like to call it." An author of five books, Katz, who holds a doctorate in gerontology from Columbia University and was a consultant to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, has taught thousands of students about the benefits of water fitness at the City University of New York since 1964. She is a professor at John Jay College in the Department of Physical Education and Athletics teaching fitness and swimming to New York City's police and firefighters. "I just feel like swimming is a breath of life. It's a great equalizer, it's democratic, it makes me equal with a 20 or 30-year-old." Katz said. "I teach the police and firefighters to swim, some of whom are from Israel. Of course, the Talmud says every child should learn to swim. It says every son but it should be every child." Katz was a member of the 1964 US Synchronized Swimming Performance Team in Tokyo and helped pioneer the acceptance of Synchronized Swimming as an Olympic event. "People laugh at Synchronized Swimming, but it's truly a team sport and it's artistic as well as sportive, so it's athletic and artistic in one," Katz said. "Some people love competition and some would rather see dance, more of an art form and I think it combines the best of both. "The Olympics were incredible because we travelled all through the world and what's very interesting is that we did come to Israel during that trip but we also went to Syria, Iran and Iraq," Katz said. "It was such a proud moment to be able to represent your country and to promote the sport you love. And 20 years later, it became an Olympic sport." Katz swam in the Pan American Masters Maccabi Swim Championships in Argentina in 2008, winning seven gold medals, and is looking forward to competing in the Maccabiah once more, some 52 years after swimming in the Games for the first time. "When I first competed in the Maccabiah in Israel in 1957 we lived in air-conditioned tents and our bathroom was an outhouse," Katz said. "It was unbelievable because I was 13 or 14 years old then, I had never been on an airplane before and it took us two and a half days to get there. "We stopped at Alaska and it was freezing of course and I was wearing shorts. When we got there we were only three women on the team and a driver and we taught the driver how to swim, so we could compete in the relay." Katz is hoping to do well once more this summer and can't wait to visit Israel yet again. "I'm the new kid on the block, so to speak, in this age group. I competed in the Pan-Am Maccabiah in Argentina last year and that was my return right after my husband had passed away," Katz said. "It was fabulous to get back and that's why I want to train and come back to Israel. This is a different time in my life now. "I feel like since all the passings in my family, it's a different time and era for me, it's a new everything. I'm so excited and looking forward to coming, because it is coming home."