Ear­li­er this week, Ilana Garon wrote about ath­let­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties at her Jew­ish day school and run­ning the New York City Marathon. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Charles E. Smith Jew­ish Day School (or JDS” as it was fond­ly known), the school my three broth­ers and I all attend­ed from grades 6 – 12, had no foot­ball team and no swim team. Nei­ther my broth­ers nor I cared about foot­ball; the absence of a swim team, how­ev­er, we found frus­trat­ing. We couldn’t under­stand why JDS couldn’t rent pool-time from the JCC across the street. For­tu­nate­ly, all of us were deep into our sum­mer-league swim team, prob­a­bly our col­lec­tive favorite ath­let­ic ven­ture of the year. We grew up in North­ern Vir­ginia, home of the illus­tri­ous North­ern Vir­ginia Swim League (NVSL), one of the largest pub­lic swim­ming leagues in the coun­try. With over 100 neigh­bor­hood recre­ation cen­ters field­ing teams in 18 divi­sions, the NVSL pre­sides over a 6‑week com­pet­i­tive swim­ming sea­son every sum­mer, from mid-June through the end of July. The B‑meets, which did not count for league stand­ing and thus were marked­ly less com­pet­i­tive and more fun, were all on Mon­day nights. The A‑meets, which did count, were on Sat­ur­day mornings. 

Our first years in swim­ming, my broth­ers and I only did B‑meets; my par­ents insist­ed that we attend syn­a­gogue on Sat­ur­day morn­ings. We were the only Jews on the team — my par­ents’ home is in the heart of the St. James Parish, fea­tur­ing a large com­mu­ni­ty church with­in a well-con­nect­ed and active North­ern Vir­ginia Dio­cese — and our absence to the A‑meets caused some raised eye­brows. I’m not sure I’d have had the impe­tus to ques­tion my par­ents’ edict alone, but Haskell, my mid­dle broth­er, got feisty. He was by far the best swim­mer of the four of us, and the coach­es want­ed him espe­cial­ly for Sat­ur­day meets; they knew he’d bring in points. One of them pulled us both aside. Maybe you guys could have a talk with your par­ents?” they asked pointedly.

Haskell and I begged our Mom, who was the main stick­ler on the sub­ject. Even­tu­al­ly we struck a com­pro­mise; as long as Mom didn’t have to serve as a timer or work the con­ces­sion stand at Sat­ur­day meets (no prob­lem, because they need­ed timers and con­ces­sion work­ers on Mon­days as well), and as long as we attend­ed Sat­ur­day ser­vices with min­i­mal com­plain­ing in the week­ends before and after swim sea­son, then we could attend meets dur­ing those six Sat­ur­days. I’m sure, look­ing back, that it was a dif­fi­cult com­pro­mise for Mom to make; I believe she under­stood that not only did we love swim­ming, but we yearned to be a part of our neigh­bor­hood com­mu­ni­ty in Falls Church, VA, as well as our school com­mu­ni­ty in Rockville, MD.

The mem­o­ries of those sum­mer swim meets are some of my hap­pi­est: I remem­ber head­ing off to the pool just after sun­rise with my broth­ers, hav­ing been too ner­vous to eat more than a gra­nola bar for break­fast. The team would warm up togeth­er, each of us jit­tery in antic­i­pa­tion of our races. Then, when it was time to race, I remem­ber the ini­tial shock of div­ing into the cold pool again, sprint­ing as fast as I pos­si­bly could (NVSL races are nev­er more than 100 meters), then anx­ious­ly slap­ping the edge of the pool and look­ing up to see how well I’d fin­ished. Some­times, that would result in tears; oth­er times, in elation. 

But there was a longer-last­ing les­son in our sum­mer swim team expe­ri­ence, which I don’t think even my moth­er fore­saw. Many of our school friends, I real­ized, did not have friend­ships out­side of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. My broth­ers and I did, though — from swim team. Despite the ini­tial hur­dle of the Sat­ur­day meets, our most­ly Catholic swim team friends, who all lived near­by, nev­er made us feel any out­sider sta­tus. I remem­ber one Sat­ur­day night in par­tic­u­lar, when I was set to dri­ve a bunch of kids from swim team around in our fam­i­ly van — I believe we were going to make a series of hits” in team’s year­ly game of Super Soak­er assas­si­na­tion.” Mom had told us we couldn’t leave until after Hav­dalah. And so, when three stars were out, my broth­ers and I emerged from our house to find sev­er­al team-mem­bers on our lawn, patient­ly wait­ing for us to ful­fill our reli­gious oblig­a­tions so that we could all dri­ve off into the Vir­ginia twi­light together. 

Ilana Garon is a high school Eng­lish teacher and the author of Why Do Only White Peo­ple Get Abduct­ed by Aliens?”: Teach­ing Lessons from the Bronx (Sky­horse, 2013), as well as var­i­ous arti­cles for The GuardianDis­sent Mag­a­zine, Huff­in­g­ton Post, and Edu­ca­tion Week. She is excit­ed to have just com­plet­ed the ING New York City Marathon. Ilana lives and works in New York City.
Ilana Garon works as an Eng­lish teacher at a pub­lic high school in the Bronx, N.Y. In addi­tion to her book Why Do Only White Peo­ple Get Abduct­ed by Aliens?”: Teach­ing Lessons from the Bronx, her writ­ing has appeared in The Guardian, Busi­ness Insid­er, Gotham Schools, Edu­ca­tion Week, Dis­sent Mag­a­zine, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, Tablet, and Pre­sen­Tense Mag­a­zine.