Open Water Swimming Brings Life Lessons

Swimming has been a life long journey for me.  My mother insisted on swimming lessons for me and my siblings, and when I was young, my stamina was not very good, so swimming any significant distance was very challenging.  However, between my perseverance and her persistence, I eventually earned my life saving certification, and in college passed my Water Safety Instructor’s course.

A couple years after I graduated from college, I developed sufficiently severe arthritis that I could not continue in my job managing Pizza Bob’s in Ann Arbor. Leaving my first full time job and wondering where this early onset of arthritis would leave me left me depressed. However, not being one to stay mired in depression or succumb to my body’s frailties, I made a commitment to never stop moving, with the very unscientific belief that if I continued to move, my arthritis would be unable to freeze up my joints.  It was at that point that I decided that swimming on a regular basis was critical to both my physical and mental health.

My decision to commit to a regular regimen of swimming in 1980 has continued for 35 years and its benefits have been many.  I routinely count my laps and strokes and find that doing so provides a meditative benefit along with the physical exercise.

But swimming in a pool has its drawbacks.  In addition to the annoying chlorine, turning every 25 yards means that both my exercise and meditation is interrupted frequently in the pool.  Fortunately, I have been blessed to have the opportunities during some winter vacations to be in a place where I can swim in the open water in the ocean.  Salt water has its drawbacks, but it is naturally occurring and a lot better than chlorine.

Open water swimming in the ocean has its own set of challenges which have provided me with some important life lessons.  In some places, I have had to battle large waves and/or wind.  In others, coral, though beautiful, needed to be dodged in order to avoid serious injury. A few times, I have learned what it feels like to be stung by a jellyfish.

Early on in my open water swimming ventures, I simply swam as long as I felt like it.  But, after a few episodes of doing this, I eventually realized that I had no idea how far I was swimming and if I swam beyond my physical capacity, as I was on my own, I had the potential for putting myself in a dangerous situation.  That led me to buy a waterproof watch with a timer so I could check my time periodically and make sure I swam a similar distance as I usually do in a pool (1000 yards).

But swimming 1000 yards in open water is very different than turning 40 times every 25 yards in a pool. To begin with, until returning to shore, there is no opportunity to stop.  In addition, swimming a straight line is open water is very challenging.  To deal with these issues, I count my strokes and switch between front crawl, breast stroke and back crawl regularly so I can make sure I straighten out and keep aiming in my intended direction.  I also keep a target point in view, and while it is hard to judge distances in the open water, by counting strokes and keeping my eye on my target, I can be sure that I do not exceed my physical capacity.

This week, I have the luxury of renting a house boat in the Florida Keys with my dear friend, Rachel Caplan.  Each morning, after I mediate, I jump off the boat and head out for my roughly 1000 yard swim.  While doing so continues to provide me with both physical and emotional health benefits I have described above, this year, my open water swimming has helped me draw some life lessons:

  • Staying physically and emotionally healthy are both critical to maintaining my engagement in the difficult work of systems change;
  • Swimming in open water is much like navigating life which often brings uncharted obstacles; and
  • In order to mange those uncharted obstacles, it is best to have a plan, adjust your plan as necessary, and stay within the limits of your capabilities in order to stay safe to continue the hard work that each day brings.

IMG_2441 Of course, open water swimming is not for everyone, but each person can find their own way of navigating life successfully by maintaining physical and emotional health and confronting the challenges which life brings on a daily basis.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


Take Courage: Despair is the Enemy of Progress

The world can be a scary place.  ISIS beheads innocents. Terrorists enter public places to slaughter shoppers, worshippers and anyone in their way. Governors slash hundreds of millions of dollars from public education, social services programs and other vital services upon which millions depend.

Those who perpetuate terror and those who pull the rug out from under people who are barely surviving are using a tried and true technique to accomplish their goal to consolidate their power: Despair is the Enemy of Progress. For when we despair, many of us simply give up.  Indeed, in the worst case scenario, some commit suicide.

But for those of us who believe that the world can be a better place, giving in to despair simply allows ruthless terrorists and politicians to prevail.  We simply cannot allow that to happen and indeed, many brave people fight back.

Every day, courageous people, against seemingly insurmountable odds, take courage, because they refuse to give in to despair.  Indeed, earlier this morning, I received a message from my friend Adele Raemer, who lives on Kibbutz Nirim in Israel, which borders the Gaza Strip. She and her fellow kibbutzniks experienced the shelling from Hamas in the last Gaza War, and some of her fellow kibbutzniks were hit by those shells. Despite living in the constant shadow of war, she belongs to a secret group of Israelis and Palestinians who work for peace between their people.  Today, she shared a message from a Palestinian who said:

More evil
More troubles
my boss says
Do you want peace with the Jews !! With the Israelis !! I’ve seen your photos on Facebook You are despicable traitor you … You’re Fired Dear traitor…
Never give up
I stand with peace with life with hope with you with humans.

She went on to say that yesterday she:

hosted another group from AIPAC. At one point Gadi Yarkoni came in, since we were right next door to his office. They asked him what he thought of the situation and if his political stance has changed since the summer’s war when he lost both of his legs. He, too, said that we MUST find a way to live in neighborly coexistance with the Palestinians. This is a man who was born here on the border, grew up here, is the CEO of our farm, lost both his legs and two friends on August 26th, and he, too, believes that there CAN be – no MUST be – a solution.

These brave souls, an anonymous Palestinian, Israelis Adele Raemer and Gadi Yarkoni, refuse to give in to despair because they are courageous and believe that a better way of life can be obtained even in the darkest of circumstances.

As I have written in the past:




For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

The Last Handshake of the Game

As my son’s high school hockey career comes to a close, having played his last regular season game last night, I take this opportunity to notice the character development that so many years of team play has taught Josh.  He has always worked hard in the sports he plays: soccer, hockey and track.  He is not the most gifted athlete, but that has never stopped him from competing with the best athletes he can find and doing his best in every game.

But more important are the things Josh does that will never show up in a score sheet.  In this, his senior year, he was named Alternate Captain, and he has taken that leadership role very seriously.  Many parents of freshmen players have kindly expressed their gratitude to me for the mentoring that Josh has done for their young players.  He dutifully keeps up his hockey team’s Facebook page and always gives a shout out to the goalies and other players who did something special each game, despite having only won 1 game this year.

Indeed, in his 4 years of high school hockey, his teams have only won 6 games, and unfortunately, Josh had the flu and was unable to play in the one game that his team won this year. Yet, that has never stopped him from encouraging his teammates, and showing up for practice every day to work on improving his skills.

Until last night, it bothered me that Josh was always the last one off the ice, since he is frequently running late. But since it was his last regular season game, I watched him more carefully and I finally realized why this was the case.  In every game, Josh has made sure that he was the last person to shake the ref’s hand.  He did so again last night.

IMG_2433This small gesture demonstrates that Josh has learned the important value of sportsmanship.  I suspect the refs appreciate it as well. As his father, it filled my heart in a way that only a parent can truly understand.

The next few months will set Josh on a path that has not yet been determined as we wait for the responses to his college applications to come in.  But when I saw this handshake, I realized that my son will do well in whatever endeavor he chooses because he knows that through respect for others, and holding his head high even after yet another loss, nothing can stop him from fulfilling his dream of using his head and heart to make the world a better place.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

We are What we Do

This past Sunday, at my synagogue’s Annual Meeting, I became Congregation Shaarei Shamayim’s President.  This is not the first time I have served as President of our inclusive Reconstructionist and Renewal Jewish community, which my wife and I helped to found 25 years ago. Of course, even though it is my 3rd or 4th time serving as President, I am still honored that our community views my leadership as helpful to its continued growth and development.

One of the advantages of founding an organization and sticking with it for 25 years, is that I have learned a lot about community building, organizational growth and leadership. During our early years, we were a very small, but incredibly creative and vibrant community.  We had no rabbi or any paid employees, met in the City of Madison’s historic Gates of Heaven synagogue (Shaarei Shamayim is the Hebrew for Gates of Heaven), and it even took a while before we had a name.

800px-Gates_of_Heaven_Synagogue_2010Thus, in our early years, our reliance on volunteers was 100%.  It was at that time, I coined the phrase, “We are what we do.”

I still use that phrase a lot because there is a tendency for some people in volunteer driven organizations to feel guilty when certain things simply do not get done.  It is my belief that rather than employ unproductive and negative guilt-tripping to motivate people to take on volunteer tasks, I simply remind them that, “We are what we do.”  In this way, whenever decisions must be made which add additional burdens, each person involved in potentially taking on the burden can assess whether they want our community to be known for either doing a particular thing or not.

Twenty-five years later, we:

  • have 115 member families;
  • are in the process of renewing our wonderful Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman’s contract for another 5 years;
  • have obtained grants for a second year of a summer Teen Service Learning program and community wide monthly Jewish Dialogue sessions;
  • have a beautiful home which we rent in the historic First Unitarian Society, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright;  50's-postcard-colorand
  • will welcome Soferet (female scribe), Yonah Lavery-Israeli, during a shabbaton weekend June 26-28, who is in the process of completing a new Torah for us,  through a generous grant from the Goodman Foundationrepairing torah

Indeed, we have come a long way, but that does not mean we are able to do all things for all of our members.  Like any organization, from time to time, we fall short of our hopes and dreams.  In each such case, I remind our community that, we are what we do.  These words remind us that for every task in front of us, we have a choice to be defined by what we do, or what we choose not to do.  No person or organization can do everything, but we can always remind ourselves that, who we are is defined by what we do.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.