A recent Bat Mitzvah, Emily Baitch and her family went to Hawaii and had a wonderful time. Emily learned that she has a natural talent for surfing.
I told Emily about an experience I had about surfing a couple of months ago. Our baby daughter Sarah was working
for the summer in Los Angeles at a company that makes movies, so we went out to see her for a couple of days. Sarah
came up with the idea that we would go to Malibu, which we’d heard about all our lives as a beautiful place with great beaches. We parked near a public beach on the Pacific Ocean. As we walked toward the beach, we passed a lot of vans with what looked to snobbish and judgmental me as bummy hippies with long unkempt hair, tons of tattoos, clearly using drugs of various types, sitting in dirty vans with torn up couches and torn carpets. Something was going on at this beach but we didn’t know what. There was a tent and someone was sitting at a table with a microphone making announcements. People
were clapping. As we laid out our blankets to sit down on the beach, we saw parents and families cheering and clapping. Eventually, we saw what was happening. Those same surfers who I had looked down on were doing something that was touching and beautiful. Out in the ocean, each surfer had a child with him, and the children were emotionally or intellectually disabled. The children were wearing life jackets. And one by one, when there would be the right kind of wave, a surfer would stand, holding the child, and surf into the beach, and that’s why everyone was clapping, and the announcer was telling everyone the kid’s name. The families were not just clapping; they were crying with joy. The surfers were so gentle and so protective and so careful and so respectful of the kids. And those kids had a look on their faces that said, “I am having the ride of my life.” We eventually learned that this was a special day at Malibu, and that this program was run by a non-profit organization called Therasurf, which tries to give these kids wonderful experiences. I was very touched, and I went to the announcer’s table and made a donation. And the person said, “For that much money, let me give you a couple of hats.” So she gave me two red hats. I put one of them on. I came back to where we were sitting and Sarah was laughing at me. I asked why and she said, “Look at what the hat says” It said, S-V-E-L-T-E. Svelte is a Yiddish word that means “slender, elegant, good-looking.” Imagine, I became svelte just by giving tzedakah, by giving a little charity.
For me, the main lesson of my story is obvious: I was prejudiced against the surfers who turned out to be kind and loving and giving people. I reminded myself of a lesson of the ocean: Don’t judge. We’re all equal before a wave. I started to think about the other lessons that I can learn from the beach and the ocean and surfing. I love the beach. Every summer, I spend some time on the beach just staring at the ocean. I think of the ocean as one of the greatest teachers and I learn a lot from what I think of as the “wisdom of the wave”. Here are some other lessons I’ve learned.
Lesson 2. I look at the ocean and I know that I am just a speck on the water. The ocean’s vastness reminds me of my insignificance. It puts everything in perspective. The humility I learn from being in the ocean is a constant reminder of my vulnerability. It teaches me not to be so full of myself. For me, G-d’s Word is equally immeasurable and immense. I stand before G-d, in all my finiteness, and think about G-d’s infiniteness.
3. Go big or go home. When you surf, you can’t kind of catch a wave. You either catch it or you don’t. A lot of things in life are like this.
4. Listen to your gut. When you’re surfing, you have to make instant decisions. You have a feeling about things. The more you listen to your instinct and then react to it, the better you do.
5. Understand that often in life, you’re not in control. Being human, you want to think you can control circumstances. The ocean reminds you that you really don’t have control: It’s in control when you’re in it.
6. Don’t be afraid to get wet. Dive in deep. I know people who float on the surface of life, afraid to get involved. They bob up and down on a few small waves, then coast into the shore of life. It’s not the way to live. Don’t be afraid to get wet.
7. Keep learning. “The more I learn, the more I don’t know. That’s an ocean lesson.”
8. Be determined. “You go out and get hammered by a wave and then by another one and another one, and you
think, ‘OK, I’m still here.’”
So these are some quick lessons from surfing. When
you’re Jewish, you see meaning in every aspect of life.