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In the Swim of it

Barbara Bensoussan

Stroke by stroke, lap by lap, for half a century Chaya Spinner has used swimming to touch lives and share love.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

“Bubbles, bu-bbles,” Chaya Spinner chants, crouching in the water surrounded by a gaggle of young girls. She’s in a small pool in the basement of the Boro Park Y that has seen several generations splash through its waters.  “Bu-bbles!” Chaya continues. Her bright red bathing cap peeks out of the water as she lowers her mouth and blows bubbles. All the kids follow suit — even the three-year-old son of a counselor. Perfectly comfortable in the water, this vigorous great-grandmother puts children at ease as well. A few minutes later, Chaya and I are headed down the aqua-and-sea green-striped corridors to her office. Tanned after a warm Florida winter, she stands tall and muscular with piercing blue eyes. Chaya has a self-assured, commanding presence, like the general of a little army — and here, she really is top brass. After 50 years as a swimming instructor — 33 at the Y — she’s not only the director of aquatics, but an icon. The first woman in the frum community to become a Red Cross-certified swimming instructor, Chaya has trained some 25,000 students and 15 swimming instructors. “I can teach anyone,” she claims. “Some just take longer!” Chaya’s dedication to her craft has caught the attention of those beyond the frum community. In 2005, she received the Kathryn Walter Stein Award from the Red Cross for outstanding volunteer work and a plaque from then-Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz for her work with senior citizens. She officially retired from the Y this spring but was persuaded to come back just for this summer to allow her replacement to go on vacation. “This is my swan song,” she asserts. “After this I’m in Florida for good.”

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