The (socially distanced) swim must go on…


10 September 2020 – 21 Elul 5780
Hana Greenfield Memorial in the UK

10 September 2020

By Jane Drapkin

One of the Covid casualties from my calendar this summer was a trip to the Czech Republic to take part in the third annual Hana Greenfield Memorial Swim. This swim was not only taking place in a beautiful stretch of the river Labe (Elbe), but it also has a unique history.

The event is a tribute to Hana, who used to swim in the river in Kolín alongside her Jewish and her non-Jewish friends, but, in June 1942, was deported along with her family and all the other Jews from Kolín to the Terezin ghetto and concentration camp. Hana was one of just a handful of members of Kolín’s Jewish community to survive the Holocaust.

My community, Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, has a Torah Scroll from Kolín and over the past 40 years has developed very close links with the town.

The inaugural Hana Greenfield Memorial Swim in 2018 had 55 swimmers, and this year 180 entrants had signed up to take part. Unfortunately, due to Covid related uncertainty and travel restrictions, none of the overseas visitors could be there. Hence, since I couldn’t travel to the Czech Republic, I brought the Hana Greenfield Memorial Swim to my regular swimming location at home – Bray Lake Watersports in Berkshire.

And so, on the morning of Saturday 29 August, the same day that swimmers were taking to the River Labe in Kolín, 18 Bray Lake regulars gathered together for a small ceremony and socially distanced swim (pictured).

We started with a short talk describing the background to the Hana Greenfield Memorial Swim and sharing examples of other groups of people that have also been forbidden from swimming as part of wider discrimination and persecution.

We then held a ‘memorial circle’ in the water, holding a minute’s silence to commemorate the Jews of Kolín and other victims of persecution, to contemplate how we can make our society more equal and inclusive, and to celebrate having both the freedom to swim, and a clean safe environment in which to do so.

And finally, of course, we swam!

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