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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Swimming Club’

Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Coney Island Polar Bear Club. November 2, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Sunday, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club went for their first swim of the season. “Summertime has gone away, Polar Bears are here to stay,” the Bears chanted as they warmed up by doing jumping jacks on the beach.

The Club swims at 1:00pm every Sunday from November through April. Membership is currently closed but you can join them for a guest swim. Just turn up at the Bears Clubhouse at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing. Or welcome the New Year by joining the annual January 1st Polar Bear Dip in Coney Island, a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine.

Polar Bear Club member and filmmaker Jim McDonnell shot this short video of Sunday’s swim to mark the 111th season of the winter swimming club. It was a windy day on the beach and boardwalk with air temps in the 40s.

Related posts on ATZ…

January 2, 2014: Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge’s Best Dressed of 2014

February 7, 2012: Video of the Day: The Coldest Thing on Coney Island

January 3, 2012: Record 3,000 “Do It” at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

December 26, 2010: Video: Today’s Snow Swim with Coney Island Polar Bears

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The Rabbi

Rabbi Abraham Abraham & Bob Stewart of the Coney Island Ice Breakers, 2009 Mermaid Parade. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Rabbi Abraham Abraham, the leader of the Ice Breakers Winter Ocean Swimmers of Brighton Beach, died on May 18, according to club spokesman Bob Stewart. “The Rabbi,” as he was called by his fellow swimmers, was a longtime member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club until the 1990s when he broke away after a dispute and formed a club called the Ice Bears and then the Ice Breakers. The funeral will be held on May 19 at 2 pm at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Queens.

The elaborately mustachioed and white-bearded Rabbi was a colorful Coney Island character famous for his daily swims and annual New Year’s Day Swim at Brighton 6th Street. The Ice Breakers boast of having the largest number of active swimmers over 70 years of age (10 swimmers) and four members over 80 years of age. Stewart estimates that the Rabbi was 83 or 84, though he would never admit exactly how much over 80.

Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s zaniest personal accomplishment was probably living in an ice house for 110 hours (Guinness record ID 12729 claimant 12524) on the beach. We’ll never forget his royal antics as King of the Mermaid Parade in 1999. He was so full of fun that he kept jumping out of his rolling chair to dance a jig, which is something we haven’t seen a king do before or since. Photographers loved him, of course. With his white hair and flowing beard, the Rabbi was probably the king who most resembled Neptune. In this 2009 video he extols the health benefits of eating organic kosher food and winter swimming in the frigid waters of the Atlantic.

In the above photo taken by ATZ at the 2009 Mermaid Parade, the Rabbi rode in a pedicab due to a leg injury from what he said at the time was a parachute skydiving accident. “But it was bone cancer,” Stewart reveals. “They removed his thighbone and replaced it with a titanium rod.” The next year, he was once again walking the length of the parade route.

“He’s such a positive guy,” says Stewart. “He called me two weeks ago and said, ‘Bob, I’m dying. I need to see you.’ So I went over to his house. And then he said ‘listen, do you think we can do one more gig before I die?’ Here’s a guy on his deathbed and he wants to do one more something–swim, Mermaid Parade…” They agreed to ride the pedicab again in the Mermaid Parade, which takes place this year on June 18th. “But we knew it was getting close, it was day by day,” Stewart adds. The Ice Breakers are planning to march in the Parade with a photo of their departed leader.

But was he a real Rabbi? “He was able to show me his credentials–his clergy documents,” says Stewart, a Brighton Beach native who took up winter swimming as a teen without being part of an organized group. After getting to know the Rabbi as one of “the beach people,” Stewart joined the Ice Breakers. The Rabbi will be missed. “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t preach in any synagogue. His place to preach was the beach.”

Rabbi Abraham Abraham

Rabbi Abraham Abraham Rings the Dreamland Bell at the Coney Island History Project. September 13, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Related posts on ATZ…

May 19, 2013: Rest in Peace: Steve Bitetzakis of Steve’s Grill House

March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

July 27, 2011: Coney Island Lost A Good Friend: RIP Andy Badalamenti

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

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