Father drowns in sea during mikveh ritual

By Marcus Dysch, August 9, 2012

Hundreds of people have mourned a strictly Orthodox community stalwart who drowned on holiday while using the sea as a mikveh.

Dov Berish Englander, from Stamford Hill, north London, got into difficulties after wading into the sea off Aberystwyth beach in Wales.

The 47-year-old company director was using the sea to perform his daily ritual immersion. A guest staying at a nearby hotel saw him struggling and called emergency services.

A rescue helicopter was sent and a lifeboat crew pulled Mr Englander from the water. They attempted to resuscitate him, but he died.

Mr Englander was highly respected for his level of religious knowledge and his charitable work. His youngest child is understood to be only 18 months old.

The Welsh holiday town is a popular resort for strictly Orthodox families. More than 400 people attended Mr Englander’s funeral on Friday.

Chanoch Kesselman, of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, said Mr Englander was a much-loved member of the community.

“It is sorrowful beyond words that such a young man with so many righteous attributes should depart this world in so tragic a way. The community was visibly shocked,” he said.

In June, Satmar Chasid Rabbi Chaim Breisch died after struggling in a rough sea off Broadstairs, Kent.

A 19-year-old Israeli yeshivah student drowned in October last year during a pilgrimage to the Ukrainian city of Uman, where Rabbi Nahman of Breslov is buried.

The tragedies have led many to ask whether strictly Orthodox children were given adequate swimming lessons.

School governors at an Aberystwyth school are investigating a teacher, David Reeves, who posted a Facebook comment after the drowning: “If only he had used a shower!!!”

Mr Reeves has apologised and withdrawn the comment, calling it “a silly mistake.”


Knowing how to swim was considered important enough for some of the rabbis of the Talmud to list it as one of the things a father is obliged to teach his son, along with teaching him Torah and a trade.

While some parental obligations are explained at length, the reason given by the rabbis for teaching swimming is simple: because “a child’s life may depend on it”.

While some Jews in ancient times clearly fished for a living, others may have needed at times to know how to traverse a river. The prophet Ezekiel refers to rising waters becoming “deep enough to swim in,” preventing a crossing on foot.

But being able to do a few lengths of a pool is no preparation for negotiating treacherous currents offshore.

Last updated: 10:22am, August 9 2012