The Brighter Side

Meet the Nippers: Aussie immigrants bring beach and sea safety to Israel

The Hakim brothers aim to teach kids to understand the water, prevent drownings, with the Australian Nippers program, piloting this summer

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Australian Nippers, a beach safety program that is being launched in Israel in July 2020 (Courtesy Israel Life Saving Federation)
Australian Nippers, a beach safety program that is being launched in Israel in July 2020 (Courtesy Israel Life Saving Federation)

With seven drownings in the first weeks of Israel’s beach season, two Australian immigrant brothers have a plan for keeping people safe in the sea.

This is the summer that Danny and Paul Hakim are continuing the introduction of the Nippers, the famed Australian safe-swimming network, to Israel. The Hakims set up the wildly successful concept at several Israeli beaches, following the program created 50 years ago to help kids and adults learn how to swim safely, to Israel, where drownings have become an unfortunate reality every summer.

It isn’t the first time the Nippers are being introduced in Israel. The program was first launched in Ashdod in July 2015 by Surf Life Saving Israel (SLSI), another Australian-led campaign, and has been successfully operating there for the last five years, now funded by the local municipality.

When SLSI plans lagged to bring the Nippers to Herzliya and other local beaches, and drownings continued to mount each summer, the Hakim brothers created the Israel Life Saving Federation last year.

The Nippers program is being launched through the Israel Life Saving Federation at beaches in Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Haifa, with plans to extend it into a national network over the next few years. For now, this summer’s pilot program will include weekly classes for kids age 7-12, teens and adults in all three locations.

Paul Hakim, left, with former Australian ambassador Dave Sharma, middle and Danny Hakim, right, at the beach as they planned the Israeli pilot program of Nippers, a beach safety program being launched in July 2020 (Courtesy Israel Life Saving Federation)

Guarding the beaches is an impossible task for Israeli lifeguards, said Danny Hakim.

“How many people can three pairs of eyes watch over?” he said. “Nippers create extra eyes and awareness and kids learn what to do.”

“We’ve always dreamed of this sort of thing happening,” said Paul Hakim, an educator and tour guide who’s lived in Israel for 35 years and is president of the federation. He also holds a silver medallion beach management medal from Surf Life Saving Australia, having taken the course during a trip back to Australia several years ago.

He noted that the program continues the tradition of Australian ties with Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1940, Australian Anzac soldiers were stationed in pre-state Palestine while preparing for combat during World War II. During the two years they were stationed in British Mandate Palestine, they spent plenty of time by the sea. In memory of that piece of history, the Australian embassy in Israel is one of the sponsors of the sea safety program.

Australia has a long history on Mediterranean beaches, including during World War II, when Australian soldiers trained in Mandate Palestine and hung out at the beach (Courtesy Israel Life Saving Federation)

The Nippers program started in Australia in 1967, teaching kids as young as four years about waves and how to identify the dangers of the sea. There are 10,000 beaches in Australia, and most of the population lives near the coast.

Now more than 67,000 kids a year take part in the Nippers program Down Under, said Danny Hakim, making it the largest youth movement in the country. It’s also spread around the globe, with program offshoots in 100 countries.

It isn’t the first time that Australians with ties to Israel have tried to bring the Nippers to the Mediterranean Sea. Another group, Surf Life Saving Israel, started a successful program in Ashdod in 2015, working with kids ages 7-12.

“There’s plenty of life saving to be done in Israel,” said Danny Hakim of the other efforts.

The Israel Life Saving Federation is endorsed and trained by the Australian Lifesaving Association. With six trained instructors on board, it’s hoping to sign up 100 kids this summer.

They’re also planning on pairing the Nippers program with surfing schools over the Sukkot holiday vacation in the fall, and hoping to bring Nippers into the school system to create a new generation of Israeli kids who are knowledgeable about the water.

While Australian-born parents may be the vanguard in this summer’s pilot program, the Hakims are hoping to wrangle other populations into the mix, including the Arab community.

One of the Nipper-trained teachers is Arab and will teach water safety in the Arab coastal town Jisr az-Zarqa, as the program grows.

Anna Hecht, who moved to Israel from Australia 12 years ago, got involved because she wanted her three kids to be safe in the water, after she grew up with surf awareness.

Nipper parent and volunteer Anna Hecht (Courtesy Anna Hecht)

“The undercurrents in the sea here are nothing like we have in Australia, they’re far stronger,” she said, “and this program taught my kids how to handle the sea.”

One of the added benefits of the Nippers program is that parents have to get involved, even though many are surprised by that.

“You get to spend three hours with your kids without a phone,” said Hecht. “It’s hard work, but everyone loves it.”

For Paul Hakim, the local lack of beach safety is one of the things he’s had a hard time accepting in his years in Israel. Drownings can be prevented by teaching people how to swim with the current, he said.

“It has to be fun and cool,” said Paul Hakim. “To be a Nipper is the coolest thing you can be in Australia because you’re a lifesaver. In Israel, we understand life and death at a very young age and people volunteer here for all different reasons. This is just another reason.”

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