Emily and Eden Blecher, 10-year-old twins from Moshav Shdema near Gedera, are second-generation synchronized swimmers. Their mother, Svetlana, was captivated by this sport in Moscow when she was their age, built it into a professional career and won awards. She was the Russian champion in 1982-83. She came to Israel in 1989, with the Russian circus' first visit to the Dolphinarium.
"We were a group of 70, and six of us were synchronized swimmers," recalls Blecher. "Four of us immigrated. We were offered jobs here if we stayed.
At that time, there was no synchronized swimming in Israel at all. For the first few years, we practically lived at the Dolphinarium. We lived in an apartment in which one could open the kitchen window with one hand and the front door with the other."
Since then, a lot has changed. Blecher married and had the twins, moved to Shdema and was appointed professional director of synchronized swimming at the Israel Swimming Association. She also instructs some 90 girls at the moshav's pool, including her twins.
Emily and Eden have been swimming since age 4 and have been practicing synchronized swimming regularly since age 5. Since then, their swimming practice has been joined by floor exercise lessons, which build the foundation for underwater movements.
"There are so many acrobatic elements in synchronized swimming, and the girls are afraid," explains Blecher. "With five years of floor exercises behind them, the have more confidence."
The girls have other extracurricular activities, too: piano lessons, horseback riding and jazz dancing "and they are unwilling to give anything up."
In the past two years, they have been practicing synchronized swimming six days a week; last year, they placed first in their age group in the Israeli championships.
The twins say learning with their mother is fun, but Blecher says it is hard.
"It requires me to be even more strict with them than with the other girls, so that it will not look as if I am favoring them," says Blecher.
"When we go with our mother to the pool during the summer," says Emily, "we do exercises in the water and Mommy watches us and sometimes teaches us new movements."
"It doesn't help us that we're twins," says Emily. "Maybe for duets, because we understand each other better. What helps us is that we have a long practice session twice a week."
"I think they view it as part of their lives," says Blecher. "I didn't push them. I did not allow them to be in the water six times a week from age 6. I waited for them to grow up a bit. In the end it came from them, and the choice to continue or not belongs to them."
The twins are in no hurry to make a commitment, although they seem to enjoy their swimming.
"We still haven't thought much about the future," says Eden. "The group above us is competing abroad and I hope a few from our group will make the Israeli team and go, too, and that it will be fun."
Blecher said she believes synchronized swimming has great potential in Israel.
"At the moment, close to 300 girls are registered for competition and eight groups have been training for a few years already. This year, we have had record registration and, since September, eight new groups have opened. Fifteen girls are completing an instructor's course at Givat Washington. I think there are few sports that encompass so many activities - music, dancing, swimming and team work. It develops flexibility and strength. From the point of view of accessibility, conditions here are perfect - there is a pool in almost every locale."
Emily and Eden wake up at 7 A.M. ("Daddy wakes us"), eat breakfast and go to school by bus. The school day lasts until 1 or 2 P.M., after which the girls come home for lunch. All afternoon and sometimes into the early evening, the girls are busy with classes and practice sessions: piano lessons, jazz dancing, horseback riding, and, of course, swimming. They come home at 7 P.M., do their homework, play computer games or watch television and are in bed by 9:30 P.M.
Breakfast: cereal with milk; lunch: mashed potatoes, schnitzel, hot dogs, or whatever; dinner: pasta with burgers, or scrambled eggs and a vegetable salad.