More than a dozen fearless souls plunged into the chilly Brighton Beach waters on Sunday to participate in a bracing New Year’s Day tradition — and honor the larger than life showman who made a wintertime dip in the Atlantic Ocean seem easy.
Members of the Ice Breakers Winter Ocean Swimmers say they dove into the water on Jan. 1 just as Rabbi Abraham Abraham — the mustachioed, muscle-bound, 77-year-old Coney Island legend who founded the group — would have. Abraham, who regularly braved the ocean’s off-season temperatures, died of bone cancer last May.
“Even though he’s not here with us physically he’s here with us spiritually,” said Paul Sternblitz, who joined in an informal seaside service for Abraham, before dunking into the 45-degree waves to do a few laps.
The Coney Island celebrity, whose real name was Abraham Navitsky, wasn’t a practicing rabbi with a congregation, though he often said that the beach was his synagogue.
But Abraham was more famous for his whacky feats — like living inside of an ice block igloo he built near the Boardwalk for 110 hours. His flowing white beard and outgoing personality also made him stand out in a crowd, friends said.
Abraham started the Ice Breakers in the early 1990s after he was pushed out of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club — a much larger winter swimming organization dedicated to raising money for charity. Abraham’s fans say that Polar Bears booted Abraham from their club because they felt the diminutive showman with bulging biceps had become a distracting presence.
Abraham’s name wasn’t mentioned several blocks west, where the Coney Island Polar Bears held its annual New Year’s swim. The club brought 3,000 swimmers to beach, the most in the organization’s 109-year history, but many said the weather played an important role in this milestone — temperatures were hovering in the low 40s all day.
Greenpoint resident and Coney Island Polar Bear Club member Ted Newmann said the balmy wintertime temperatures made the swim much more pleasurable.
“The water was fresh and clear,” he said. “It was beautiful.”
The Coney Island Polar Bears raised approximately $50,000 for Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses, on New Year’s Day, club president Dennis Thomas explained.