By Elizabeth Del Cid, 17, North Hollywood HS
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Want to meet an eclectic character? Someone who enjoys surfing and won’t say, "Don’t wander too deep?" Then let me introduce you to a sportsman and rabbi, Nachum Shifren.

When high tide hits Santa Monica beach he’ll be there and be happy to meet new as well as old surfers. He is a teacher, mentor and friend—and the only rabbi surfer in the world, believe it or not!

Shifren is also a Spanish teacher and swim coach at my school. I know him to be a humble person who takes the plunge into adolescent lives—he really gets involved and tries to help young people. He gives teens a lot of encouragement by sharing his own experiences and giving advice.

Shifren had to overcome several hurdles during his upbringing, all those that teens experience today. He was overweight and decided to start surfing at age 13 in the San Fernando Valley, where he grew up during the sixties.

"It was the cool thing to do," he said. "Early on I became impressed with the ocean. There is nothing like it in the world."

When he started out, Shifren, then known as Norman, was what surfers call a "kook," someone who tries to surf but can’t. He paddled through the obstacles and learned how to surf well enough to gain the recognition of legendary sixties surfer "Mr. Malibu," Mickey Dora. Dora became one of his role models.

After graduating from UC Santa Barbara and the University of Goettingen in Germany, he married and became the father of four children. Shifren decided to teach at North Hollywood High School to make a difference in adolescent lives.

He also founded the Eddie Aikau Waterman Memorial Paddleboard Race and was a volunteer during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Not only did he serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, but has earned a degree in Combat Fitness Training.
Shifren has ridden the waves of Mexico, Hawaii, Germany, Israel and Southern California; and with each new experience he developed new skills and appreciations.

"He is always willing to learn from us. He knows that he doesn’t know everything and he can learn new things from others," said Chrissy Humphreys, one of his swim team students. "He has encouraged me to stick with it and to strive."

Curtis Roll, a senior on the swim team, said, "[Shifren] is an open-minded person. He’s not so set in his ways that he won’t take suggestions on ways to better himself."

This June, Shifren will be publishing his autobiography, Surf & Soul, in which he recollects the childhood events that shaped his spiritual journey. He was not raised a Jew but decided to convert at age 35. Surfing has been his calling for over 35 years, and he has been a rabbi for 12 years.

Shifren is even the founder of the only Surfing Synagogue in the world, located in Venice. The congregation is made up of Jewish surfers who come to hear him relate surfing and the ocean with the Torah.

"Being religious is cool," said the man of wisdom, Shifren.

Today, his goal is to reiterate to students the importance of doing what makes one happy (surfing, in his case) and always being one’s best self.

"It is important to overcome ourselves and our limitations. For instance, I was determined to surf well to overcome myself," Shifren said exuberantly.

"I’m an actor on my own stage," said Shifren when asked whether or not he has become a mini-celebrity from his book and pending movie deal.

He inspires many to go out and ride a few waves for themselves, to always think BIG and to always make their way into the deep end.

"I want kids to meet standards," he said, "and to do extra to go beyond themselves."