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Herzlia sportsmen respond to emergency call in Knysna

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Three Herzlia High School water polo players dived into the pitch-black water of the water polo pool in Knysna harbour in the Western Cape recently to retrieve former journalist Debbie Meyer’s phone.

“We did it out of kindness and menschlichkeit to help Debbie out,” one of the students, Matt Whitesman, says.

Whitesman, Judd Jocum, and Ben Levin, already in their post-match clothes, were all nearby Meyer when her phone, which she had bought a few months ago, fell into the pool.

To make the matter worse, Meyer’s driver’s license and two credit cards were inside the phone’s cover.

Plettenberg Bay-based Meyer, who worked for 702,, and eNCA, went with her Cape Town-based brother to the pool to watch her niece, Herzlia Grade 10 student Megan Hurwitz, play for the school’s girls water polo team.

A makeshift water polo pool demarcated by tether-like sidelines was created in the harbour.

“There wasn’t a stand at that particular pool, so I was sitting with my legs over the ledge, and the phone was on my lap,” Meyer recalls. “I shouted, ‘Go Megan!’ and the phone fell into the pool. I said, ‘Oh no! What am I going to do now?’”

Levin, who empathised with Meyer as he had lost his phone in the ocean a few weeks ago, says it was quite frightening searching for the phone in the darkness. “I had to swim down there with my eyes closed and unaware of my surroundings.”

“I know how much of an inconvenience not having a phone is, not to mention the cost. Therefore, I felt it was worth trying to help her,” says Jocum.

“Debbie was shocked and upset, so I thought I had to help her and make her feel better,” says Whitesman.

Meyer, who says she didn’t know these boys “from a bar of soap”, thought it was amazing that they were willing to go back to the change rooms to put their Speedos back on and perform this mitzvah for a “damsel in distress”.

“Considering we had already played a number of water polo games in the harbour pool, it wasn’t unfamiliar,” Jocum says. “However, diving for the phone was challenging as visibility was limited due to the depth of the water. Even with goggles on it was near impossible to see.

“For the first few minutes, they couldn’t find anything,” Meyer says. “They jumped in and looked and looked. They couldn’t find it anywhere. Just underneath my feet there was a kind of a metal thing that was holding up a walkway. They thought it may have gone in there, but they weren’t able to get into that walkway.

“I said, ‘Oh no, it’s gone forever!’ and I was already working out how I was going to get my credit cards back, how I was going to cancel them, and what I needed to do to get my driver’s license working. All that was in my head.”

Then, one of the boys got his goggles from his bag and threw them down to Levin, Meyer recalls. “A few minutes later, Ben came up holding the phone. Everybody who was watching the match cheered. I was so relieved.”

“The phone fell into the harbour water under the wooden sidewalk. It was a few metres deep in the water,” Ben says.

Meyer never imagined that the phone would be useable. It had been in the water for 30 minutes, but she was a bit hopeful after her brother told her it was waterproof. “The phone is still working perfectly,” she says with delight. “The credit cards are also working.”

Having already worked out how she was going to get money to buy a new phone, and thinking that the boys had saved her so much, Meyer took out her wallet and offered them money. “I said, ‘Here boys, thank you so much, go get yourself something.’ Whitesman said, ‘No, mam. We’re not taking a reward.’ The other two boys also refused.”

“What we did doesn’t deserve a cash reward,” Whitesman says. “I would never expect a reward for doing something that makes people feel better.”

Says Jocum, “We didn’t feel it necessary to be rewarded merely for helping someone out. It was never our intention to get something for helping, and therefore it would have been inappropriate to take a gift.”

Later, Meyer decided to give a donation in each of their names to kibbutzim in Israel that have to be rebuilt and whose kibbutznik are suffering psychological trauma following the Hamas attack last year. “They lost so much when the kibbutzim were destroyed. I also phoned the boys’ mums to tell them what wonderful sons they’ve raised.

“I’m so grateful that the money that was offered has now been donated to damaged kibbutzim in Israel in our names,” Whitesman says.

In terms of water polo, “The boys are unbelievable,” Meyer says. “They were unbeaten. They won seven matches, and tied the last one. The girls started off slow. They didn’t practice at the end of last year, but by the end of the tournament, they were playing so much better. I’m sure by next year, they’ll be cooking.

“Herzlia Principal Shane Brorson was there supporting them throughout the tournament,” Meyer says. “He himself was a water polo player, so it was amazing having him there.”

Brorson, who attended the Oakhill Chukka water polo festival in Knysna, says, “I was proud of our students for the way they conducted themselves, but not entirely surprised as, at Herzlia, the Jewish values of menschlichkeit run through everything we do.”

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  1. Simone Friedland

    February 16, 2024 at 8:57 am

    Well done boys.
    I am so proud of you all especially as I taught you allin pre primary at Alon Ashel
    Keep up the good work and your Jewish Values
    Kol Hakavod.

  2. Georgina

    February 16, 2024 at 8:59 am

    Wonderful! How kind of the boys to help. Lucky Debbie!

  3. Diana carwy

    February 16, 2024 at 6:42 pm

    Wow, that is such a lovely story. You are a wonderful lady Debbie to donate money for the Kibbutzim. That is just the saddest thing for me this whole Israel thing. I have sleepless nights thinking of those poor hostages.

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