History of Open Water Swimming in Israel and in the Sea of Galilee

Sea Of Galilee, Length crossing 20.5 km / 12.7 miles

.Yitzhak YehezkelThe route: Capernaum / Amnon beach in the north side to Zemach / Degania beach in the south, vice versa

Yitzhak Yehezkel, Was the first to swim across the Sea of Galilee from Zemach (south) to Tabaha (north) on October 28, 1944. He did so in a time of 9:39 hours and this is what was written in the daily newspaper Davar, on 04.06.1948 in an article dedicated to the swimmer Yitzhak Yehezkel about his successful attempt to cross the Sea of Galilee for the first time in history:
“The military campaign in the Jordan Valley (*), which is endowed with courage and self-sacrifice, has not yet ended. Sea of Galilee is one of the centers of interest in these days. The Jordan and the Sea of Galilee are engraved in the hearts of the people, and not because of their ancient splendor. Many chapters of the glamor in the history of the nation's revival in the homeland were written to their shores.”

*[In 1948 the young state of Israel is still fighting the "War of Independence" with its neighbors]

While the name Kinneret rejoiced in the heart of the youth in particular, in the Hebrew sport, the small and mischievous sea took its place with the success of the [width] Crossings of Sea of Galilee – the national enterprise of "Hapoel". (*)

*[Hapoel Is a sports association that was established in the 1920's as a union of the General Federation of Labor in Israel, and its goal is to nurture the body, health and sport culture among the workers]

It is not a sports enterprise for its own sake, but a test of the ability of the Hebrew swimmer in open waters. Swimming far away and prolonged width crossings of the Sea of Galilee symbolized the immigration of many of us to the coast of the homeland from the heart of the sea (*), and our assistance to them.
*[Jews, refugees of the Holocaust in Europe were not allowed to immigrate to Palestine by the British Mandate government that ruled the country in those years. In the absence of a solution Jewish rescue organizations were working to raise the refugees to Israel by illegal immigration from ships that brought them near the beach in the dark of night. From the ships they were brought on shore by boats and by swimming to the land and then assimilated within the local community]

Here we present the experience of a single and first successor, a member of Hapoel Tel-Aviv, who crossed the full length of the Sea of Galilee.


The first female success across the Sea of Galilee was held on October 23, 1954. Two women set off on a north-south route. The first to finish was Malka Tennenbaum in a time of 9:20 hours. Twenty minutes later, swimmer Edna Bornstein also arrived.

"It was not just a personal victory – the victory of two great female swimmers. It was a challenge that glorified Israeli sports in general, added a new and shining leaf to the laurel crown of Israeli athletes." (From the article in the “Ha’olam-Ha’ze” newspaper, October 1954 – "The Israeli Lamansch is Conquered").

Tenenbaum is also the female winner of the competitive width crossing of the Sea-of-Galilee (8.5 km) in October 1953, in a time of 3 Hours 16 minutes.

Malka Tenenbaum portrait
Malka Tenenbaum


Edna Bornstein was also the first swimmer to swim the 32 km distance along the Mediterranean shoreline between Bat-Galim, Haifa to Rosh-Hanikra, in July 1956, in a time of 12 hours 50 minutes. The feat was done together with Oded Paz, from Haifa.
In 22nd August, 1957, Bornstein participated in the Butlin International Cross Channel Swimming Race of the English Channel. Even though she did not complete the crossing, she was still awarded 3rd place, based on her position in the water at the time the swim was called off.

Edna Bornstein
Edna Bornstein

The American swimmer Mary Margaret Revell was the first swimmer from abroad to cross the Sea of Galilee. She did so on October 22, 1964 in a time of 9:39 hours.

מארי מרגרט ריבל 1964



Competitive width crossing of the Sea-of-Galilee, 8.5 km / 5.3 miles

The route: Ein-Gev to Tiberias

Width crossings of the Sea of ​​Galilee by individuals took place in the 1930s and early 1940s.

The first documented swim was held In November 1942: Swimmer Aliza Wirtz, from Jerusalem swam across the lake. She did so in a privately organized swim and was accompanied by her mother, a sports doctor Dr. Bella Wirtz. Aliza Wirtz made her way in 4 hours and 10 minutes.

Her success triggered the “Hapoel” sports association to start the official competitive width race in the years to come.

In July 1943, the first competitive swim took place, organized by Hapoel at the initiative of Shmaryahu Nabel. The Ein Gev route to Tiberias, which is about 8.5 kilometers long, was completed by 23 out of 25 swimmers, the first of whom was Shmuel Hadash, who finished in a time of 3:13:45 hours. The first female swimmer was Aliza Wirtz in a time of 3:31:50 hours.

Over the years, there have been numerous width competitions, which were won mainly by the best long-distance competitive swimmers in Israel, and sometimes also guests from abroad. These competitions ceased at the end of the twentieth century and no longer take place in an orderly manner.