Haim Tamir smears Vaseline on Yitzhak Yehezkel before his 2nd crossing of the Sea of Galilee in 1953

Sea of Galilee Crossings

Courtesy of Ori Yehezkel, Tel Aviv, Israel.

On October 19th 1951, 35 swimmers raced across the Sea of Galilee from Ein-Gev to Tiberias in the presence of politicians including the the Speaker of the Knesset. The 4th edition of the 9.5 km international event attracted swimmers from Sweden as well as 33 Israeli swimmers from Hapo’el.

Haim Tamir feeds Yehezkel during his Sea of Galilee crossing in 1953

While the race was won by Lars Bertil Warle of Sweden in 3 hours 9 minutes with Israeli brothers second and third (Shmuel Hadash in 3 hours 16 minutes and Avinoa’am in 3 hours 21 minutes), a 30-year-old Israeli hero Yitzhak Yehezkel finished 5th.

At that time, Yehezkel was the only person to have swum lengthwise across the Sea of Galilee – and he continued to touch the hearts and minds of all who he came in contact with, from blind swimmers who he coached to fellow swimmers who he raced against.

Yehezkel (born 1921 in Georgia, died 2010) was a multi-dimensional athlete and very influential across generations of swimmers in Israel throughout his life.

Yehezkel swimming in Petah Tikva in 1942

In the 1930’s, Yehezkel’s family escaped from Georgia (then part of the USSR) during the horrors of Stalin and crossed the border to Istanbul into Turkey. A few years later, they were deported to Beirut, Lebanon. In 1936, Yehezkel and his older brother illegally crossed the border into K’efar Giladi in the Upper Galilee in Israel. After a few days, they were smuggled by truck to Tel Aviv as they hid under a stack of hay.

They hid because they were afraid of being caught by British who ruled the country at that time.

Yehezkel’s course on his 2nd Sea of Galilee crossing from Capenaum to Degania in 1953. Bold arrows indicate disturbing water flows.

A few months later, their parents and sister joined them. To eke out a living, the young boys sold small items on the streets and later joined a youth movement, Ha’Noar Ha’Ove’d (The Working Youth), where he was taught to be a locksmith and the Hebrew language. He also joined in sports club, Hapo’el, in Tel Aviv, where he became a gymnast, runner and swimmer. With training, he became a member of Hapo’el Tel Aviv swim team specializing in breaststroke.

In 1943, he competed in the 9.5 km competition across the Sea of Galilee and returned 9 more times until 1968.

A year later on October 28th 1944, Yehezkel stunned the Jewish and Arab populations in Israel when he pioneered a 22 km swim across the length of the Sea of Galilee from Zemach in the south to Tabcha in the north in 9 hours 39 minutes 44 seconds. It was an iconic crossing that has spurred generations of swimmers in the 20th century – and many others in the 21st century.

He twice returned to repeat his unprecedented swim across the Sea of Galilee. In 1953, he swam from Capernaum to Degania in 10 hours 18 minutes 20 seconds, and in 1955 he swim from Zemach to Capernaum in 8 hours 33 minutes 25 seconds.

During his naval service in the Israeli Defense Forces, he served as a sports instructor and a face-to-face combat trainer. In the reserves, he was the head coach of the Israeli Defense Forces Navy swim team that won the Army championships for a few years. When a new Navy commander did not approve of his coaching ways, he resigned. In the 1950’s, he became the head coach of another unit – NAHAL – a team that beat the Navy team throughout his tenure as the head coach.

After his swim in 1944, Yehezkel became a gymnastic instructor and swim coach in Hapo’el Tel Aviv, posts that he concurrently held for 20 years, teaching thousands of individuals from children to the elderly.

For over 30 years, he also taught swimming to many blind people in Tel Aviv.

Between the early 1960’s and the mid-1980’s, Yehezkel became the head swim coach for Israel’s Bank Leumi. During this time, he participated in shorter Sea of Galilee popular swims 20 times and in the Eilat Bay swim, Naharia to Shave’e-Zion swim.

He also established a swim named after the prophet Jonah between Jaffa and Tel Aviv in 1965 and continued his sporting activities until the age of 85 even after he became paralyzed at the age of 73.

Yehezkel’s Teaching and Coaching Career Highlights:
* 1945-1965: gymnastics instructor for kids and youth in Hapo’el Tel Aviv
* 1945-1965: swimming and water polo coach for youth in Hapo’el Tel Aviv
* 1960-1968: swimming trainer at Em’ek Bet Sh’an, Em’ek Izra’el, Galilee, Zahala

Yehezkel’s Swimming Highlights:
* 1943-1968: competed in 10 successive 9.5 km races across the Sea of Galilee from Ei’n-Gev to Tiberias
* 1954-1993: participated in forty 4-5 km Sea of Galilee popular swims from Ha’On to Beit Yerah
* October 28th 1944: pioneered a 22 km crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Zemah to Tabcha in 9 hours 39 minutes
* August 23rd 1953: completed a 23 km Sea of Galilee crossing from Capernaum to Degania (north-south direction) in 10 hours 18 minutes
* October 9th 1955: completed a 22 km Sea of Galilee crossing from Zemach to Capernaum (south-north direction) in 8 hours 33 minutes
* 1965: established the 4 km Jonah’s swim from the port of Jaffa to the port of Tel Aviv
* 1966-1970: he participated in all the 4 km Jonah’s swims

Yehezkel’s Sporting Highlights:
* 1940-1960: competed in numerous running events
* 1985-1994: participated in numerous popular walks (Sd’e-Boker, Rehovot, Gilboa’a, Arad-Masada, etc.)

Yehezkel’s Volunteer Highlights:
* 1960-1992: served as swim instructor for blind children and adults ages 10 to 70+
* 1955-1975: managed the swim and water polo teams in Hapo’el Tel Aviv including the recruitment of players from Hungary and Romania
* 1980-1994: volunteered as a night shift ambulance driver for Magen David Adom

At this funeral, his friend Eli Porat eulogized him, “Yitzhak was a dedicated and special dear friend, a man of work and vision, a man of toil and defense, a companion for life. You devoted yourself to dedicating your time to the the swim team at Hapo’el. On October 28th 1944, you fulfilled your great dream, all of it courage, courage and pride, and you succeeded in crossing the Sea of Galilee, setting a world record. You became the pride of Hapo’el and the Jewish settlement in those days.

Yitzhak was a devoted and loyal friend, who knew to assist, give, and support those in need and friends, that was your life designation, always helping.


Avishag Turek completed the first 41 km two-way crossing (north-to-south-to-north) of the Sea of Galilee on October 30th 2019 in 14 hours 54 minutes

The Sea of Galilee or Kinneret in Hebrew, is the world’s lowest freshwater lake on Earth 200 meters below sea level. It is surrounded by the Golan Heights and the Galilee Mountains – and located in the Jordan Rift Valley, that was caused by the separation of the African and Arabian plates. It is also the place where many of Jesus’ miracles occurred, including his walking on water.

While open water swim events have been taking place in the Sea of Galilee since the early 1940’s, lieutenant colonel General Giora Shenan was the first to swim widthwise across the Sea of Galilee in 1929.

As a result of the growth of marathon swimming in Israel and Yehezkel’s pioneering swims, Guy Cohen and Eyal Schachner will launch the new Galilee Sea Marathon Swimming Association in January 2020 to organize, pilot and ratify Sea of Galilee crossings including widthwise crossings, lengthwise crossings, and multiple crossings (including Avishag Turek‘s pioneering two-way crossing on October 30th 2019).

Cohen says of Yehezkel, one of the forebearers of the Galilee Sea Marathon Swimming Association, “Yitzhak was a man of values, a person who gives first priority to giving to others: as a junior instructor in swimming and water polo, in volunteering to teach swimming for the blind, in volunteering at Magen-David-Adom. He was always putting others before himself. There are not many like him. He deserves to be recognized for his work, his way, and his pioneering swimming achievements. I believe his character will serve to inspire many generations who did not know him closely.”

Cohen and Schachner compiled the following historical data of swimmers who have completed a lengthwise crossing of the Sea of Galilee for the Galilee Sea Marathon Swimming Association:

1. On 28 October 1944 by Yitzhak Yehezkel (Israel) from south to north in 9:39:44 at the age of 23
2. On 23 August 1953 by Yitzhak Yehezkel (Israel) from north to south in 10:18:20 at the age of 32
3. On 22 September 1953 by Yehuda Shevek (Israel) from south to north in 8:18:30 at the age of 22
4. On 29 October 1953 by Oded Paz (Israel) from north to south in 7:23:00 at the age of 21
5. On 23 October 1954 by Malka Tenenbaum (Israel) from north to south in 9:20:40 at the age of 19
6. On 23 October 1954 by Edna Borenstein (Israel) from north to south in 9:40:00 at the age of 17
7. On 9 October 1955 by Yitzhak Yehezkel (Israel) from south to north in 8:33:25 at the age of 34
8. On 23 October 1964 by Mary Margaret Revell (USA) from north to south in 9:39:10 at the age of 27
9. On 7 July 2006 by Tal Snunit (Israel) from north to south in 7:15:00 at the age of 44
10. On 7 July 2006 by Adi Parag (Israel) from north to south in 7:15:00 at the age of 49
11. On 7 July 2006 by Ram Barkai (South Africa) from north to south in 7:15:00 at the age of 48
12. On 2 September 2009 by Bill Welzein (USA) 10:25:00 at the age of 50
13. On 21 December 2013 by Hadar Aviram (USA) from north to south in 9:30:00 at the age of 38
14. On 16 May 2014 by Yaron Davidi (Israel) from north to south in 8:30:00 at the age of 53
15. On 16 May 2014 by Elad Benyamin (Israel) from north to south in 8:30:00 at the age of 40
16. On 4 September 2014 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from north to south in 8:02:00 at the age of 39
17. On 4 September 2014 by Theodore Yach (South Africa) from north to south in 8:02:00 at the age of 56
18. On 26 May 2015 by Yigal Sela (Israel) from north to south in 10:15:00 at the age of 63
19. On 9 December 2016 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 7:50:00 at the age of 41
20. On 9 December 2016 by Stuart Hacker (UK) from south to north in 7:55:00 at the age of 39
21. On 9 December 2016 by Yaron Davidi (Israel) from south to north in 8:23:00 at the age of 55
22. On 9 December 2016 by Idit Ron (Israel) from south to north in 9:17:00 at the age of 57
23. On 9 December 2016 by Gad Benjamin (Israel) from south to north in 9:31:00 at the age of 70
24. On 24 February 2017 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 6:50:00 at the age of 42
25. On 29 June 2017 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 6:15:00 at the age of 42
26. On 29 June 2017 by Guy Cohen (Israel) from south to north in 6:15:00 at the age of 52
27. On 20 April 2018 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 7:02:00 at the age of 43
28. On 20 April 2018 by Guy Cohen (Israel) from south to north in 7:02:00 at the age of 53
29. On 20 April 2018 by Stuart Hacker (UK) from south to north in 7:07:00 at the age of 41
30. On 20 April 2018 by Mickey Helps (UK) from south to north in 7:07:00 at the age of 52
31. On 30 April 2018 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 6:46:00 at the age of 43
32. On 18 June 2018 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 6:47:00 at the age of 43
33. On 18 June 2018 by Fabrice Beer-Gabel (Israel) from south to north in 6:47:00 at the age of 49
34. On 22 March 2019 by Guy Cohen (Israel) from south to north in 6:40:00 at the age of 54
35. On 22 March 2019 by Eyal Schachner (Israel) from south to north in 6:40:00 at the age of 48
36. On 29 March 2019 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from south to north in 5:50:00 at the age of 44
37. On 30 October 2019 by Avishag Turek (Israel) from north-south-north in 14:54:00 at the age of 44 (two-way)
* On 30 October 2019 by Avishag Turek from north to south in 7:31:00 (1st leg)
* On 30 October 2019 by Avishag Turek from south to north in 7:23:00 (2nd leg)
38. On 15 November 2019 by Joe Zemaitis (USA) from south-north-south in 14:52:00 at the age of 39 (two-way)
* On 15 November 2019 by Joe Zemaitis from south to north in 7:09:00 (1st leg)
* On 15 November 2019 by Joe Zemaitis from north to south in 7:43:00 (2nd leg)
39. On 15 November 2019 by John Zemaitis (USA) from south-north-south in 14:52:00 at the age of 36 (two-way)
* On 15 November 2019 by John Zemaitis from south to north in 7:09:00 (1st leg)
* On 15 November 2019 by John Zemaitis from north to south in 7:43:00 (2nd leg)

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