A few years after I moved to Israel, I heard about an event called “Tzlichat HaKinneret.” Kinneret is how we say, “Sea of Galilee.” A kinor is a harp. And if you look at the Sea of Galilee from above, it is in the shape of a harp. Tzlicha is a crossing, so the Tzlichat HaKinneret is the crossing of the Sea of Galilee. Every year, thousands of swimmers take part in the event. It is the largest swimming event in Israel and has taken place every year for 68 years.
I was intrigued. The Sea of Galilee has so much history. Yeshua walked on it; the disciples thought they would drown in it. Most of Yeshua’s ministry took place not far from its shores. His adopted hometown was Capernaum, which is on the northern shores of the Kinneret. You might find it interesting that Magdalene is not the last name of Mary. Her actual name was Miriam Hamagdalit. Why is that significant? Because Magdala was a fishing town on the northwest shore of the Galilee. She was known as Miriam the Magdalit—meaning Mary from Magdala.
The remains of that city were buried underground for more than a thousand years until a Catholic priest decided to build a retreat center there in 2008. Before construction, they found ruins about 18 inches below the surface. Now we have one of the most amazing archaeological sites in Israel, which includes a synagogue at which we are 100 percent sure Jesus preached.
So, yes, I wanted to swim with more than 10,000 Israelis across this most significant of lakes. There are two routes, the longer one being almost 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles). In 1942, they had the first competition of men and women swimming across the Sea of Galilee’s width. Two years later, Yitzhak Yehezkel (Isaac Ezekiel) swam the 22-kilometer length (over 13.5 miles) in just under 10 hours! But it was in 1954 that the non-competitive, just-for-fun event began. For a time, crossing the Sea of Galilee was a rite of passage—like a physical Bar/Bat Mitzvah for teens. In 1978, 10,600 swimmers participated—the all-time high.
My first time was in 2008. My friend Daniel and his father-in-law Rafi decided to do it as well. We woke up early in the morning and drove from Tel Aviv to the Sea of Galilee. You park your car and get on an open-air bus. What I didn’t expect was the muddy entrance to the Sea near Kibbutz Haon.
Before I knew it, we were swimming. I was a little nervous about the 3.8-kilometer swim. I had never done that. I was surprised to see along the way large rafts and even boats for people to rest. One thing I had not considered was water. You can’t really exercise for two hours straight without drinking water. About an hour in, I really needed to drink…so, knowing that the Sea of Galilee was our main source of drinking water (now most of Israel’s drinking water comes from the Mediterranean Sea, using desalination technology.), I gulped a few sips. It was a decision I would regret later that evening as I began to feel ill. However, I was fine by morning.
All three of us finished within minutes of each other. At the end, after you navigate the rocky exit—like scary, dangerous rocky—you get a medal and chocolate milk. It was a great experience. And never wanting to waste an event like that, we raised about $10K for our trip to Africa that would come a few months later. We took 18 Israeli young adults to Gombi, Nigeria, and did a mass evangelism event.
I did it a few more times. The last time was about three ago. I was in good swimming shape, but I had just returned from the U.S. I was dealing with jet lag and woke early on Friday morning. I drank a bunch of coffee and not much water as I made the 90-minute drive. I finished the swim and felt fine, that is until I got out of the water. Suddenly, I knew something was off.
I figured I would be fine in a few minutes, but the opposite happened. I felt worse and worse. I drove to a gas station and got something to eat and drink. And headed home. A few minutes later, I began to think something serious was happening. I remembered that just past Poria was a hospital. I pulled in and went inside, thinking I was having a stroke or heart attack. I had never felt so strange. They checked me out and gave me some fluids intravenously. And just like that, I was fine. I was just dehydrated. While it is easy to fix, if you have fluids, being clinically dehydrated is one of the worse feelings in the world.
They released me, and I headed back to Tel Aviv for lunch and a long nap. I don’t have any plans to do it again in the near future. But except for that last time, crossing the Kinneret will remain one of my most precious memories of integrating into the people of Israel.