Jews and Arabs driven apart in ‘The Swimming Race’ – Israel in Translation


Benjamin Tammuz’s sculpture ‘Memorial for the Pilots’ rises above Independence Park, north of the Hilton Beach Hotel on Tel Aviv’s promenade. It’s a tall, stylized bird dedicated to the pilots of the 1948 war.

Tammuz wasn’t just a sculptor, though; he was also a painter, novelist, journalist, critic, and editor. Born in Russia in 1919, he immigrated with his parents to Mandate Palestine at the age of five. He joined the Haaretz editorial board in 1948, and from 1971 to 1975 served as cultural attaché at the Israeli embassy in London. He died in Tel Aviv in 1989.

Tammuz’s short story ‘The Swimming Race’ appears in the anthology 50 Stories from Israel, edited by Zisi Stavi. It begins as the narrator, the young Jewish child of a widowed doctor, is summoned with his mother to the summer home and orange groves of a grateful Arab patient, who is called “the grandmother.” The narrator loses a swimming match to the 19-year-old Abdul-Karim, a member of “the grandmother’s” family, and proclaims that when he grows up he will win. The swimming race becomes a kind of metaphor for relations between the land’s Jews and Arabs, which painfully disintegrate before our eyes. The tale finishes in 1948, in the same orange grove in which it began.

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50 Stories from Israel. An Anthology. Edited by Zisi Stavi. Yedioth Ahronoth and Chemed Books (2007 & 2010).

Further reading:

A Castle in Spain (1973), translation of Be-Sof Ma’arav (1966).

A Rare Cure (stories, 1981), translation of Angioxyl, Terufah Nedirah (1973).

Minotaur (1981), translation of the Hebrew-language novel of the same title (1980).

Requiem for Na’aman (1982), translation of Requiem Le-Na’aman (1978).

The Orchard (novella, 1984), translation of Ha-Pardes (1972).



Chana Ahroni – Land of the Pomegranate

Chana Ahroni – Cacha Merakdim Beisrael

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