In an overlooked and underdeveloped Israeli town, The Tower’s photographer discovered a surprising pastime in an unlikely location.
The Israeli towns of Lod and Ramle have long been among Israel’s poorest and most troubled communities. Mixed cities populated by both Jews and Arabs, they have made great strides at coexistence, but have been plagued by failure at almost everything else; suffering from government neglect, lack of private investment, and high rates of crime and drug use.
Recent years have seen some improvement in this situation, and residents have found their own ways of transcending their communities’ troubles. The Tower Magazine photographer Aviram Valdman traveled to the Arab neighborhood of Juarish in Ramle to document one of the most fascinating of these efforts. Once one of Israel’s toughest neighborhoods, beset by poverty, crime, and drugs, Juarish’s residents have developed a love for a sport almost unheard of elsewhere in Israel: Horse racing.
The races are organized by the owner of a local horse farm, who regularly attends them with his family members, as well as several Bedouin horse owners from southern Israel. There also several Jews among the owners, a notable example of coexistence in the mixed city. As in all horse racing events, the jockeys—who range in age from their 20s to their 40s—are chosen for their diminutive size. They are all Bedouins, who have a long tradition of riding horses and camels, stemming from their origins as nomads from the Arabian Peninsula.
The audience is often notably enthusiastic, with Valdman witnessing one of them popping an energetic wheelie on his scooter. The number of attendees can range anywhere from a dozen to hundreds, particularly when the races transfer to Jericho for a championship run. While there have been rumors that gambling takes place, the Tower could not possibly comment.
Valdman documented both a training session and a formal race. Complete with riders in full jockey gear and horses adorned with colorful bridals and reigns, the people of Juarish race in front of the industrial skyline of Ramle, in a hopeful sign of the continuing vitality of their community despite its difficult struggle to transcend its past.
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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower