Running marathons in Israel is unlike anywhere else – here’s why

Running through the streets of Israel is a blend of the past and present of the Jewish people, and a window into the promise of our future.

Over the course of eight days, I had the privilege (and pain) of running two half marathons, one in Jerusalem and the other through the hills of the Binyamin district in Shomron.
The races were collectively 42.2 kilometers long and began about 45 kilometers apart. The Jerusalem race was in the city streets and ancient stones, and the Bible race was a jungle fight against the mud, rocks, and gravel of the West Bank fields.

But both experiences were races through personal and collective time.

A highlight of the Jerusalem Marathon is when we enter the Old City, with the smell of baked sesame bagels, cigarettes, and wet stone beside us. The Armenian and Jewish residents of the neighborhoods smile toothlessly. A homeless woman shakes her cup and the ancient cream-colored stones slide under our feet.

BIBLE MARATHON: ‘My 18-year-old son was’ pushy’ (credit: Courtesy)

The sun has always been up by then and shining between the old buildings and other structures that make their way through the walls of the Old City.

Modern gadgets and souvenirs, bookcases and freezers with popsicles and soft drinks stand next to historic fabrics and paintings, hijab-clad women and black-robed Armenian priests with large copper crosses around their necks.

For me, the Old City is also the memory of my engagement to my husband in the Kotel tunnels at the place that he told me was the closest you could get to the Temple Mount, and of bringing my daughter (who now She is five years old) on her first visit to the Western Wall when she was only a few days old – our first outing.

It is also the tour that I took with four of my children shortly after we moved back to Israel, through all the neighborhoods of the city, with Abraham Hostel, where I taught them that the country is diverse, complicated, intense and wonderful. , and that now this ancient chaos belonged to them.

The race takes you through the Knesset, where our MPs fight like in the days of the Sanhedrin, and much worse. And to the President’s Residence, where I have so many memories of the Jewish and Christian media summits and visits to hear the former president speak or receive the Israel Democracy Index or build bridges between the Jews of Israel and the Diaspora.

It is minutes from that residency, at the Israel Democracy Institute, where I worked my first job returning to Israel after a hiatus in the United States for almost 10 years, where I struggled daily to remember my Hebrew and struggled to relearn. the performance. of our parliamentary and legal systems. It’s also around the corner from David Marcus Street, the steep hill that I would climb one, two, and eventually 10 times in a row while training for my first Jerusalem 10K, which I completed six years ago with my son.

This year the race took us down Daniel Yanovski Street via Hebron Road, where the blue and white Arab buses pass, the ones I took so often to Bethlehem in my first year in Israel for a project I never got to write about. when the “Knife Intifada” broke out and I was too scared.

At the top of Yanovski, my children and my husband were waiting for me, cheering loudly: my five-year-old daughter, Liori, on her father’s shoulders. Ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined being back in the Holy Land, let alone the smiling faces of all my older children and cheering me on as I ran through the streets of the city we call home.

Yanovski is less than a kilometer from my house, the house we bought with a view of the Dead Sea and the dream of living and loving in Jerusalem and finally giving it to our offspring: a heirloom piece painted in modern shades of turquoise and yellow and pink.

NEXT WEEK, it is true that I was not very interested in running a second half marathon after a challenging week at work that left me emotionally and physically drained.

But my 18-year-old son insisted that we had committed to running in the Bible Marathon, so we left Jerusalem at 5 in the morning and headed to Shomron.

The hills of our biblical heart are impressive at that time, with the sun rising at 6 am over the fields.

The Marathon of the Bible is directly taken from the Torah and takes place where “a man of Benjamin”, as described in 1 Samuel 4:12, ran the first marathon in the world, according to Jewish tradition.

The story is this: shortly after the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they fought a battle against the Philistines and were defeated. Some 30,000 Jewish soldiers were killed, including the two sons of the high priest Eli. The Ark of the Covenant was taken.

A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield to Shiloh to spread the terrible defeat. This man, who according to Jewish tradition was the young King Saul, ran 42 kilometers, which is also the official length of the Olympic marathon, decided in 1908 at the London Olympic Games.

Although the ark was stolen, Shiloh maintained its status as the capital of the Jewish people for 369 years, beginning after the conquest of Canaan until King David established Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish nation. Shiloh is mentioned 34 times in the Bible.

But it must be recognized that this year’s Biblical Marathon was not the one he had run before. The whole tour was over mud, rocks and gravel hills, unpaved, rough and exhausting. By the time we started running at 7am, the sun was hot. And while the views were spectacular, it was difficult to look up as I looked at my feet to make sure I didn’t trip and fall off the difficult trail.

I spent the first 10km softly cursing my son, who seemed to think it was a good idea for a woman in her 40s to run two half marathons in a week, with several trips to Tel Aviv and a lot of stress. .

I spent the 10-18 kilometers celebrating that I was going to make it, and that by going out into the race, I had once again shown myself that I was strong, physically and mentally, and that success is built on hard work and determination. and a bit of madness.

But at the end of the race, I cursed my son again.

However, when it was all over, he was sore but happy.

We had run through the vineyards where I invest in a boutique winery and do my part to plant the land that God gave us. I remembered my many trips to nameless hills labeled only with numbers where artisans lived and were willing to share their crafts with me over a cup of tea for the articles I wrote for them.

THE WINNER of the Jerusalem Half Marathon was a Haredi mother of five children. The winner of the Jerusalem Marathon was an Ethiopian immigrant. And the winner of the Bible Marathon was an immigrant from Sudan.

The Jewish homeland is a melting pot and a mosaic, a union of the Jewish people from all over the world.

Living in Israel in 2021 is sometimes more exhausting than the winding dirt roads of Shiloh, but it is a privilege.

These races were on October 29 and November 5 because they had been postponed due to COVID-19.

On the one hand, the races felt out of place, behind schedule, intended to run earlier, in the past.

On the other hand, they were like a starting line: a beginning of our post-pandemic future that is now, the next chapter of our collective and personal lives.

The writer is chief strategy officer and senior health analyst at The Jerusalem Post.

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