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(photo credit: ourteey, Hash Flash - Holyland Hash House Harriers)
Somewhere in the central region every Saturday afternoon, a motley crew of men and women, children and dogs set off after a freshly-laid trail of flour blobs. Called the Hash House Harriers, they are part of a group playing the world's longest-running game of Hares & Hounds (a British school game also known as Paper Chase). The local branch, the Holyland Hash House Harriers, has been carrying on this tradition for 14 years. And "carrying on" is an understatement.
Perhaps you were one of the lucky folk who caught a glimpse of the Holyland Hashers running through Tel Aviv last month clad in red dresses and calling out "On-on!," the clarion cry emitted upon seeing a trail mark. Or you might have seen them running through Old Jaffa carrying ironing boards and irons, on the Extreme Ironing Hash. Or coming over the dunes on the Herzliya beach, stopping to sing a song before dashing off madly in all directions, with the ultimate goal of bringing a cold beer back to the starting point.
According to its Wikipedia entry, "the Hash House Harriers (abbreviated to HHH or H3) is an international group of social, non-competitive running and drinking clubsâ€¦ Hashing began in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1938, when a casual group of British colonial officials and expatriatesâ€¦ would meet after work on Monday evenings to run, following a paper trail through the environs of Kuala Lumpur to get rid of the excesses of the previous weekend."
Hashing continued in fits and starts after the Second World War, but really took off in 1962 when the second "kennel" was founded in Singapore. "From then on, the phenomenon started to grow, spreading through the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Europe and North America," the Wikipedia version of hashing history continues. "Hashing experienced a large growth in popularity during the mid-1970s. By the end of the 20th century, there were thousands of Hash House Harrier clubs in all parts of the world, with newsletters, directories and even regional and world hashing conventions. This boom is owed largely to the power of the Internet to provide timely and accurate information on kennels and their events and points of contact." There are even Hashers in Antarctica.
The Holyland HHH is what's known as a "Family Hash." The social element of hashing is equally as important as the running, points out Avi Pronkhurst, a long-time oleh from Kfar Sava - or "Dr. Do-little," as he prefers to be known on Saturdays. Do-little, the most veteran member of the Israeli group, says, "We are here to enjoy ourselves. This isn't a workout. We run, but we also have walkers. We do drink beer at the end, which is part of the tradition, but we don't serve alcohol to children. And we do have soft drinks if someone only wants a little bit of beer for the ceremony."
By ceremony, Do-little says he's referring to something called "Down-downs," held with bawdy good humor at the end of each run. "The first rule of hashing is that there are no rules," Do-little proclaims. "But there are traditions, and people have to be rewarded or punished for keeping them or breaking them."
The list of infractions is endless, he says with a twinkle, but punishments and rewards are remarkably similar, all tending to come in liquid form. This is also an equal-opportunity hash, says Do-little. "We have men. We have women. We have kids. Everyone participates."
Anyone who sticks with hashing, he reveals, eventually gets named in a secret ceremony - with hash names generally having something to do with one's occupation, country or city of origin, personal preferences, or - most popular of all - most embarrassing moment.
The Holyland HHH's members generally come from the English-speaking communities of diplomats, expatriates and immigrants, but there is a sprinkling of native-born Israelis as well. "You have to understand the mentality," says Judith Golding, a sabra hasher who goes by the name of "Goldmember." "I lived in London for almost 20 years and my husband is British, so I'm used to this craziness."
For some, the group is a point of continuity as they relocate from posting to posting, and visiting hashers often contact the group through their website to find out where the next run will be.
"Hashing is a great way to see a country, especially parts you wouldn't ordinarily visit," says Do-little. "It puts you in touch with people so you have an automatic social group. I get contacted regularly by people coming to Israel."
There's an episode of Friends where Rachel admits she avoids jogging with Phoebe, because she finds her running style embarrassing. Phoebe responds by saying, "Me, I'm more free, you know? I run like I did when I was a kid, because that's the only way it's fun."
The thought is reiterated by "Boston Creamed," a Tel Aviv resident who has been hashing for two years, and who credits the group with helping her to achieve a lifetime goal. "I always had this idea that I could be good at running. But I was already over 40 and I'd never done it. I was able to run for about 10 minutes at a stretch, but that was it and I felt really stupid and clumsy. And then a friend of mine called me and said, 'I saw this group of people running on the beach and you would really like them.' 'But I can't run,' I replied. 'You can with these people - they were all wearing red dresses - the men too.'"
The statement that convinced her to call? "C'mon, you like Monty Python. You'll like this."
"So I went to my first run and was totally taken with the goofiness of it all, but also with the challenge. My running was worse than pathetic for the first month or so. And then I started to get better. I'll never be fast or great, but I'm running! And I'm having fun."
The Holyland Hash House Harriers meets at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoons in or around Tel Aviv. Runners and walkers of all ages are welcome. For more information contact Avi "Dr. Dolittle" Pronkhorst, Tel: 09-7671029, Mobile: 054-4453106, e-mail: email@example.com, or visit: http://www.holylandhhh.blogspot.com