Long-distance running is a punishing sport. There’s no team to cheer you on, no
coach pushing you to do better, no uniforms to give you a sense of solidarity.
As a way to combat this isolation, many longdistance runners use their races as
an opportunity to raise money for charities and causes they support, giving them
extra motivation to push through the point where they want to give
This concept of using sports as a fundraising tool is only starting
to catch on in Israel. As 10,000 runners descend on Jerusalem on March 25 for
the first annual International Jerusalem Marathon, a small percentage of them
will be running for a cause. But the number is expected to grow
Here are the stories of six runners and the reasons
READY, SET, FUND-RAISE
International marathons are deeply intertwined with charities and fund-raising.
Most prestigious international marathons are open only to runners who have
previously run a certain time in another marathon or to recreational runners who
join a “charity team” and commit to raising thousands of dollars for their
chosen charity. The London Marathon, whose official charity this year is Oxfam,
has used this model to raise £500 million for charity since 1981.
kind of international fund-raising is most easily accomplished through personal
fund-raising websites, which can instantly be shared with friends and family
around the world. But until recently, Israel has lacked this kind of
technological platform. IsraelGives (YisraelToremet in Hebrew), a company that
acts as a portal for Americans and Israelis to donate to 700 Israeli nonprofit
organizations, is starting to launch personal fund-raising options based on this
In the months before the Jerusalem Marathon, “we were approached
by a number of organizations and people who are very inspired that Jerusalem is
the holy capital city and wanted to do something as a result,” says IsraelGives
founder Yonatan Ben-Dor, an immigrant from Montreal.
Israelis approached us first, even though they don’t come from a culture of
sporting events being a fundraiser,” he says.
IsraelGives set up a
personal website for each runner who approached them, which included a photo,
short explanation of why they’re running, and an opportunity to make a
tax-deductible donation of any amount via credit card.
a commission of 2.5 percent, in addition to the same amount as a credit card
fee; the remaining 95% goes to the chosen charity.
“We’ve had hundreds of
donations coming in for these few [marathon] fund-raisers,” in the past few
weeks, Ben- Dor says. “It was a tremendous surprise for me because I didn’t
realize how quickly Israelis would respond.”
IsraelGives, which was
launched in July 2009, has set up individual fund-raising pages for people
celebrating lifecycle events such as bar mitzvas or weddings. Based on the
recent success of the Jerusalem Marathon, IsraelGives will be unveiling a more
accessible platform for individual fund-raisers in May during a bicycle ride
called “Wheels of Hope” with the Etgarim charity, which creates opportunities
for people with disabilities to take part in outdoor adventures and
“It’s a shame that sporting events and NGOs don’t try to use this
opportunity which is so common abroad,” says Ben-Dor. “It’s slowly starting, but
there’s no reason it can’t flourish so vibrantly here in Israel the way it does
Ben-Dor notes that part of the hesitation is
“Israeli charities don’t try to form partnerships with
supporters the same way other countries do,” he says.
fund-raising platform is powerful because it uses supporters not just as
financial donors, but it turns them into fund-raisers themselves or, as Ben-Dor
calls them, financial ambassadors. “Peer-to-peer fund-raising is definitely the
next level of online fund-raising,” he says.
Ben-Dor says he tried to
partner with the municipality to encourage more runners to run for charity but
that they weren’t able to organize it in time. He hopes to work together with
the municipality for future marathons.
But personal fund-raising isn’t
the only way that the Jerusalem Marathon will raise money for charity. In
addition to the marathon, half marathon, and 10K races for the general public,
there is a 4.2 km. fun race to benefit the Israel Cancer Society and a 400 m.
dash for the Children of Shalva, an organization that supports children with
special needs. – Melanie Lidman The writer is running her first marathon in
honor of the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center.
: MAYOR NIR BARKAT AGE
: 51 HOMETOWN
: JERUSALEM CAUSE
: THE CITY OF JERUSALEM
When five-time marathoner Mayor Nir Barkat crossed the finish line at his most
recent marathon, in New York, in the fall of 2009, he made an announcement:
Jerusalem would host its own race. It took 18 months and a “marathon” effort of
planning, choosing the route and marketing the event overseas to attract runners
from abroad and convincing everyone he could that a marathon would help
Jerusalem’s image abroad.
“When you do a marathon in a city, you come
with all your family and friends, but that’s just part of it… the city enters
into your soul,” Barkat told In Jerusalem on a training run a few weeks before
race day. “You have tens of thousands of people running, you have hundreds of
thousands of people cheering. The cheering and the running together, you get the
best out of the city they’re in.”
Barkat says that because of his work
schedule, he doesn’t have time to run the eight to 10 hours a week required for
the full marathon. But he runs five kilometers from his home in Beit Hakerem to
Kikar Safra a few times a week, as well as longer runs on the
The marathon, along with other cultural events like the Light
Festival, the Opera Festival and weekly summer concerts, are part of the
overarching plan for a “cultural revival” of the city, he says. “A marathon
isn’t a race against something; marathons are for something, and this marathon
is sharing Jerusalem with people of the world,” he says. “You see many people
who run for a cause.
Marathons are the best way to exploit something you
feel deeply about. For me, it’s really putting Jerusalem on a pedestal and
opening it up and showing it to people. It’s a great combination for people who
want to do good for their body and their soul, run for a cause and enjoy a city.
It’s like triple dipping in one activity.”
: BAR PELEG AGE
: 24 HOMETOWN
: REUT DISTANCE RUNNING
: WAS PLANNING TO DO THE
HALF MARATHON CAUSE
: SOMEONE TO RUN WITH AMOUNT RAISED
: NIS 20,000 (TOTAL FOR
The Jerusalem Marathon is part of Mayor Nir Barkat’s vision for the
city as a young, vibrant cultural city with plenty of opportunities to convince
students not to flee the capital for better jobs and a more active social life
in Tel Aviv. Student activist Bar Peleg, a second-year sociology and business
management student at the Hebrew University, latched onto the marathon as a tool
to help achieve that goal.
“The first Jerusalem Marathon is so important
for a young, dynamic, wanna-be city,” she says. “But all the running groups here
are for people in their 40s.”
So Peleg started a running group for Hebrew
University students called Someone to Run With, the name of the popular David
Fifty students running various lengths signed up to train
together. In addition to organized runs, the students use the group to find
partners for individual runs and keep up the motivation during training, as well
as meeting like-minded people.
After hatching the idea of a student group
for the marathon in November, she tried to implement an educational aspect by
asking the runners to volunteer for four hours in local schools. “We want to
enroll the community in this so the marathon is not just for runners but for
everyone,” she says.
Students were asked to teach four lessons about the
marathon at different schools, including famous marathons, the history of the
marathon and the importance of Jerusalem’s marathon for the city, says Peleg.
This being the first year, the initiative took a while to get started. About
half the Someone to Run With members volunteered their time, and the children
they worked with will be some of the hundreds of school-aged volunteers handing
out water and cheering the runners on race day.
The 50 students also
tried their hand at fund-raising, choosing three charities. After scouring the
Internet for a program that would let them fundraise individually, Peleg
contacted IsraelGives, which eventually set up personal fund-raising pages for
the entire group. The group raised NIS 20,000 in the three weeks before the
“People that run long distances, they want everyone to know,
and here you have a way to tell the world about it without being cocky,” she
Since the framework is already in place for next year’s marathon,
she has big dreams: sponsorships, uniforms, trainers, expanding to all the
city’s universities and colleges. Which is why it was such a disappointment when
a nagging pain in her leg turned out to be a stress fracture from training too
hard, and a doctor ordered her not to run. Peleg says it will be frustrating to
watch from the sidelines and not be running with the group she founded, but
she’s already looking forward to next year.
“We’ll rebuild it now to the
next marathon,” she says. “We can build a better team with an even better
structure and group.” NAME
: PIA LEVINE AGE
: 19 HOMETOWN
: EDISON, NEW JERSEY DISTANCE RUNNING
: CHAI LIFELINE/CHAIENU AMOUNT RAISED
Sixty runners are
running with Team Chai Lifeline Israel, which provides assistance for sick
children and their families. They have raised $75,000 through personal
fund-raising pages similar to IsraelGives. Team Lifeline’s American branch,
which runs the Miami half marathon every year, fields around 350 runners, who
raise more than $1 million for Camp Simcha, the organization’s camp for sick
When at age 14 Pia Levine was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease,
an inflammatory bowel disease, she was told to hide her sickness to minimize the
risk of ruining her chances for a good shidduch (match). Even worse than missing
long periods of school, extended hospital stays and the stress of being a sick
teenager was the sense of isolation.
When she was invited to Camp Simcha,
that feeling of isolation vanished.
“It made me forget I was sick and
couldn’t go to school; they were really amazing,” she recalls of her first summer.
Since then, she has volunteered for the organization in
America and in its Israel branch, offering to drive children to medical
appointments and visiting kids in the hospital. She tried to go back as a
counselor after her first summer but had a flare-up and attended as a camper
After high school, Levine came to Israel for seminary at
Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim but within a few weeks got sick again and had
to go back to New Jersey. Her father, who was ill at the time with cancer, died
six months after Levine returned to America. “It was all for the best because I
got to spend those last six months with him,” she says. Chai Lifeline also
helped the family during her father’s illness, bringing them Shabbat meals and
helping with Levine’s younger siblings.
She came back to Israel to try
seminary again this year. Though she has never run any races prior to this one,
she jumped at the chance to run the half marathon as a way to give back to the
organization that has done so much for her family.
“It’s a really good
way to raise money for them because in Israel they don’t have funding. In
America they have big sponsors, but here they need donors for each event,” she
She says she’s already “fairly athletic” and just increased her
runs and gym visits in order to train.
“I’m doing this for everyone who’s
sick and doesn’t think they can hang in much longer, but you just push to the
end because you can do it,” she says. “And I’m running for my father’s memory
because he taught me strength.”
: TAMI GROSS AGE
: 51 HOMETOWN
: ELKINS PARK, PENNSYLVANIA CAUSE
LEVIN MEMORIAL FUND IN THE US AMOUNT RAISED
: $6,000 AND COUNTING
started running marathons as a present to herself before her 50th birthday. “I
have four kids, and now it’s time to do something for me,” she says. So she
started training for a half marathon.
Then she did another. And another.
After five half marathons, she heard about the Jerusalem half marathon and knew
she wanted to run it. But while she loved running for herself, Gross knew she
wanted to do this marathon for a cause.
She worked for years with Harriet
Levin, the mother of Michael Levin, a paratrooper who was killed in the Second
Lebanon War in 2006. In the aftermath of his death, his parents and Israeli
friends created an organization to help other “lone soldiers,” IDF soldiers who
have no family in Israel.
“It was so important to do a Jerusalem marathon
for Michael because he loved Jerusalem,” says Gross. “What better way to bring
awareness to his fund than by running through a city he loved?” Her fund-raising
really took off when Harriet Levin joined the effort. When Gross thinks of how
many people are supporting her run, “I get choked up and I get goosebumps,” she
And there’s the added benefit of knowing that her support of the
Lone Soldier Center will come full circle when her son makes aliya and enters
the army this fall.
“In the past when I’ve done [the races], I did them
all for me as a personal goal that I wanted to reach,” she says. “But this one,
especially because of its being in Israel, I have the added incentive. I’m not
doing it for me; this time I’m doing it for Michael,” she explains. “I believe
in my heart he’ll be up there watching and pushing me up the hills.”
: MULI (SHMUEL) COHEN AGE
: 47 HOMETOWN
: SRIGIM, ISRAEL DISTANCE RUNNING
FULL MARATHON CAUSE
: BEIT HAGALGALIM (HOUSE OF WHEELS) AMOUNT RAISED
: NIS 5,000
(ACROSS THE GROUP)
During the Dublin Marathon in 2009, there was one group of
runners that made a big impression on Muli Cohen, who was running his first
marathon. It was a group not running their fastest but running together for a
charity and taking turns pushing a man in a wheelchair for the entire duration
of the course.
The wheels started turning for Cohen, a 20-plus year
volunteer at Jerusalem’s Beit Hagalgalim, an organization that provides social
programs and support for severely disabled children and adults. When he decided
to run the Jerusalem Marathon, he told Beit Hagalgalim that he wanted to use it
as a fund-raiser for the organization. They found the site IsraelGives, which
opened a fund-raising page for them. Beit Hagalgalim found three other runners
and convinced them to join the effort. So far the group, which includes two half
marathoners in addition to Cohen, will be running a total of 105 km. and are
hoping to raise NIS 1,000 per kilometer.
Cohen, who grew up in Jerusalem
and has run two half marathons in previous years, knows the hills of Jerusalem
well and expects his fund-raising work to help give him extra motivation. “It
will help. It will definitely give me a little extra commitment in the harder
parts, knowing there are other reasons to run the marathon above my own personal
reasons,” he says.
He hopes one day the charity aspect of the Jerusalem
Marathon will be such that perhaps Beit Hagalgalim can field a team of runners
to push someone in a wheelchair for the course. But after thinking about the
route, he reconsiders: “Dublin was really flat,” he laughs.
: SARA AND BENJAMIN PORUSH AGE
: 33 AND 34 HOMETOWN
: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
: HALF MARATHON CAUSE
: CHAI LIFELINE/CHAIENU AMOUNT RAISED
There are only 600 people in the world with familial dysanomia, a
genetic disease that one in 30 Ashkenazi Jews carries in their genes. Sara and
Benjamin’s oldest son, Dovi, 13, is one of them, and one of only three people
with FD in the state of Illinois. The debilitating disease means that the
autonomic nervous system has not developed fully, meaning that Dovi requires a
feeding tube and spends most of his time in a wheelchair.
But at Camp
Simcha, there are 40 kids with FD.
“He’s made amazing friends at camp,
which gives him a sense of belonging that we, as his parents, can’t give him,”
says Sara Porush.
Chai Lifeline in America has a developed fundraising
program connected to the Miami Marathon, run every year in January. “I was never
a runner before I started running for Chai Lifeline; I was more apt to be
cheering on the sidelines,” says Porush, who has done four half marathons for
Chai Lifeline. “I really run because of Chai Lifeline. It’s not like I was a
runner who found a good cause; the cause found me. It’s an amazing motivation
Porush says she and her husband jumped at the chance to run the
first Jerusalem Marathon, to combine their passion for fund-raising for Chai
Lifeline with a chance to run in Israel, where they haven’t visited in 10
In addition to the excitement of running in Jerusalem, Porush says
that her charity would give her the extra motivation to power up Jerusalem’s
hills. “I’ll be thinking about my son,” she says.
“This year I’m not only
running in honor of my son Dovi but all the kids in his cabin and all the
counselors who have changed our lives.”