The author and family at the Jerusalem Marathon, March 15th, 2019.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Our unique city is often plagued by strife, conflict and tension, both amongst ourselves and from external forces with so many of different stripes jostling in its narrow overcrowded spaces for a closer seat in the arena where they believe God abides. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon. I remember a Shavuot pilgrimage to the Western Wall, where after a long walk through the night in anticipation of a joyous gathering of Israel, I was pushed and shoved around by aggressive supplicants as I entered the Kotel compound.
But once a year a miracle occurs. This past Friday, around 30,000 people across prisms of religion, nationality, age and thought gathered in a remarkable common mindset of accord and unanimity for the Jerusalem Marathon.
There were black kippot and hijabs, bodies covered from top to bottom and bottoms hugged by tights, Kenyans and Scandinavians, four year olds running for the first time and a 93 year veteran of hundreds of races. Thousands of sprinting kids and plodding grandparents, secular swingers and observant families rubbed shoulders without conflict. Hats-off (or perhaps not) to the ladies who in addition to the strenuous effort required, are prepared to contend with narrow skirts down to the ankle. Many of the participants came for the fun but more were hyped up by months of preparation, ready to run as fast as they possibly could. Yet certainly as far as my eye could see, there was no aggression or hostility in Sacher Park and along the congested routes where a spirit of camaraderie reigned supreme. Not even the lack of decent toilet facilities and the muddy park could dampen the festive air.
International flags fluttered in the breeze designating nationalities of runners from tens of countries who had travelled from far to experience the splendor of our city, making for a gathering of nations truly united as opposed to the farce that is played out in New York. We bumped into Swedes and Danes, a feisty bunch from Nebraska and a contingent from Hong Kong, all grateful for our welcome and happy to chat to the locals. Giant balloon strawberries added to the riot of color that greeted us as we reached the staging area while music, camera drones and a festival vibe floated through the air.
Most major marathon courses are designed to give competitors the flattest path from start to finish, but Jerusalem's route is planned as a personal tour of the city's great sites, including the Old City, the museums, national institutions, the city center and many more. Vistas are enhanced by late winter's blossoming of almond and cherry and carpets of yellow white, purple and red that frame Jerusalem stone like a sweep of bold paint on canvas. After many years of drought, this year the colors were especially saturated by a blessed rainy season. Tough climbs like the one from Sultan's Pool to Derech Hevron are tempered by familiar Jerusalem faces of friends and acquaintances lining the route and live bands blaring heavy-beat rhythms.
Swinging onto Jaffa Road from King George a surging, bobbing river of mainly navy shirts (this year's official race color) flows down the light rail route framed by stoic stone buildings as far as the eye can see. Running into the Old City tarred road gives way to ancient cobbled stone. Although not conducive to racing, the privilege of running through these troubled, holy alleys cognizant of the turbulent and joyous experience of our people and others as they shaped our long history, adds to the adrenaline rush. To see so many people kissing the Mezuza as they exit through Zion Gate is so inspirational that even though it is not my custom, I have been caught in the moment and done the same.
This year even God intervened so that between a Thursday of dust and storm and a Shabbat deluge, we had a Friday that runners pray for. A veteran of previous races, this time I dedicated the event to training two of my young grandsons hoping to instill the value and pleasure of exercise at an early age. Even their father became enthused. What a privilege to run with the generations at this celebration of life and togetherness! We also represented the Malki Foundation, dedicated to improving the lives of severely impaired young people in our society, one of many other NPO's, covering a gamut of causes from teens at risk to victims of terror, all sporting uniform t-shirts. The incomparable "Shalva" brought out hundreds of purple shirted supporters and their children with special needs, wheeling them along the race-route so that they too could enjoy this celebration of harmony and fun.
Over the years I have experienced special moments, small perhaps, but possibly bigger than the big picture itself. Once, approaching the arch adjoining Sacher Park, I spotted a group of four who I assumed were stragglers from a previous race. One was wheeling an empty wheelchair. Two were supporting a severely impaired youngster who was gamely walking towards the finish line, despite his immense difficulty. There, in the determination, pain and joy in his face I witnessed the face of Jerusalem and the miracle of its marathon!The author is an avid middle distance plodder who runs between bouts of pulled muscles and strained tendons.
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