Jewish runners see Berlin marathon as a chance to defy Nazi past

'Here we are 70 years later, proud to stand on the same ground as our ancestors.'

Jason Gardner (left) runs the 2015 Jerusalem Marathon with an ALEH Ascend teammate. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jason Gardner (left) runs the 2015 Jerusalem Marathon with an ALEH Ascend teammate.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A team of Jewish runners from Israel and the US see their participation in the Berlin marathon as a victorious feat for the Jewish people in light of the country’s Nazi past. Particularly emblematic is the start and finish line of the run at the Brandenburg Gate, a landmark which the Nazis used as a party symbol when they rose to power.
“Jewish athletes will find running the Berlin course particularly powerful – an exultant closure of decadesold wounds,” ALEH stated on its website. ALEH, Israel’s foremost network of state-ofthe- art facilities for children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, will be the recipient of the funds raised from the run. Its website also stated: “So many years later, the Nazi party is but a memory and Jewish runners can claim a national victory by striding through Germany’s capital city with their heads held high – all the way to the finish line at the Brandenburg Gate.”
Team member Levi Levine told The Jerusalem Post: “It will give us a lot of strength to know we are representing the Israeli state and the Jewish people, who years back were marching kilometers to their death, and now we are running healthy and with families and children, showing that it doesn’t matter what the Germans tried to do... we are here and back and the Nazis did not succeed.”
The delegation of nine, includes native Israelis, North American and South African immigrants to Israel, as well as a resident of New Jersey. All the runners agreed that it was important to them to have an imprint of the Israeli flag on the back of their shirts. “I think it will be very emotional to know we are proving that even though the Nazis tried to kill us, we are still here,” said Levine, 36, an ER nurse at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and the father of four children. The Berlin run will be his tenth marathon.
The team, “ALEH Ascend,” is headed by captain Jason Gardner, who is also ALEH’s director of development in the US and Canada. Unfortunately, he had to pull out of the race due to an injury. But he will still be flying to Germany to cheer the rest of the team on. “The whole idea of running for an Israeli organization, especially one for special needs, shows that there are no limits; everything is possible,” he says.
In reference to the location of the run, he says: “Here we are 70 years later, proud to stand on the same ground as our ancestors. Even just having the runners line up at the starting line, just to showed up and that nothing can keep us down, we’re able to break through anything.”
For 50-year-old Lillesol Kane of New Jersey this will be her first marathon outside of the US. She told the Post the Berlin marathon, one of the six “World Major Marathons,” has always been on her bucket list but usually clashes with the High Holy Days. This year, she decided to take advantage of the fact that the run won’t overlap with them.
“I looked at the list of charities and realized ALEH was the one. Running as an American Jew with Israeli compatriots through Berlin was a no-brainer,” she said.
She describes participating in a marathon as a “life-affirming act,” testament to the power of human beings for perseverance and endurance. “There has been a lot of suffering in the world, for all humanity, and while change happens slowly, it is happening. So the idea that a delegation of Jews can run through the streets of Berlin cheered on by Germans is a thrilling idea for me,” she says.