They come from big cities and small villages across Israel and fly in to Jerusalem from all over the US, Canada, South America and the UK. A colorful cadre of runners and walkers in all shapes, sizes and ages descend on to the capital in March to take part in what many feel is an unforgettable experience.
The International Jerusalem Winner’s Marathon, celebrating nine years on March 15, has become a modern-day pilgrimage for more than just competitive athletes. Running through 3,000 years of history, crossing over hallowed grounds, jogging through winding cobblestone pathways, and walking through neighborhoods where the ancient and modern diverge and converge is life changing. Sharing this experience with thousands of fellow runners and Israel supporters is potentially transformative.
As a resident of Jerusalem, it’s nearly impossible to not take part in the race in some way. With schools closed and many streets cordoned off as part of numerous race routes, you either participate, support, or flee the city for a long weekend away.
FOR YEARS, when our children were too young to walk or run in any of the races, we stood on the sidelines on Yehuda Street in Baka and cheered all of our friends and family members running in either the full marathon, half marathon or the 10K routes. After many years supporting from the sidelines, FOMO (fear of missing out) set in and we decided it was time we participated as a family.
In 2017, my eldest daughter and I signed up for the 1.7-km. family race. Garbed in a purple official marathon t-shirt with our numbers pinned to the front and back, excitement gripped us as we crossed over Hebron Road and passed the first trickle of marathon runners. We found our car and drove to the bus that would take us to the starting line. Staggered race times ensure that tens of thousands of participants aren’t crowded together waiting for the race to begin, and as we joined the sea of people counting down toward the official start of the race, I noticed that our purple shirt was in the minority. Glancing around at shirts in a cornucopia of colors and designs, we read off the names of the various teams.
After an exhilarating 45-minute brisk walk, and our first medals hanging around our necks, my daughter and I floated away from the finish line pumped up by the experience. The spirit of the Jerusalem Marathon was contagious, from the people running and walking around us, to the activities and events that greeted us afterwards in Sacher Park. Before our sweat was dry, we already decided we would run again. But this time, we would also use the opportunity to fund-raise for a charity. As runners continued to flash by us in their team shirts, hurtling towards the archway at the finish line, we couldn’t decide which would be more difficult. Training for the 5K race, or picking a charity to support with our run?
According to Sandy Ungar, vice president of customer relations for Root Funding (rootfunding.com/
), an online fund-raising platform for global charities, “nonprofits benefit greatly when other people fund-raise for a cause, when it’s not the organization reaching out again to their own network. With a sports event, like the Jerusalem Marathon, people can easily launch a sponsor page on platforms like Root Funding, and then reach out to their own personal network to ask people to sponsor them in the race. The cause benefits from having all these people going out and spreading the word about their organization; it’s extremely powerful and effective.”
TEAM SHALVA (www.run4shalva.org/
) didn’t initially start out as a marketing strategy, but it’s now one of the Jerusalem-based nonprofit’s largest fund-raising activities. Before the Shalva Band captivated audiences this year on Israel TV’s The Rising Star program, it was also their strongest avenue to spread awareness.
“What started as just one family wanting to run to raise money for Shalva, has now grown to include more than 600 runners and we are one of the largest groups year in and year out,” said Bluma Sherrow, marketing manager at Shalva, a registered nonprofit that supports and empowers individuals with disabilities and their families in Israel.
The race behind the race has become a competition of sorts between nonprofits, all vying for a piece of the fund-raising pie.
“I don’t think we are competing with other charities, every other charity has what they have to offer,” said Shalva’s Sherrow. “Your vibe sets your tribe and runners will be drawn to who they are drawn, too. We love running side by side with everyone.”
The vibe Team Shalva offers is definitely one of the most elaborate: free airfare, hotel accommodations, a pre-race day event at Shalva’s Jerusalem headquarters for all team members to tour the facility and meet the kids benefiting from their therapies and programs, plus an inspiring weekend with surprise guests and educational programming. The cost to participate is a minimum $3,000 donation, which doesn’t include the weekend.
The Team Shalva experience is definitely memorable, with many of their participants organized groups of yeshiva high school students from the United States. Talya Danzer, 18, from Teaneck, New Jersey and currently a seminary student at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Moriah, ran on Team Shalva two years ago while a high school student at Frisch.
“WHAT SHALVA does is fantastic, and I had a great experience with my friends, but we had to raise a lot money. This year, I’m fund-raising for Kol HaNearim’s (givebutter.com/khmarathon2019/talyadanzer
) summer program for at-risk kids in Israel, a program I worked at last summer that’s really important to me,” said Danzer.
Kol HaNearim, an organization that supports orphans and at-risk youth throughout Israel, will have a team in this year’s marathon. With a $500 minimum donation to participate, it’s a fraction of the fund-raising cost of larger nonprofit organizations.
“I’m not running in the marathon for the sport of it, I’m running the 10K to raise money because I love my kids at Kol HaNearim and I really want them to have the best,” continued Danzer.
WHILE SOME nonprofits have created teams organized by participants, other organizations spend time actively recruiting members to help fund-raise and spread awareness.
The New York-based nonprofit Our Place (teamourplace.org
) recruited Lily Ackerman, 18 and a seminary student at Midreshet HaRovah, to fund-raise and walk in the 5K. The organization, a drop in center for at-risk youth, actively recruited at her seminary. Their presentation proved effective, with more than 30 girls from Midreshet HaRovah signing up to join their team.
“I’m really excited about the Jerusalem marathon. This is my first time running. There was a girl in my apartment advocating for the program, but I was torn between running for Yachad or Our Place. Someone from Our Place came to the school and told us about their program and that really helped me with my decision. I’m participating in the marathon to raise money for Our Place and I really want to help out this organization.”
KAYLA SODARO, 24, wanted to physically challenge herself last year and decided to train and race in the 10K. Her cousin, Sharon Feifer, community education administrator at Kav L’Noar (kavlnoar.org/jerusalem-marathon-runners/
), an Israel-based organization that supports struggling youth and their families, suggested that she run with their organization. Last year, Kayla crossed the finish line and successfully raised funds for the organization, whose team logo includes the catchphrase “Running for families so we can keep families running.
“It was such an amazing experience running as part of a team last year, I decided to challenge myself again this year and am training to run the half marathon,” said Sodaro.
According to Kav L’Noar’s Feifer, “If you’re going to run the marathon anyway, why not run for a cause? I think it makes the run more meaningful. I love the marathon; the atmosphere is amazing. I’ve done the 10K five times already and our whole family comes and runs, it helps build awareness about the work that we do!”
Many smaller nonprofit organizations limited in both resources and funds find they cannot compete with the level of active recruitment at gap-year programs in Israel and International Jewish schools, and they have shifted their cause marketing strategies. While other organizations benefit greatly by teams created by participants looking to honor a memory or spread awareness while raising money for a good cause.
TEAM CAMP KOBY (my.israelgives.org//en/campaign/teamcampkoby2018
) raises money to support their summer program in Israel for children whose parents or siblings were murdered in terrorist attacks or died in another traumatic tragedy with a safe, fun and therapeutic environment, and has had a consistent group of between 40-60 runners since the 2014 marathon. The Koby Mandell Foundation (www.kobymandell.org/
), established by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell in memory of their son Koby, who was killed by a terrorist, is a family operation with a small infrastructure and limited resources. While the team has a dedicated group of supporters, it was difficult recruiting at gap-year programs.
According to Moshe Arons, program coordinator at the Koby Mandell Foundation, “This year we focused on one seminary in Modi’in called Amudim; Sherri Mandell gave a talk to the students early in the year and it really inspired participants. One of the Midrasha’s staff members also works in our summer program and he helped us recruit additional students so we have a really nice group of people from the community of Modi’in running with Team Camp Koby this year.”
TEAM CALEB (www.eventbrite.com/e/team-shaare-zedek-team-caleb-jerusalem-marathon-tickets-52234856863
) was started in 2015 when Chicago native Caleb Maeir was diagnosed with sarcoma and was forced to leave Israel during his gap year program to continue treatment in the United States. That year, the team consisted of mostly 150 teenagers, who raced and raised more than $105,000 for Yachad, the national Jewish council for people with disabilities. Caleb, who had hoped to return to run in the Jerusalem marathon, passed away before he had a chance but requested that Team Caleb raise money for Shaare Tzedek Medical Center. Caleb’s best friend Roni Allswang, 20 and a student at the University of Maryland, honored his friend’s wishes and in 2018 helped coordinate almost 100 Team Caleb runners that raised $75,000 for the Pediatric Cancer unit at the Jerusalem-based hospital.
“Caleb was extremely humble and never wanted to make it about himself but the marathon blew him away,” said Allswang. “He loved the idea because it wasn’t that people were running for him but they were running for a good cause.”
LEORA ASHMAN, an Efrat resident, is coordinating Team #KoachEitan to raise awareness for both stroke and aphasia, and to fundraise for the Adler Aphasia Center, Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. Team KoachEitan, with more than 90 runners this year, was founded after Ashman’s husband, Eitan, had a left-sided ischemic stroke in the summer of 2017 that left him with significant physical limitations and aphasia. Eitan receives weekly treatments at the Adler Aphasia Center, and after years of fund-raising in the marathon for both Shalva and ALS, they decided to turn the spotlight on to stroke prevention and aphasia awareness.
“Everyone who runs needs to make a donation to The Adler Aphasia Center, but there’s no minimum requirement because that becomes a stress for a lot of people,” said Leora Ashman. “Our main goal for this team is really to raise awareness about stroke and aphasia. Before my husband’s stroke, I had no idea about stroke or aphasia. It’s so important to know what a stroke is, how to prevent it, what aphasia is and how to speak to and include people who suffer with aphasia.”
TEAM #BEITDANIELLA (my.israelgives.org/en/campaign/beitdaniella
) is another new nonprofit with a team participating in this year’s marathon with Beatie Deutsch, Israel’s haredi women’s national marathon champion its most famous and vocal supporter. Beit Daniella (www.beitdaniella.org/
), a Jerusalem-based rehab facility for youth named in honor and memory of Deutsch’s cousin Daniella Pardes who suffered with anorexia, will have 66 runners in addition to Deutsch participating in this year’s marathon.
WITH SO many worthy organizations to choose from, it became overwhelming for our family to select just one team to support. Funds raised from the marathon go far, from funding new programming, sending more children to therapeutic summer programs, to building new facilities and even purchasing life-saving vehicles.
In the end, we decided that our family will be walking the 5K route for Gift of Life Marrow Registry (www.giftoflife.org/
), a nonprofit headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida with a Jerusalem office that runs a registry to match bone marrow and stem cell donors with lymphoma and leukemia patients.
We’re excited to be a part of Team #RunforLife (cmatch.me/ShiraZwebner
), to wear their T-shirt on race day and meet other donors and supporters during the organization’s pre-event pasta party at WeWork the night before race day. But beyond the excitement, we’re thrilled that our donation will help the organization reach their $30,000 goal of testing 500 swab kits. Each kit could potentially save a life and at the end of the day, that’s a cause we are thrilled to stand behind.
Support a Team
Haven’t signed up for the marathon yet and want to participate with a team? Contact any of the organizations mentioned in this article, or visit the International Jerusalem Winner’s Marathon’s “Running for a Cause” page for a list of nonprofit organizations participating in this year’s race. (jerusalem-marathon.com/Donate.aspx
) Support your friends and family members, too! If you can’t participate on a team, why not sponsor a family member or friend running in this year’s race? Visit Root Funding or just scroll through your Facebook feed to find people in your network running or walking for a cause.
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