The starting point

12 children to run for Netanya children’s home in Miami Half-Marathon in memory of IDF fallen.

Miami Half-Marathon in memory of IDF fallen. (photo credit: TAMMY HARTUV)
Miami Half-Marathon in memory of IDF fallen.
(photo credit: TAMMY HARTUV)
Twelve children from the Emunah Bet Elazraki Children’s Home in Netanya will be running in the Miami Half-Marathon this month, in memory of eight IDF soldiers who fell in Operation Protective Edge over the summer.
Standing at the starting line of the January 25 marathon will be nine boys and three girls from Israel. Each has a life story full of difficulties and challenges.
For Rachel (not her real name), running symbolizes a personal victory. The starting point in her life was not an easy or encouraging one. Her parents divorced a few years ago; her father is remarried and has distanced himself from her family. Rachel, the second of five children, unwillingly became a punching bag for her mother, who was having a hard time dealing with the new reality.
“When I was 11, my mother hit me for a whole year,” Rachel recalls. “I remember how I would go to school with black eyes. I will never forget the whispers and looks of [pity] around me. My brother was also constantly hit by our mother. She took out all of her bitterness out on us because my father became ultra-Orthodox, and they simply could not get along.”
Four years ago, when Rachel’s life was in danger, the welfare emergency center in central Israel referred her to Bet Elazraki. Since she came to live there, her life has completely turned around.
The staff soon realized that she had a talent for long-distance running, and despite the difficulties in her life, she did not give up on herself. Today, she works hard in her studies and has a steady and safe daily routine. She aspires to be a lawyer or study at the Wingate Institute and develop a sports career.
“From a very young age, I loved sports,” she says.
“It helps me relax and gives me great confidence while helping me concentrate on my studies. Last year, I participated in the Tel Aviv Marathon for the first time. The preparations for the race were very difficult, but I did it. Although it’s hard to run, I love it and feel great satisfaction from running.
I continued to train. Recently I also participated in the Jerusalem Marathon. This year, I am proud to go to Miami, stronger and more experienced.”
Today, when she speaks about the children’s home and the marathon, her eyes sparkle; there is no trace of the black eyes she suffered during the darker days of her life.
For Alex (also not his real name), the marathon is proof that anything is possible. At the age of five, he experienced a terrible trauma when his father took his own life.
“I do not understand why my father committed suicide,” he says. “I wish I could have helped and saved him.”
After that, the family fell apart, and at the age of 10, Alex was referred to the children’s home. While there, he was able to receive the stability and security for which he longed – a need that he expresses in his plans for the future as well: “I would like to join the army, and I would like to work with electronics.
I might even make the army a career. It is important for me to be in a set place.”
His love of football and sports led him to begin training himself as a marathon runner. The training he does for the marathon provides strength and motivation to succeed, and he is looking forward to his first flight abroad.
He also sees the race as an opportunity to express his gratitude to everyone who helped him through his difficulties in recent years: “At the children’s home, we get... love and support from people who care deeply about us in their hearts and have become our family. Now it’s my turn to give back.”
MORE THAN 200 children and 150 adults call Emunah Bet Elazraki their home. The 12 runners, age 15 to 18, have been training for the 21-km. race for several weeks, four times a week. On the big day, they will join skilled marathon runners from around the world, including many American volunteers who have led previous summer programs at the children’s home.
The children will run this year in memory of the eight IDF soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s 13th Battalion who were killed in the Gaza operation against Hamas this past summer: Nissim Sean Carmeli, Max Steinberg, Shachar Tase, Daniel Pomerantz, Shon Mondshine, Ben Ouanounou, Oren Simcha Noah and Oron Shaul.
“The fighters looked after us and gave their lives for us,” says one of the boys, “and now it is our opportunity to give strength to their parents and families.”
The children of Bet Elazraki train with Dor, the coordinator of the older boys at the home. Dor was part of the 13th battalion and keeps in touch with the families of the fallen. He made the connection between them and the children.
“We are in contact with the families of the fallen soldiers, and they are involved in our preparations for the marathon,” says Dor. “The families have expressed excitement and interest in our project.”
On January 18, a few days before the trip to Miami, the children will meet with the families of the fallen soldiers.
“I have no doubt that this will be moving and memorable for both the families and the children of Bet Elazraki,” says Yehuda Kohn, director of the children’s home. “They have gone through difficult times in their lives and prove that anything is possible if you persevere. They are very proud to represent the other children of the home, and are honored that they will run in memory of the fallen.
They feel that by doing so, they contribute even slightly to the State of Israel and to the society that does so much for them.”