The Year In Israel
By Max Fruchter
Friday morning I awoke with a rush of adrenaline one can only experience on a long-awaited special day, such as one’s bar mitzvah or high-school graduation. I shot out of bed and made my way to the Knesset within minutes. With the starting line in sight, my heart thumped even faster, anxious to start the race. Energy filled the air from runners and spectators from across the world, gathered now to partake in the 2014 Jerusalem Marathon.
Streets surrounding the Knesset (the starting point of the race), the Old City, and Ben Yehuda/Jaffo were shut down and supervised by countless security personnel, policemen, and soldiers, commanding respect and cooperation through their military-like posture and impeccably fashioned uniforms. In a similarly professional and organized manner were the various charitable organizations set up by the field of grass below the street bearing the starting line. Representatives from groups such as Butterfly, HASC, Yachad, Shalva, and One Family Fund could be seen prepping their runners with words of motivation, recommended stretches, and pre-race snacks such as fruit, nuts, and energy bars. Before all the runners made their way to the starting line, pictures were taken of each team standing before their respective booths, “Kodak moments” sure to make the front page of local newspapers.
Whether you ran the marathon, the half-marathon, or the 10-kilometer, the explosive vigor built up within erupted at the sound of “Shalosh, shtayim, echad, kadimah!” (“3, 2, 1, go!”). I bolted immediately, keeping in mind the speed necessary to achieve an impressive time yet the discipline crucial to pacing oneself and maintaining a certain steadiness in order to remain energized come the halfway mark.
I felt as though I had been engulfed by a rainbow—the vibrant T-shirts worn by the runners had every color imaginable. Each color represented a different charity team. I took in the breathtaking views of the entrance to the Old City and the impressive Inbal Hotel as well as the different runners beside me. Throughout the race I saw groups of soldiers pushing one another to go faster, couples running hand in hand, and even a mother pushing a stroller seating her child. At one point in the race I could not help but stare at a soldier running with his gun and a man by his side wearing what appeared to be a very heavy knapsack. The increased difficulty with which these men ran gave me all the more inspiration to run as hard as I could.
Spectators alongside the racing track wore kippot and head coverings, tzitzit, and black hats, a sharply different group of fans from those who cheer at an New York race. I think this special fraternity amongst Jews was most visible when we ran through the Old City; a group of young boys and girls wore their humorous Purim costumes and danced and sang in our view, briefly taking our minds off of the arduous hill that lay ahead. The sight of these happy children, as well as the encouraging chants of “Kadimah!” and “Kol hakavod!” from the crowd were just a small display of the innate connection each Jew has with all others, a connection most noticeable in Israel.
I also took in the captivating sights along the run. That Friday, we ran through history, from the archaic structure of the Ir Ha’atika, in which the Kotel lay just out of sight, to the modern setting of Ben Yehuda Street, we all witnessed the shift of scenery from historical to contemporary, once again an experience I believe to be only possible in Israel.
The blazing sun paired with the steep hills infamous throughout Jerusalem create an added challenge. For me, the sight of an older, relatively fit man gave added motivation which allowed me to maintain a steady pace even up the difficult hills. “Here I am, a healthy 18-year-old. How can I allow an older man pass me in this race?” Thoughts such as these and the sight of markings every few kilometers allowed me to finish the 10K race with a smile, knowing my efforts were evident in the time of completion.
After crossing the finish line, each runner headed down toward the grassy area below the road and received an apple, an orange, water, and a medal. The medals hanging around everyone’s necks created an aura of positivity and overall happiness; everyone wore a smile and told over their unique racing experience. This post-race social setting allowed friends to reconnect and complete strangers to become acquainted.
Finally, at around 1:30, I left the race area and made my way back to yeshiva to set down my gear and prepare for Shabbos. When Shabbos came, I, along with 25 other boys, gathered into the beit midrash of our yeshiva for Minchah and Kaballat Shabbos. We all agreed that remaining in yeshiva for Shabbos was a wise decision, one which would grant us plenty of rest and relaxation.
That Shabbos I gained a newfound appreciation for those who run full marathons. Actually running allows you to experience firsthand what runners do, with high intensity, for an impressive distance of 26.2 miles. I began to think of my uncles who compete on a professional level, running full marathons at unbelievable speeds. These thoughts paved a road of motivation within me and created the desire to continue running and to do my best in all future runs I hope to undertake. v
Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.