Running Together in Tel Aviv Marathon
Last Friday I had the thrilling experience of running in the Tel Aviv marathon. Let me qualify that, I ran in the 10 K race as part of the Tel Aviv Marathon. If I were still in my 30s, I may have run the entire 42 km course, but those days have passed. I did come in the top 17% of my age category, (no I will not tell you which one that is), besting my 60 minute time and coming in at 54:58. Now you could argue that the Marathon is not a very Jewish event for a Rabbi to be running in. In fact, the race and the distance is based upon the Greek legend of Philippides who ran 26 miles without stopping to Athens to announce the victory of the battle of Marathon. Upon arriving he collapsed and died. As Jews, we do not glorify war, victorious battles, or heroic death as the Greeks did. However there Jewish lessons to be learned from the marathon. 1. My teacher, Rabbi David Sykes, pointed out to me that each six feet I run is a mitzvah, based on the Talmudic teaching that anyone who walks four amot (six feet) in Israel inherits the world to come (Ketubot 111). That’s 10 km worth of mitzvot! 2. Running can also teach us great lessons about cultivating hard work, perseverance and self-discipline, all primary Jewish spiritual values. 3. I ran the race as a fundraiser for our organization in Tel Aviv, Am Yisrael Foundation (see bottom for link), how quintessentially Jewish. 4. However the most meaningful message for me was was how the Tel Aviv Marathon experience is a great model for creating unity in Israeli society.
The Tel Aviv marathon is an exhilaraitng amalgam of all of Israeli society coming together in a shared experience, and a demonstration of how disparate parts of Israeli society is capable of coming together. Amongst the 40,000 participants, and many more spectators along the route which wound through the streets of Tel Aviv, there were people from all walks of life and of all ages and all religions. In attendance, were older people (last year a 92 year old ran the race), young people (there is a 500 m min-marathon for 5-8 year olds), religious jews (men with kipot, women with skirts and head covers), police officers, soldiers, and muslim women in hijab. Running with those who are physically challenged was particularly inspiring. Along the course thousands came out to cheer us on: kindergarten classes lining the streets, wheelchair bound elderly and thousands of volunteers helping distribute water and keep the course safe. Shifra came to cheer me on, and as we walked back to the car we felt like there is a lot more that unites us as Israelis than divides us. This feeling of unity prevailed despite the Israeli pre-elections season, where the divisions of Israeli society are minutely analyzed and voted on. But even in Israeli politics, where one votes for a party (among the fifteen running) and not for a candidate, eventually a government can only be formed by several parties coming together in unity.
This idea of unifying the Jewish people is found in this week’s Torah portion which is called Vayakel, and begins: “And Moshe unified the entire community of the children of Israel.” The verb used to describe this gathering, vahakel is the same root as the Hebrew word Kehila, which means community or congregation. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that the same verb was used in last week’s parsha when the people assembled to form the golden calf. Moshe needed to rectify the unholy unification of the golden calf with a gathering focused on what could bring the Jewish people together. Moshe then convenes the people to hear the injunction of keeping the Shabbat, and the commandment to build the Mishkan, the precursor to the synagogue. The Shabbat unifies us as a people, by bringing family and friends together for festive meals, without the distractions of TV, phones and a packed schedule. We orient our conversation and mindset away from the mundane and shift towards the meaningful. The synagogue brings community together in prayer and celebration. A minyan (and kiddush after services) is an integral part of the synagogue. However, while not all Jews are currently connected to Shabbat and Synagogue, any gathering which brings us together from all different walks of life, is considered a holy gathering for our people. The Tel Aviv Marathon experience, of everyone running together, pushing their limits, and feeling a sense of achievement, created a feeling of coming together. And that uplifting feeling crossed all of the usual boundaries which separate us as a Jewish people and as Israelis.