March 22, 2015

It's a roller coaster ride

It has been another challenging week here in Israel. Life in Israel is similar to being on a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, curves and moments of terror, then incredible highs before a steep plummet.

The day before election, this country was perched at the top of a deep abyss. We voted and we held our breath. When I went to bed the night of the election, I had no idea which direction the roller coaster was flying and prepared myself to possibly be facing an entirely new direction by morning.

As it turns out, Israelis voted to continue on the same path. So after the election, here we sit, strapped into our seats, still holding our breath lest the roller coaster rails be stripped from under our own dangling feet. 
Dog with wings...the Oketz (canine unit)

On my last posting, I mentioned that when the going gets tough, I go hiking. This Friday morning, just three day after the election, my catharsis was through running.  You see, springtime here in Israel (February and March) is marathon season, with almost every city holding its own run.

My younger son ran the 20 km run in Tel  Aviv three weeks ago along with 35,000 people. And just last week, it was the 5th annual Jerusalem marathon, where 25,00 runners took to the streets, many pushing handicapped children in wheelchairs, while others fundraised for important causes.

Five out of six of our family members put on their runners to participate in the 26th annual Ra’anana run (Meirutz Ra’anana). Ra’anana is a small, family-oriented town, so our runs are always cute and sweet and down to earth.

We arrived to the fanfare of blaring music as everyone sidled up to the starting line. Many soldiers were wearing their unit’s sport shirts. They were fit and raring to go.

Sean Carmeli's picture on the back of a shirt.
My older son was also there with 80 soldiers from his unit, but they were not privileged enough to have their own shirts. In fact, the unit could for some unknown reason only officially sign up three soldiers. So they communally decided to send out their best runners (one of them an Ethiopian soldier), then the rest of the unit ran for the sheer 'fun' of it.

The mayor, standing in his running garb, took the microphone and welcomed the cheering crowd.  Squished in my bright pink shirt amongst a sea of pink, green and yellow shirts, I felt like I was a Munchkin in Oz as the Wizard roared over the crowd.

However, the mayor’s message was sobering. He explained that this 10-km run was dedicated to the memory of Sean Carmeli, a soldier who was killed in the war in Gaza this past summer. Sean was from South Padre Island, Texas, and as he was a lone solider, here to volunteer in the IDF, he spent his weekends living with a Ra’anana family. Sean’s mother was at the race and as I looked around, I saw many people wore shirts with his picture on the back.   
We were soon off and running. I ran with my soldier son and my daughter, then simply ran with the huge crowd. I knew the course well as I had spent many hours pounding the same pavement alone. And here I was with thousands of other runners of all ages. 

I saw a sweet Arab girl with huge green eyes proudly wearing her Meirutz Ra’anana shirt. There were religious women running with kirpas and skirts and women in skimpy tops. Young boys ran elbow to elbow with their dads. The soldiers flew past us all. 

Everyone was chatty and supportive. People stood on street corners cheering us on. Some set up their own stands on the sidewalk and gave out water to thirsty runners. We ran down Ahuza, the main street, past people chatting in cafes, and others buying challot at the bakeries.

We ran and we ran, and when the going got tough, I thought of Sean Carmeli, of his dedication to Israel and the ultimate sacrifice he made so we could all be here running freely. This gave me the strength to continue.

The race ended to the fanfare of blaring music. Of course, the local gymnasts and dancers were performing on the park’s stage.  Every time Ra’anana has a celebration, the young jazz dancers and the hip hop dancers are out there showing us their talents. A bit cheesy. Entirely Ra’anana. 

Three-km family run.
As we left the park, we passed the 3-km race and stopped to watch. This was a true family run.  Parents ran with strollers and strutting dogs and toddlers. Toddlers pulled parents. Parents pulled toddlers. Everyone was laughing and dancing as they crossed the finish line. 

I could feel the thrill of the young kids as they neared the end, so excited by their accomplishment.  It was so impressive that fitness is on the agenda of so many people in this small, sweet town and how this event has become a community affair.
Tiny kids running to the finish line.

We went home tired but satisfied. And what about the Ethiopian my son’s unit chose to represent them? He came in 8th place, completing the 10-km race in 35 minutes.

Muscles sore and medals in hand, we are now back on the roller coaster. Every so often, just like this Friday morning, we appreciate the adrenalin of pushing ourselves to the top. And then we hold on tight….

This video shows the mayor opening the race in memory of Sean Carmeli.

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