March 19, 2016

Running for Jerusalem

Friday was the sixth annual Jerusalem marathon. It was a chilly, bright morning and we were there to run the 10-kilometre race. (My son Shaya had been training to run the half marathon but had a bicycle accident three days before and was unable to participate. He calculated that he'd run the distance from home to Eilat in his training and sat sadly at home while we, the non-athletes, were able to run.)

There were several events going on, all leaving at different times. There was a full marathon, half marathon, 10-km run, 5-km run, a 1.7-km family run and an 800-metre special needs race. 

With 30,000 participants running through a city that has been plagued with Palestinian terror attacks nearly daily, this run seemed like it could be an organizational and security nightmare. Yet, Jerusalem had this one under control both logistically and security-wise. The mayor, who himself ran, said he would never give in to terror.

As so the races went on. And despite the terror and the press that streams horror stories on a daily basis, there were more foreign participants in this race than ever before. Some 2,400 people came to Jerusalem to run from 62 countries, double the amount of foreign participants from last year. They came from Uzbekistan, Argentina, Austria, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey, US, Switzerland and more—including 60 runners from China. The winner of the full marathon was a Kenyan who came in at 2:16:33.

The music blared as the runners passed the most scenic sights of town, including the Knesset, the Sultan’s Pool, Rehavia, King George and Jaffa Streets and Sacher Park. The highlight is always the sound of feet pounding the cobblestoned alleys of the Old City, going in the Jaffa gate and into the Armenian Quarter. And when there were uphills (of which there were many), crowds cheered, clowns clapped and live music thumped to buoy our tired spirits.

As Purim is in a few days, some people ran in costumes. Women wore tutus over their running pants, Spider Man and Super Man joined and many other capes flew by. Someone in the crowd was even giving out hamentashen to the runners. One wino, clutching a wine bottle at 10 am, insisted on shaking all the runners’ hands.

I noted the stronger presence of religious girls running this year. Wearing skirts and with long-sleeve shirts under their running shirts, they were pumped and ready to go. Along the way, many seminary girls cheered them on. I also saw a young Hareidi couple running together. This race was like one happy party of people from many places and of all ages having fun together. Families with tiny toddlers came out for the Family Run, while blind runners ran, attached by Velcro bands to a seeing runner. Young people accompanied disabled kids. People ran for charities, collecting money for wonderful causes.

To ensure our safety, there were 1,000 security personnel assigned to the race. Every road and pedestrian alley leading to the race was blocked. Police carried assault rifles. They sat on horseback near East Jerusalem and patrolled rooftops in the Old City.

To end a magical run, Amir was there to witness the most incredible sight at the finish line: a marriage proposal. As soon an one runner ended and was greeted by his girlfriend, he fell to the ground and presented her with a ring. Friends were there with a sign and cheering erupted everywhere. Amir caught this moment on video, yet another indication that Israel is all about living life to its fullest.

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