2018-03-14 / Home

Running the Jerusalem Marathon was an uphill battle

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein is pictured running in the sixth mile of the Jerusalem Marathon on March 9, moments before crossing the finish line.Rabbi Ephraim Epstein is pictured running in the sixth mile of the Jerusalem Marathon on March 9, moments before crossing the finish line.By RABBI EPHRAIM EPSTEIN

For the Voice

G-d heard my prayers. Not only the prayers I recited as I began the sixth and final mile of the marathon, but the prayers I offered years earlier to assist me on the road towards better health and fitness. How else can I explain that the week after the Sukkoth 2017, I receive a mysterious email inviting me to join a group of rabbis and train for the Jerusalem Marathon? We were provided a running coach, a nutrition coach, a bag full of accessories and some running manuals by an excellent Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) called Kav L’Noar, which means “A Lifeline To Youth,” to inspire us towards better health and fitness as well as to spread the word about this important organization.

In addition to encouraging emails from congregants and out of town friends who heard of my plans, I also received warnings from friends and family who care for my wellbeing and cautioned me to be aware of potential injury, and demanding that I get a doctor’s permission to train for the 10K. With the help of G-d, the advice of my coaches, and the collegial reinforcement by my fellow Running Rabbis, I persevered, and am proudly able to write about it.

How did we do it? By rethinking and reframing so many of our suppositions:

• I’m simply too out of shape to consider this endeavor.

• I have never been a runner.

• What if I publicize my journey and I don’t succeed?

• Jerusalem is the Holy City. It is our place to pray and study and perform Mitzvoth, not to run a marathon.

• The Marathon is Mar. 9, three weeks before Pesach; who has time to train for and run a marathon?

Step by step (literally), mile by mile, and run by run, each of the excuses fell away. By eating better and exercising, I lost a significant amount of weight that enabled me to run faster and feel healthier. Initially, I pushed myself to run; eventually I began to enjoy it. Announcing my journey fueled my commitment to achieve my goals. My dear wife Debi encouraged my journey and said she would start Pesach preparations without me. And the holy and hilly Jerusalem streets have taken on a whole new meaning for me.

The day of the marathon arrived. I was staying in an apartment in Har Nof with three other Running Rabbis. Due to our excitement and nervousness, none of us slept well the night before. After praying an early Shacharit at a nearby synagogue and eating a quick and nutritious breakfast, we were picked up by the taxi to be taken to the marathon. Due to the amount of security and the 13,000 runners, we could not drive within two blocks of the starting line. We exited the cab and walked the rest of the way until we arrived at the Kav L’Noar welcome tent.

There were scores of tents erected by charity organizations providing energy snacks and drinks for their runners amid the ruckus of marching bands and aerobic exercise warm-up drills throughout spacious Sacher Park. It felt a little like being on the field before the kickoff at the Rose Bowl. In total, our group included approximately 20 runners. Among them were eight rabbis who had trained through the Kav L’Noar program. We pinned on our numbered running bibs, started with the requisite stretching, and began to pray for one another that we would succeed until we were instructed to advance towards the starting line.

As we gathered in view of the Knesset and Supreme Court, and the bands began to play moments before the race began, a startling thought overcame me. On that cool Jerusalem morning surrounded by 13,000 Jews with numbers on their shirts, I considered that over 70 years ago, in April 1945, tens of thousands of our relatives in Eastern Europe also ran. They too had numbers on their bodies, but they ran for their lives as the evil Nazis corralled them forward on a marathon they called a Death March. I shared this sobering thought with my colleagues before the race began and we all noted how fortunate we were to be able to run freely in our homeland supporting worthwhile tzedakah organizations in the process.

Running through the streets of Jerusalem was a life changing experience, pushing our bodies to the limit while our minds flooded with personal and national memories. The terrain was mountainous and challenged our stamina well beyond Cooper River and the JCC treadmills where I trained. The exuberance and energy of the day carried us forward towards the finish line.

When we finished the race, one of the rabbis who is generally cheerful and good humored, welled up a tear in his eye. When I asked him what was wrong, he responded that he was riveted when we ran past the building at the top of Bezalel Street where the Eichmann trial took place in the formerly known Beit Haam building. We also ran through the Old City and could see the Kotel from a distance.

My marathon experience was topped off with a celebratory Shabbat together with the Running Rabbis, leaders from Kav L’Noar and popular writer, teacher and lecturer Rabbi Lawrence Keleman.

I am so thankful to G-d, my family and my congregational family for their support and encouragement on this journey of a lifetime. I intend to continue running and leading a healthier lifestyle. This endeavor towards physical improvement has also proven to be a truly spiritual experience. I also want to thank the Voice and Jayne Jacova Feld for her professional and friendly attention during these months of training.

All change is an uphill battle; but with determination, utilizing proven strategies and embracing continuous positive reinforcement along the way, it is incredible what can be accomplished. If you Google “Life is a Marathon,” it will garner 154 million hits. My hope is to continue to inculcate the lessons I learned from training and running the Jerusalem Marathon and channel them to all parts of life. 

Return to top