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The Jerusalem Marathon 2024: Running through our tears

It’s 6 a.m. on a cold crispy Jerusalem morning. Half-marathon time! I couldn’t be less motivated. My heart is heavy and my stomach is in a knot. How are we going to get through this? I greet Sophie — my running partner and she bursts into tears as do I. What is the point if we aren’t running with Leah? What is the point in running while Ari — Leah’s son — is fighting for his life in Soroka hospital. Ari — who we have heard so much about on our morning runs. Ari who was about to  go on an overseas trip with friends after finishing his army service when the 7th of October happened. Ari was not going anywhere but back to the unit he’d just left. Ari who has been in Gaza fighting like a lion — who found a positive spin on everything. He told his mom there is nowhere he would rather be, because he believes he is fighting for the right cause. This is what she would tell us. Such is the nature of early morning runs with friends. 

Last week on a class WhatsApp group – we got an urgent message from one of the mothers – please pray for my sister’s son – he’s been badly injured — Moshe Aron ben Leah Baila. I looked at the message and started murmuring my prayers – and I looked again – that was Leah’s sister? No. It can’t be. I whatsapped her — “Just tell me please that it’s not Ari?” she wrote back – please pray…

My world came crashing down. It can’t be. He’s supposed to go back to yeshiva in two weeks. The rest of the day was spent in utter shock and prayer – because that was all we could do. 

Watching Leah being interviewed on numerous TV channels over the next few days –  has been mind blowing. “ Ari’s injuries are serious and he is still in an induced coma. Please pray, please do good deeds in Ari’s merit. Ari will live a long fulfilling life and he will go back to do shvil yisrael and we will help him do it and we will all dance at his wedding Please G-d.” That has been Leah’s mantra and message to all of us. Which, knowing Leah – is not surprising. – Having a goal in sight and a means to getting there is what she is all about. That’s how she takes us running all over Jerusalem – never down the same street twice and we never need to wait for the lights – (but we always abide by the law and cross at the zebra crossings). 

Leah’s last  request was beyond human belief – “many people have joined the WhatsApp group for updates on Ari’s recovery” she wrote “ and I can understand that not everyone connects with prayer, but walking in Israel is considered a mitzvah – so please walk or run as much as possible in Ari’s merit for a full recovery.” 

After seeing that message, I knew we had no way out of the half marathon that we were training for with Leah- only the week before.

So there we were on Friday morning. (Luckily I hadn’t put on mascara because my face would have been streaked with black.) Sophie hands me a printed paper with a picture of Ari and his name for prayers “for the recovery of Moshe Aron ben Leah Baila” with a sentence – “anyone who walks 4 amot in Israel – he will be granted the world to come” we pin this to the back of our shirts hoping that every runner who sees us will pray for Ari and his speedy recovery.

As we are waiting for the race to begin I see we are not the only ones with a message on our backs. I look around me at all the other runners – to my left were shirts with “Bring Hirsh Home” to my right were shirts of fallen soldiers “In memory of Ben Zussman…” everywhere I looked – there was someone else wearing a shirt for a hostage or a soldier or a message of resilience “am echad belev echad” – one nation one heart. It was mind boggling. Harrowing. Sad. So sad. 

And then 3, 2, 1 with the bang of a gun we all start running. And we run. Step by step – One step at a time. And I look around me – at the faces staring at me from the back of the shirts, at the bold messages of hope and unity and resilience around me. My legs are heavy and I really don’t want to be doing this. But, I realize – I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for Ari and for Leah and for every soldier and civilian that has been killed in this war, and for the families that have been left behind, and for the hostages and their families who are literally in the dark, and for the thousands of soldiers that have been wounded – because all of these heroes are moving and breathing and trying to get through their days  – step by step – one step at a time. If they are doing it, I can do it too… 

10k in – when I think that this race is a bit ridiculous, and I curse the organizers for making us run up Jabotinsky St – I have another thought – This is our story…. 

As Jews we keep running. Step by step – one step at a time. Up hills, down hills, through life, through the ages – we don’t give up. That is why we are still here. We run for and with each other, we stop and rest with each other and we help each other get up and continue running. We do it together. Step by step- one step at a time.

The half marathon was by no means easy, but I did feel our collective Israeli human spirit pushing us all on. Willing us not to give up or give in and I was proud to be a part of that. Proud to wear my shirt and to ask people to pray along the way for Moshe Aron Ben Leah Baila and hope that he and all the other brave soldiers have a complete recovery, and that our nation recovers together – step by step- one step at a time. 

About the Author
Tova Kramer was born in South Africa, grew up in Australia and is a Proud Israeli. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and 5 children. She is is a registered clinical dietician and has a private practice specializing in eating disorders and helping clients find a healthy balance to nourish, respect and trust their bodies.
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