Several Anglo participants joining the thousands of other runners in today's Tel Aviv marathon are pursuing goals other than their personal bests. While some are celebrating their group identity, others are raising money for causes ranging from the homeless and cancer to health awareness among Arab and Jewish women.
The Beit Shemesh Running Club, whose members are mostly English-speakers, will be setting a more moderate pace than usual to create and enjoy a group experience. This marathon was not a given for the group, which normally works on an intense, competitive training schedule for the annual Tiberias Marathon.
After training hard for January's Tiberias Marathon and March's Jerusalem half-marathon, "the assumption was most people would not do Tel Aviv," Chaim Wizman, the club's founder, told Haaretz yesterday. "But they restored this marathon for the 100th anniversary and we're all in pretty good shape. How could we not run a marathon in our own backyard?"
In January, 18 members of the club completed the Tiberias course with an average time of 3:17. Wizman says he will be leading a pacing group of about 3:25-3:30 "to enjoy each other and not obsess about time." He notes, "No one is shooting for a personal best." Wizman expects 13 members to participate in today's event.
Three other participants today who are not from the club - Dr. Simon Gordon, Sophie Walsh and Simon Cohen see the race as an opportunity to give back to the community. Running to raise money for charity, they arrived at their choices in different ways.
"I wanted a charity that makes a difference in my community," explained Gordon. He said he contacted a friend, Danielle Franks, who runs myisrael, a U.K. registered charity. The organization - it's Web address is www.myisraelcharity.org - finds grassroots charities in Israel to support. The special part, he says, is that "all the money goes to that charity and nothing goes to the bureaucracy, because she has philanthropists who cover those costs."
Franks found somebody in Neve Tzedek who opened a building on her property to homeless men between the ages of 18 and 24 a few years ago.
"They come from all sorts of backgrounds," Gordon said. "She takes them in, looks after them and helps them develop."
The project has a high success rate, he stressed - about 80% end up living independently in their own home within a year.
Gordon, who immigrated to Israel from Glasgow in 2001, says he chose the year-old charity because it's in financial duress." He says he's nearing in on NIS 10,000.
Observing the society around him, Gordon added: "It's a real shame the sponsorship concept hasn't come to this country. It would help raise a lot of money and encourage people to do a lot of physical activity, and I say this as a doctor."
Sophie Walsh of Tel Aviv has yet to run a full marathon, though she's done several half marathons as well as 10 or 15km runs. "I feel very conscious that I am a woman running the marathon," she told Anglo File Sports yesterday about her first go at this distance. "It felt right to do something for a women's health charity because being a woman is a big part of my identity."
Walsh, a clinical psychologist who arrived from London in 1994, has long been concerned about the state of women's health in Israel. "There are a lot of women's health issues in Israel which I feel aren't addressed," she says. "There's a lack of awareness and knowledge among women in general and teenagers in particular," observes the thirty-something Walsh. "So, I felt it important."
The charity she found addressing these concerns is the Women's Association for Health Action and Responsibility. Their project, "Women and their Bodies," is an Israeli-Palestinian initiative to disseminate information among the whole population. Walsh has raised nearly NIS 13,000 through this week.
"What 'Women and their Bodies' is adapting is 'Our Bodies, Ourselves,' which was a groundbreaker in the 1970s," she explained. "This version will be up-to-date for this decade, making it available to all women in Israel regardless of their native tongue."
Cohen, who moved to Israel in 2001 from London is also running his first marathon. He is raising money for cancer research at the Sharett Institute at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. So far, he's collected about NIS 9,000.
"The reason I'm doing it is because I was thinking if I'm making this great big effort, what else could I do?" explained Cohen, 32. "Having suffered a malignant melanoma just over 10 years ago, the idea of raising money for cancer research is very appealing. If we can find a cure for cancer, then the world will be a better place, let's be honest."
He found the Sharett Institute personally appealing because it specifically researches malignant melanomas, among others. Unlike the diehards in Beit Shemesh, this is Cohen's first marathon. Would he try another one? "I suffered some stress fractures" during the training for this marathon, he said, "so we'll see how I do afterwards."
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