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Tackling the Jerusalem Marathon for a cause

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Johannesburg teacher Shireen Saacks will bear the flags of South Africa and Israel in the half marathon of the 13th Jerusalem Winner Marathon on 8 March to raise funds for cancer-support organisation DL Link.

Cape Town-born Saacks, who will run in the memory of a dear friend who passed away from cancer about a year ago, is the only South African-based runner doing the race in support of DL Link’s cancer warriors this year. The other 18 DL Link runners, each with a warrior on the back of their shirt, are Americans and South Africans who live in Israel.

DL Link usually takes a huge group of about 60 to 100 runners to the race for what is its flagship fundraiser, but it’s taking only 19 runners this year, and didn’t organise a formal group because of the situation in Israel.

Johannesburg-based Sean Drishner, the owner of Mezuzah Security, will be running the full marathon in support of soldiers in the war and as part of his preparation for his second Comrades Marathon. He has concerns about terrorism in Israel, but he’s going there to attend his wife’s nephew’s Barmitzvah.

“It’s important to connect to your homeland, especially when it’s going through a tough time,” he says, “to show support for people who live in Israel, and to show that we’re not scared to come to Israel. We can’t be deterred because that’s exactly what terrorism tries to do to us.”

In the marathon, Drishner and thousands of other runners will run through exquisite landscapes and historical sites that shed light on 3 000 years of history in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Starting at the junction between Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – and the Israel Museum, the course takes runners past places like Yehuda Marketplace, Mount Scopus, the Old City, David’s Tower, and Haas Promenade. They will finish at the southern end of Sacher Park, having gone through the tunnel at the entrance to the city.

Aside from the marathon (42.2km) and half marathon (21.1km), runners can also do a 10km race; 5km race; family race (1.7km); and community race (800m).

South African Rafi Midzuk, who is in Israel on the MTA (Midreshet Torah Va’Avodah) programme, is running the 10km race for Bnei Akiva, just like all the other runners on MTA and Limmud programmes. “Bnei Akiva has been a crucial part of my upbringing, and has a huge role in who I am today. I want to do something to give back and contribute to its continuation,” he says.

Johannesburg-based Pinni Goodman, the director of GeeWiz, is running the 5km race in memory of a friend who passed away a few months ago. Not a regular runner, he’s going to Israel on a solidarity trip, and while there, will partake in the Jerusalem Marathon. “I also ran the 5km last year, and it was great. There was an amazing vibe, unbelievable energy, and excitement.

“Now that I’m going during an active war, I don’t really know what to expect as opposed to other times I’ve been there with a different feeling. I’m not going to jol and enjoy the culture of Israel. I’m going to give strength to the soldiers, and we’re going to see the unfortunate horrors.”

For Midzuk, doing the race while Israel is at war emphasises the responsibility 18 and 19-year-olds coming from outside of Israel have “to show that everything that’s happening won’t keep us from coming to Israel and spending a year connecting to Judaism and our roots. All other 18 and 19-year-olds are in the army. Yeshivot aren’t full like before, so our coming to Israel during the war to volunteer, learn Torah, and pray for Israel – like we do at MTA, my programme’s main focus – helps uplift many others in Israeli culture and fill a gap left behind by all those fighting for Israel.”

Midzuk will run as a proud South African Jew. “Note, not a Jewish South African. My identity is being Jewish, and though I can’t look at what’s happening in South Africa proudly, I won’t run away from South Africa. My hope is that South Africa will amend its behaviour and stand with Israel.”

Israeli-born Drishner, who has lived in South Africa for the past 25 years and will be doing the Jerusalem Marathon for the first time, says, “South Africa has quite a negative name in the Jewish world. That’s the feedback I’ve been given from some people who have been to Israel over the past couple of months following the government’s anti-Israel stance and decision to take the country to the ICJ [International Court of Justice].”

Saacks, who like Drishner took up running only a few years ago, will take the opportunity of being in Israel for the half marathon to visit her son who is in a yeshiva, and other family members. While there, she’s also going to look at options for her planned aliya, to volunteer, visit the Brothers for Life organisation, and join a group packing supplies for soldiers. “I’m staying with a friend, and I’ll be travelling through Jerusalem almost every day,” she says.

Saacks ran the 10km race of the Jerusalem Marathon last year for DL Link in support of two cancer warriors and her dear friend who had passed away just before that race. “I said last year that I had to do the Jerusalem half marathon for the amazing work DL Link does. In the past six weeks, I’ve run two half marathons. Now I’m going to run my third 21km.

“I’m not at all worried about going to Israel now,” she says. “Of all the times I’ve visited, this is going to be the most profound.”

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1 Comment

  1. Kgele Mathiba

    Mar 1, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    I am disappointed that I will miss the Jerusalem Marathon, even though I registered. The tour group that I was going to go with postponed the dates to start on the 15 March.
    Is it possible to request any of the South Africans to collect my Race Number and T-Shirt. They are already paid for in full. Please, if possible and I will pay for the courier to Cape Town where I leave.

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