I’m writing feeling somewhat achy but very moved. Since I started running it’s been my ambition to run the Jerusalem half marathon [I think that’s my maximum distance in this lifetime]. I ran with [or rather behind] my son Mossy this morning, among thousands taking part in the marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k and various other distances.
I admit I was rather nervous at the start, but I found myself carried by the crowd, the singing at almost every corner, and above all by memories. I can’t really call it a memory, but I kept thinking of my father: what was this part of Jerusalem like when he came in 1937; was this a street with which he was familiar?
There wasn’t a road without associations from the various periods when I worked or taught here in my twenties, or where I brought Nicky and the children, or where I have precious friends. Here the artist Yehoshua Hass lived, may his memory be for a blessing; here is the railway station [sadly no longer in use] where my mother’s father arrived in 1935, by train from Cairo [with a boat across the Nile] to share the 1935 celebrations of Maimonides.
Even the last stretch went well, although I did feel rather tired. I wrongly imagined that there was still a further kilometre to go and found that I’d finished before I realised it, when someone said ‘stop running’.
Early in the week I spent a day at the Masorti kibbutz Hanaton [I always thought the name came from the Hebrew hanat – to bud or blossom; but in fact it was a place known to the ancient Egyptians, named after the Pharaoh Achnaton]. Pluralist, including secular and orthodox in the surrounding suburbs, egalitarian also, with emphases on strong Jewish learning, living in close contact with Bedouin and Arab neighbours, and relating to the earth and nature, it is the obvious place in Israel for our community to cultivate a sustained relationship [and several members are already living there…]
Rabbi Yoav Ende took me on a tour [he’s one of several scholars forming a community of serious learning]. ‘Here’s the refe’t, he explained; ‘what does Judaism have to teach about looking after cows?’ We stopped to try to identify the birds of prey hovering above the hillside opposite. ‘Here’, he showed me a valley, ‘we’re planning to plant an almond orchard’. He took me to the education centre where there are courses for young people from abroad [run by Jonny Whine] as well as a year-long pre-army programme for Israelis on Judaism, humanism and Zionism.
Rabbi Haviva Ner-David, with whom I have a special connection as we both received our rabbinical ordination from the same teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky, nero ya’ir, explained the uniqueness of the local mikveh, accessible to Jews of all denominations, as well as non-Jews who occasionally wish to use it. She is a world recognised expert on the subject.
I can see all kinds of ways we can connect with this amazing place, only recently regenerated over the last decade.
I have also seen some of the poverty and suffering, some of the harsher realities of life for different populations in Israel today. But I will keep writing about that for another time.
I’ll finish with the dogs. I’ve already made one visit to the centre for training guide dogs, and hope to be there again on Tuesday, on my way home. The thoughtfulness with which every detail is built is extraordinary; different kinds of flooring, small bumps on bannisters, signal to a blind person where a corridor begins, where there is a doorway opposite. Height barriers, beneath which they themselves can easily pass but not their humans, teach dogs to read obstacles from the point of view of their significant other. Pampered cats experience schadenfreude when the dogs are told off should they so much as attempt to chase them.
While running that half marathon to sponsor the training of those dogs, I passed a fellow runner who had his canine with him on a lead. Sorry Mitzpah [my dog, whom I left behind in London] – maybe next time.