Basia Monka – “Why are they running, someone told them to?”
Purim is over, the bottles are empty, costumes back to the closet. Tel Aviv can come back to its regular, normal… party mood. Bars in the evening, huge breakfast in the morning on Rothschild Boulevard or in some cozy café on the side street, somehow nine hours of work in between and on top of that, an hour of jogging in the early morning or late night. The Israelis are multitask, no doubt about that. But why running?
Once an elder tourist lady, looking at jogging women, asked me: “Why are they running, someone told them to?”. It really looks like a personal must. Of course being fit is in a style not just here, people jog in New York, Warsaw or Paris, but in Tel Aviv, it’s more than a fashion. After “matkot” (the most popular Israeli beach game), jogging may seem as a local religion. Often when you ask a Tel Aviv resident about his/her hobby, jogging is the first answer. And when you walk the Tel Aviv beautiful promenade along the sea (alright, beautiful might sound as an exaggeration, let’s not be uncritical and say ‘beautiful in the process’, as there are constant “shiputzim” – renovations – over there), it’s a big chance you will run into your friends in a sweating T-shirts, smiling to you and saying: “Hi, I have to run”. Considering the fact that you might have met the same people at the party or at a bar the night before and they are so in shape in the morning, I find it quite fascinating. Still to discover, how do they do that!
Besides, Israelis are used to trainings after the three years in the army. And speaking on a side, the army experience is something that if one doesn’t have it, cannot really relate to Israeli spirit in hundred percent… In the begging of the summer, I was hiking in the Judean desert by night (I might write about that more one day, so please stay tuned). After seven hours of hiking, ending the trek with the amazing sunrise, we set on the bus. It was around 5:30 AM, driving across the desert we noticed a group of jogging young men. I suspected they were training for a marathon. One of the guys on my bus looked at me indignant and said: “they are soldiers, that’s why they train.” I remember that moment, I felt ashamed.
But speaking of marathons. For two years in a row, as a travel agent in Israel, I was responsible for the accommodation and the tourist itinerary for the foreign participants of the Jerusalem Marathon. Being a part of its preparation process has changed my attitude to the marathons in general (not just blocked streets and no busses, as I have though before). In the name of the travel agency, I was working for, I kept in touch with the individual runners and groups from all over the world long before the actual day. And I have learnt from them so much not only about the special diets, but their determination and motivation. I heard personal stories of people I have never met before.
After months of a intense and detailed work I was welcoming the Chinese running groups in Jerusalem. They saw in me the Israeli woman, not an “ola hadasha” (literally: the new female emigrant; by the way if you ever learn Hebrew, don’t try to look for the rules when it comes to the gender forms in grammar, there are just much more exceptions to those rules…) as I have functioned so far. All the flashes of their cameras on my face, being translated into Chinese (not exactly an Israeli but definitely an extraordinary experience by itself! I had no clue, what the translator was saying), I finally felt the power of the Jerusalem Marathon. Two days later, besides foreigners, there were thousands of Israelis of all social and ethnic groups, who run, as much as they can… I understood how uniting it can be. If you ever have run a marathon, you know what I mean.
So on the March 17th, the following Friday, I will cross my fingers for all you, who you will be making your personal records on the hills of Jerusalem, again. “Kol kavod” (literally: all the respect) to the runners. Hats down to your strength.
Taking part in a marathon or any race in life, is not on my personal agenda, not my thing to do. But perhaps, as I am learning to like “this running thing” here, when I will close my computer, I will put my sport shoes on and check how they feel on the promenade… Not because I have to, but as one runner told me today: “just for health and the sea breeze”. So simple and because I can.
Text and photo: Basia Monka
13.03.2017, Tel Aviv