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Jew and Arabs, running together in Jerusalem marathon

The Jerusalem marathon, run last Friday, with 30,000 participants from 65 countries (Ashernet).JERUSALEM — The Sixth International Jerusalem Marathon, one of Israel’s largest with some 30,000 participants from 65 countries, was held on Friday, March 18.

Kenyan Kipkogey Shadrack won the men’s race with a time of 2:16:33, and fellow Kenyan Joan Jepchir beat out all other women with 2:38:30.

Farther back in the pack, another group was also catching its stride: a unique team of Jewish and Arab runners in a display of coexistence.

Runners Without Borders is a joint Jewish-Arab running group consisting of approximately 70 runners, many of them teenagers.

Most runners are from the Jerusalem area, and there are generally more Arab participants than Jews.

The group includes two separate running teams: one for boys, the other for girls.

The girls’ group was founded by 18-year-old Shoshana Ben-David just before the start of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014.

The boys’ team was founded around the same time by Israel Haas, 36, a business manager from Jerusalem.

“It’s natural for us to participate in the main running event of the year since we train in Jerusalem,” Haas told Tazpit Press Service.

“It’s symbolic because this is the first Arab-Jewish team to run and compete in the Jerusalem Marathon. I want to emphasize the word ‘compete’ because we are running to win.”

The event included several competitive courses: a full marathon (42km), a half-marathon (21km) and a 10km race.

Other non-competitive courses included a 5km race, a family fun run (1.7km), and an 800m community race.

Haas said that approximately 40 out of the group’s members competed in the marathon this year. However, he also described difficulties the group has been facing due to the tense political atmosphere.

“We hardly manage to recruit Jewish boys,” Haas said, “because of the situation and all the fear. I can’t blame them, maybe I would be afraid like them. You can see the complexity of the situation.”

According to Haas, this is the first time that Arabs from eastern Jerusalem, most of whom do not have Israeli citizenship, have run in the marathon.

“Until there is a solution to the [political] situation, they just want to live their lives and take part in what the city offers them,” explained Haas.

“They want to be treated as equal citizens of the city of Jerusalem.”

ALSO IN the marathon, the Koby Mandell Foundation, an Israeli organization catering to children and families who have been victims of terrorism, fielded a team of about 60 runners, many of whom were American students on their gap year studying in Israeli yeshivas.

The foundation raised over $30,000, according to foundation president Rabbi Seth Mandell.

The Koby Mandell Foundation is named for Mandell’s son Koby, who was murdered at the age of 13 while hiking with his friend in an apparent terror attack. The perpetrators of the murder, which took place in 2001, have yet to be caught.

Following the tragedy, Koby’s American-born parents Seth and Sherri Mandel set up the Koby Mandell Foundation in his memory.

The foundation runs an annual summer camp for Israeli children who have lost loved ones, primarily in terror attacks, in addition to providing psychological services and retreats throughout the year.

For Seth Mandell, the Jerusalem Marathon has personal significance.

“Koby was an athlete,” he said. “We tried to do it in his spirit.”

The funds raised in the race will go to a pre-Passover retreat in Eilat for 200-300 children of bereaved families, “most of them from terror,” Mandell said.

The mini-camp will include swimming and banana boating in the resort city, as well as psychological counseling and therapy sessions.

Mandell is especially touched that many of the American boys who ran on the foundation’s behalf joined through their flag football league.

Koby “might very well have played in their football league,” Mandell said. “The last thing that we did together, really, was play football. It’s very meaningful that his energy continues to be at work in the world in ways connected to sports.”

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