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Friday, November 24, 2023

A Tale of Two Runs

Note: At this writing, the world is waiting for the first hostages to be released. I choose to not write about the hostages today as the news changes every few minutes. 

A few weeks ago I was in New York City to watch my son run in the NYC Marathon. Tens of thousands of runners work to qualify, then train for months, eventually joining together for the opportunity to run 26 miles through five boroughs of New York, while tens of thousands of spectators line the streets to cheer them on.

Yesterday in Florida, Cantor Simon and I participated with 16 members of my family in something called the “Palm Beach Turkey Trot”. This is when 1,000 people come together on the morning of American Thanksgiving (often in ridiculous turkey-themed costumes) to run, walk or, yes, trot a 5K course in beautiful Palm Beach, all to raise funds for a local charity.

Both running events offer a festive atmosphere, the first due to a sense of pride and accomplishment at facing the marathon challenge, the second merely because it’s a national holiday.  In New York, in spite of the focus of the day, one could not forget that there was a war going on in the Middle East:

From early on in the run, the Palestinian support groups were out in force, with flags and signs, shaking fists and spewing noise. Countless angry pro-Palestinians stood along blocks of Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge (known as “Little Palestine”) to ensure that their message of hate was not forgotten. Equally noticeable in Manhattan, although with an entirely different flavour, were groups of Israel supporters, standing in utter silence, holding up images of the hostages as the runners passed by. The Israel supporters stood in long, dignified, silent lines at the southeast corner of Central Park, across from the Plaza Hotel, and then again at Columbus Circle. Israeli flags were displayed by runners and spectators alike. Regardless of where your support lay, one could not forget for more than five minutes that there was a Middle-East conflict on people’s minds.

The Turkey Trot yesterday? Sorry, it felt like another world, a world I have not visited since October 6th.  There was absolutely nothing to remind us of war, Israel, Hamas, anti-Semitism. Nothing. You know those stories of Holocaust survivors who, as prisoners on death marches through Eastern European towns, saw the locals carrying on with day-to-day business? The survivors always comment on how they couldn’t believe that life was going on as usual while terror reigned in the camps. That’s what went through my head in Palm Beach yesterday. Life went on. People laughed. People chatted. People dressed as turkeys and had a fabulous, celebratory morning without a care in the world other than perhaps how to time the cooking of the turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner.

How different for us in Toronto, where we can’t escape what’s happening because the anti-Semitism has so rabidly hit our community. Yes, we still chat and laugh and go about our work routines, but there’s a tightness in our chests, a lump in our throats, a weight in the pit of our stomachs. For me, it’s as if the theme from Jaws is constantly playing, no matter what I am doing. And every single conversation I have in Toronto either begins with, ends with, or is solely about talk of the war and hostages.

As we go into Shabbat tonight, hopefully some hostages will be safe and healthy and in the arms of their families.  May our Shabbat prayers be answered. May our brave soldiers, the hostages and their families, our brothers and sisters in Israel, and Am Yisrael throughout the world – may we all soon experience peace and safety in such a carefree way that our biggest worry is how to time the cooking of the turkey for our Shabbat dinner.

May every single hostage return safely home.
Am Yisrael Chai and Shabbat Shalom!