Competing with History

Posted on April 23rd, 2010

Me and CD Zlotnick after the race

This morning I found myself in the Alon Shevut pool getting ready for the start of my first triathlon. Triathlon? Oh yeah, that’s the crazy sport where lunatics swim, bike, and run because they can’t kill themselves by just doing one of them. Of course, this is not the ultra crazy Iron Man. Just a little Friday morning fun.

My original plan was to train like crazy and hope that everyone else who showed up were fat guys from Queens. (I think this is actually Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France plan.) The first part of the plan worked out.

I trained enough to wear out a pair of pedals, bike tires, my wife’s patience, and several toenails. However, the second part of the plan did not work out as well. As I looked around at the other contestants, it didn’t look like anyone was from Queens.

The swimming was in the Alon Shevut pool. Alon Shevut means the “lonely oak tree.” In 1948 when Israel declared its independence and desire to live in peace with its Arab neighbors, this area was attacked by those same Arab neighbors who massacred them and burnt down their homes.

Everything was destroyed except a single Oak Tree. People used to try and see the Oak from the old border. Children who had been evacuated prior to the hostilities used to come look at the Oak from a distance as they grew up hoping to one day return.

In 1967 the area was liberated from Arab military occupation, and today is home to tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs. Unlike our cousins, instead of driving the neighbors out, we just re-built our towns next to theirs. Today, we thrive living in our ancient homeland.

President Obama, do you really think that continued Jewish presence here is illegitimate?

One thing I was not prepared for in the swimming leg was the mass of people all trying to swim in the same area at the same time. I never realized that swimming was such a contact sport. I kept getting hit by arms, legs, and even some one’s head at one point.

Every time I went to breathe, I inhaled water instead of air thanks to the people swimming all around me. I was quite relieved when I finished swimming and headed for my bike. I had the 20th fastest time in the water.

Biking is by far my favorite sport, and I was very glad to start passing some of those pool lizards huffing and puffing on their bikes. Boomer and I have ridden through this area more times than I could count, and I felt at home riding in my backyard.

The bike leg took us first from Alon Shevut to Neve Daniel along a path called Derech Avot, the Path of the Patriarchs. It is so named because this is the path of the Biblical story of the Akedah, the binding of Yitzhak. While your take on the Biblical story is up to you, what is historical fact is that this area was the heart of the Ancient Judean Kingdom.

Along the side of the path is a Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath that Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem used to use. There are various ancient Jewish laws describing how to build a Mikva and this one meets them all. All around the area the archaeologists have found other evidence of Jewish life going back thousands of years. This was the ancient heartland of the Jews. It was the Israeli nation hundreds of years before Islam (“the religion of peace”) was born.

President Obama, do you really think that continued Jewish presence here is illegitimate?

I love biking, and I was actually a little hesitant to jump off the bike and throw on my running shoes. I have run many 10km races, but never after swimming and biking. My legs were quite surprised in that they thought we were done for the day when I got off the bike. They were anticipating slippers, not running shoes. I had done well and posted the 10th fastest time on the bikes. But the running shoes awaited. So out we went again.

Part of the run was through the Elazar “outpost.” This is an area that at one time the government of Israel said Jews could legally build their homes on. It’s not like there were Palestinians there who were thrown out of their homes. No, despite the news, such things are actually quite rare.

This land was “legal” until the government decided to deem it “illegal.” So it became one of those terrible collections of houses that the world thinks is the reason we are not sitting in a circle with our Palestinian neighbors singing “Kumbaya.” Yet, Jews being a bit stubborn, decided to build anyway. Despite constant lawsuits from left wing Jewish groups (“Piece Now”), they are still there.

We came around a bend and I could see Nachalin in the distance. Nachalin is an Arab village just a few kilometers away. It is not a nice place, being the hometown to a few notorious terrorists.

At night and in the morning, I can always hear their call to “prayers” and am quite glad that I don’t understand what they are saying. All those in America who think banning the words “militant Islam” from U.S. policy papers is a great idea, have probably never visited the lovely community of  Nachalin.

As I was looking over at Nachalin, I ran past a contingent of Israeli soldiers in full combat gear with M-16s. They were out making sure the neighborhood was quiet and no one seemed to give them a second notice.

I guess it’s just a strange part of life out here that we just accept the need to have combat soldiers guarding our runs. I don’t think the Palestinians ever send soldiers to guard their athletic competitions. Then again, I think they’re too busy singing songs ’bout killing Jews and other fun stuff to focus on athletics.

President Obama, is it really the Jews who are to blame for stalling the “Peace Piece Process?”

Ah, now I knew I was only a couple kilometers from the finish and with the sun out and some fun songs on the MP-3, I started to pick up the pace. I passed a number of people who were looking a bit green by this point. I think some of them were those whose feet kept hitting me in the mouth during the swim. Yep, didn’t mind passing them one bit.

At last I could see the finish line and really dug deep to cross in style. The event was part of the Gush Etzion Sports Championships that has been sponsored for eight years by my friend Yonaton Segal in honor of his father Zev. What a wonderful way to honor a loved one with an event that pulls hundreds of people from all of Israel together. I know that many of the athletes — especially the really good ones — would have no other reason to come out to the Gush.

I was quite pleased when I realized that my run had brought me up to eleventh place overall and second in the “over forty don’t know their age” division. But the real joy of such an event (and yes, you can be having fun even while grimacing) is not your exact place. It is to be able to embrace this special land and breathe in the holy air around us not from a car or lying around inside a house, but by pushing your body to the breaking point out in the hills.

Is there a finer way you could spend a Friday morning?

So what do you think? You coming next year? Didn’t you promise to do that at Pesach.

L’shana haba B’ Triatalon Gush Etzion Im Yarden

Shabbat Shalom from our Blessed Nation


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  1. cina says:

    Is there any way for them to post Mayer’s picture as (probably)the only 67 year old to finish the 10k–at 61.50 minutes?

    It would be nice to have his photo on their website or something?
    Do you know who to contact?