Holocaust survivor, 91, wins international long-distance race

A 91-year-old Israeli Holocaust survivor won a world championship for senior runners of his age category in France.

Semion Simkin, who is legally blind, became world champion on Monday in Lyon after running 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles, in 1 hour, 20 minutes. His impaired vision means he cannot identify objects that are farther away than 9 feet, according to Yisrael Hayom.

Only one other runner in his age category, 90-95, finished the race. Lorenzo Juvenal Perez, 93 from Argentina, arrived at the finish line 21 minutes after Simkin at the World Masters Athletics Championship. 

“This is a scenario I never even dreamed of. I hope that in the future I will still have the strength to continue and to bring honor to Israel,” Simkin told Yisrael Hayom.

Originally from what today is Belarus, Simkin has two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and lives in Maale Adumim, a West Bank settlement and city of 39,000 near Jerusalem.

The day before the 10K race, Simkin won the silver medal in a 5K race for men of his age group, with a time of 39 minutes, 47 seconds — 4 minutes behind the winner, 90-year-old Jose Canelo of Portugal.

Who bombed Boston? Word for now is caution

The day after the Boston Marathon bombing, President Obama called it an “act of terrorism.” What kind of terrorism, no one was ready to say — a caution that derives from years of wrongful speculation that on occasion has ruined innocent lives.

Hours after the attack Monday that killed three and injured scores, Obama in a television address refrained from using the word “terrorism.” He did use it Tuesday, but wrapped it deep in caveats.

“Given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism,” Obama said in a White House briefing. “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic; or was it the act of a malevolent individual. That's what we don't yet know.”

Jewish groups and officials who track such incidents took the same tack, declining to engage in conjecture given the limited information about the attack.

“We know that unfortunately 30 percent of terrorist attacks had Jewish institutions as secondary targets,” said Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community, on Monday. “However, I must stress that there is absolutely nothing here that indicates any connection to an attack on the Jewish community. But based on history, we are standing vigilant for at least the next 48 hours.” 

Race officials, police and runners react following two explosions at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., on April 15. Photo by MetroWest Daily News/Ken McGagh/Reuters

Over the last year, evidence has emerged that Hezbollah and others acting on behalf of Iran have stepped up plans to attack Jewish and Israeli targets, partially in response to increased pressure on Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program. There has also been evidence since Obama’s 2008 election of intensified domestic violence by anti-government and white supremacist groups.

The Anti-Defamation League in an April 8 security bulletin noted that the week of April 20 — Hitler's birthday — is a period of heightened alert due to the history of right-wing violence that coincides with it. The violence includes the 1993 storming of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing, both on April 19.

“As a consequence of these anniversaries and the symbolism and significance of these dates, anti-government extremist groups, such as militia groups, may target April 19,” the ADL said. “Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have a history of staging events on or close to April 20.”

The low-tech nature of the device used in Boston — a “pressure cooker” that relays shrapnel upon explosion — suggests that the attacker was not part of a sophisticated network, said David Schanzer, a terrorism expert at Duke University.

“The only thing we do know is the amount of damage and destruction and power these bombs have,” Schanzer said. “It was a successful bomb but it didn't bring the buildings down. That tells you something about the bomber and the types of materials used. If a group was determined and capable of planting a bomb in this particular spot, it would want to use the most sophisticated bomb they were capable of creating.”

From left: Boston Marathon runners Lisa Kresky-Griffin, Diane Deigmann and Tammy Snyder embrace at the barricaded entrance at Boylston Street, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Mass., on April 16. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Schanzer was careful to qualify even that insight, saying there were some scenarios in which a sophisticated group might consider using a crude device. Such caution derives from multiple speculations over the years that ultimately have embarrassed their purveyors and in some cases had dire consequences.

Some experts at first blamed the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building on Muslim extremists, but anti-government extremists were found to be the culprits. Law enforcement authorities leaked the name of Richard Jewell, a private security guard, as a person of interest following the 1996 bombing attack at the Atlanta Olympics. Though Jewell ultimately was vindicated, he spent the rest of his life trying to regain a semblance of normalcy. Jewell died in 2007 at 44.

Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst who now directs the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s counterterrorism project, said he expected more information would soon become available. Agents were scouring the bombing area for DNA and reviewing the wealth of video likely collected by hundreds of marathon watchers.

“When something does go boom, there's no one better than the FBI at this,” Levitt said. “There's a tremendous number of people working on this all over the world.”

Police officers and military personell gather in Boston Common following the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15. Photo by Laurie Hasencamp.

Charity wins over runners

More than 20,000 runners participated in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 1, completing a course that started at the Knesset and passed a number of important cultural landmarks, offering sweeping views of the city and, as the marathon’s Web site touts, “a run through history.”

For runners like L.A.-native Ben Sarto, however, there was more at stake than personal pride and a unique experience: Sarto ran as part of Team Butterfly, a group that used the race to raise money for research around a little-known condition called epidermolysis bullosa (EB). 

The condition causes skin to blister from even the slightest contact or friction. These blisters are extremely painful, often compared to second- or third-degree burns. EB is relatively rare — it occurs in approximately one out of every 20 million births — but its effects tend to be severe and debilitating.

Team Butterfly, which ran its first race last year in Jerusalem, is the joint effort of the Jackson Gabriel Silver Foundation and an EB sufferer named David Beiss. The foundation was created to raise awareness and money for EB research after a woman named Jamie Silver had a child named Jackson who was diagnosed with the disease shortly after his birth in 2008.

Although Beiss, of West Hempstead, N.Y., does have EB, very few of the runners he’s recruited over the last two years suffer from the condition. In fact, few knew of its existence before meeting Beiss or others connected to Team Butterfly.

“Just meeting someone with EB and hearing about how he lives his day to day life was the push to make me run,” said Celine Banafsheha, who went to YULA Girls High School in Los Angeles before heading to Jerusalem to study at the seminary Midreshet HaRova.

Ariel Rafe, an Angeleno studying abroad at Yeshivat Torat Shraga, was already thinking about doing a half marathon while she was in the city. It was the added bonus of being able to fundraise through Team Butterfly that convinced her to actually sign up.

Last year, Beiss decided to demonstrate one of his parents’ favorite maxims — that he could do anything as long as he put his mind to it, and didn’t give in. Despite the pain and blisters he knew he’d endure, Beiss ran almost a full 10k, getting through the first four miles surrounded by a team of eight friends who cheered him on. When the pain became overwhelming, those same friends “basically took turns carrying me on their backs,” he said. “It was pretty incredible.” This year, he says the number of runners on the team required too much attention for him to run the race.

Beiss’ run in 2012, combined with funds raised by other runners on Team Butterfly, totaled around $50,000. That money, along with other donations to the foundation, has already gone toward studies on gene and protein therapy treatments being done at University of Southern California, University of Minnesota and Stanford.

“When Jackson was diagnosed, we were told that clinical trials for these kinds of things were at least 15 years down the road, but now we’re looking at trials likely to start taking place in the next two years,” Silver said.

Beiss says that Team Butterfly collected just under $60,000 this year.

It was Beiss’ idea to create Team Butterfly; he had grown up involved with activism and fundraising related to various diseases, and he participated in numerous charity runs, usually using a wheelchair on most of the course and running only the last mile. When he heard about the Jackson Gabriel Silver Foundation, however, he was excited to get involved with a project he was connected to on a personal level.

He called Silver and proposed using participation in a race as a fundraiser; he chose Jerusalem as a location because he was studying abroad there as part of his coursework with Yeshiva University in New York. It didn’t hurt, too, that the Jerusalem marathon includes courses for half marathons and 10ks, allowing runners to choose their distance to suit their energy and enthusiasm.

This year, in addition to the Jerusalem marathon, there will be Team Butterfly runners at the New York marathon and half marathon, and participants ran in the Disney marathon in Florida this past January.

The way the cause caught on was a surprise, Silver said.

“We thought sure, maybe he’ll get 10 runners, and every little bit will help,” she said of those early conversations. But Beiss’ infectious energy and tenacious advertising efforts attracted more than four times that many participants to the first Team Butterfly run in Jerusalem last year. This year there were 84.

The fellowship of being part of a team with a specific, charitable goal helped runners feel connected to what they were doing, and got them through some of the tough parts of the race.

“There was so much unity on Team Butterfly, and during the run everyone was encouraging everyone to keep going,” Banafsheha said of her 10k run. “I felt as though the entire city of Jerusalem had stopped to come and cheer the marathon runners on. As I was running, seeing fellow Team Butterfly members in our matching team shirts gave me the spark to keep going.”

Sarto agreed: He and his running partner kept each other going with “support and encouragement” on the course, and he loved knowing he was part of a good cause at the end of the day as well.

The impact appears to have been a lasting one.

“I definitely plan on continuing to be involved in Team Butterfly,” Banafsheha remarked. “I think the race made me feel like I was so much more a part of the cause than I felt before, and I hope to run the marathon again next year. I’m really happy I was part of the marathon because I feel as though I built an even deeper connection with Team Butterfly, and in my own way I was able to play my part in helping the cause.”

East Africans, American clinch six top spots in Jerusalem race

East African runners and a U.S. Air Force captain won the six top spots in the annual Jerusalem marathon, which drew over 20,000 participants from 52 nations.

Abraham Kabeto Ketla of Ethiopia won with a time of 2:16:29.25, a new record for the Jerusalem Winner International Marathon.

In second and third place were Luka Kipkemoi Chelimo of Kenya who finished in 2:19:01.95 and Vincent Kiplagat Kiptoo of Kenya who crossed the finish line with a time of 2:20:12.60. 

In the women’s division, Mihiret Anamo Anotonios of Ethiopia took first place with a time of 2:47:26.40, setting a new record for a woman finisher. 

She was followed by Radiya Mohammed Roba of Ethiopia in second place with a time of 3:05:58.15.

Third place went to Elissa Ballas, a U.S. Air Force Captain and winner of the 2012 women's Armed Forces Marathon, with a time of 3:11:37.70.

Organizers announced they had received 1,750 international applications. 

The event, which was held for the third consecutive year, was promoted by the Jerusalem Development Authority.

There were three competitive courses: the full marathon at 42.2 kilometers (26.22 miles), the half marathon (13.11 miles) and a course of 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles.  Youth and families enjoyed shorter “fun runs.”

Running for life: 52 marathons in 52 weeks

Of all Julie Weiss’ memories of her father, his larger-than-life personality stands out most: Maurice Weiss was a drummer — a regular on the radio by age 5 — a bandleader, a stock broker, and a tennis and racquetball player who took up acting at the ripe age of 70. 

“Everything he did, he did it big,” she recalled recently with a smile and a shake of her long, blond hair. 

Now Weiss is following her father’s lead. To raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, from which her father died in 2010, Weiss is running 52 marathons in 52 weeks and donating the funds she raises to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). Her final race will be the Los Angeles Marathon on March 17. As of Feb. 25, she has raised more than $143,000. 

Her jaw-dropping mission has taken her across the country, and sometimes outside the United States. She has run marathons in Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Colorado and Hawaii, as well as in Toronto and Rome. All of that traveling has been exhausting, she said — not to mention running 26.2 miles every weekend for nearly the past year.

Still, she explained, she is propelled by a bottomless reserve of energy she draws from her cause. 

“My spirits are high because of the fact that I’m helping so many people,” she said.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to PanCAN, an advocacy nonprofit based in Manhattan Beach. The five-year survival rate for the disease is 6 percent. And due in part to a genetic mutation, Ashkenazic Jews — those of Eastern European descent — have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The defective gene is found in about 1 percent of Ashkenazim, according to a 1997 study published in Nature Genetics. 

Weiss knows this as she ties on her purple ASICS running shoes before every race. Purple is the color of the pancreatic cancer awareness campaign, and Weiss sat down to lunch recently bedecked in its hues — purple beaded earrings, a sparkly purple top, even purple nail polish. 

At 42, Weiss is tall, tanned and lean. She lives in Santa Monica with her fiancé, 19-year-old daughter and her dog, a chow chow-collie mix. She’s still amused by the disbelief she encounters when she talks about her 52-marathon quest. 

“When I first tell people, they’re like, ‘Can you really do that?’ ” she said. “A lot of people think I’m crazy. That’s OK. I’m not crazy — I’m just extremely passionate.”

Weiss didn’t take up running until her mid-30s, and back then it had nothing to do with her present cause. Instead, she recalled, she was overweight and on antidepressants. 

“I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii, and I started running on the beach. When I got home, I didn’t need the medication anymore — I found my love for running,” she said. 

Right away, she knew there was no other way to go but big; for her first event, she competed in the 2007 Los Angeles Triathlon. 

It had been her father’s dream to watch her run in the Boston Marathon. Weiss attempted to qualify 19 times, beginning in 2008, but couldn’t seem to make the time she needed. Her father wasn’t fazed, she said. “Keep going,” she remembers him telling her. “I’m proud of you. You can do it.”

On Weiss’ 18th try, in late 2010, she missed the qualifying mark by two minutes. She was disappointed, but it was nothing compared to the crushing news she would receive the next day: Her father had stage-IV pancreatic cancer. 

Weiss with her father, Maurice Weiss. Photo courtesy of Julie Weiss

She told her father he would fight it. She said he would beat the cancer, just like she would qualify for the Boston Marathon after struggling for so long. But he died 35 days later. 

Less than two weeks after that, she finally qualified for the race. She ran through her grief — and she also set a personal record that she still hasn’t beaten: 3 hours, 47 minutes, 19 seconds. 

“I ran across that finish line with my fingers pointing to him in heaven,” she said. “He was the wind at my back.”

Weiss knew it was the beginning of something, the start of a mission for her to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. 

“I knew it should be centered on my passion for running and my love for my father,” she said. “I’d heard about people running that many marathons, and it seemed like something I could probably do.”

It isn’t only about her father anymore; Weiss dedicates each marathon she runs to someone affected by pancreatic cancer — victims who have died, patients battling the disease and survivors now living cancer-free. 

At the Surf City USA Marathon in Huntington Beach last month, she ran across the finish line with Roberta Luna, an 11-year pancreatic cancer survivor. At the Half Moon Bay International Marathon in September, she ran the last two-tenths of a mile with Paul Perkovic, who had stage-IV pancreatic cancer at the time. He died about three months ago.

“You could see the smile on his face when we crossed the finish line,” Weiss said. “That’s what it’s all about — we created some hope and some joy and inspiration for that moment.”

Her work isn’t going unnoticed. “Julie is truly an inspiration to all those involved in the fight against pancreatic cancer,” said Jenny Isaacson, vice president of community engagement for PanCAN. “Her dedication and passion in honor of her father and all those touched by this devastating disease is remarkable.” 

For the past year, Weiss has kept a strict schedule. During the week, she works full time as an accountant at a commercial real estate company in Brentwood. She leaves work on Friday afternoons, flies to a different city, runs a marathon on Sunday and is back at her desk Monday at 9 a.m. — “9:15 sometimes,” admitted Weiss, whose progress can be followed at marathongoddess.com. 

On the days between marathons, she concentrates on recovery. She stretches every day and does weight training once a week. She goes to bed at 9 p.m. sharp. She eats at least 70 grams of protein daily. 

Over the course of her marathon year, she has gotten to know many people affected by pancreatic cancer — some only in memory. That sense of community keeps her motivated. 

“Every time I run a marathon, I imagine their spirits running with me,” she said. If fatigue sets in, she closes her eyes and imagines them whispering in her ear: “Keep going,” or “It’s OK to walk for a while,” or “I’m with you.”

“No matter how hard that marathon was or how bad I hurt yesterday, it’s nothing compared to what these people are going through,” she said. 

Crossing the finish line for the 52nd time — after a total of 1,362.4 miles — will be an emotional experience, Weiss predicted. “I may have to run with a box of Kleenex,” she said, laughing.

After that, she’ll take at least a month off from running, but she will continue to participate in run/walk events to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. And there’s a 54-mile ultramarathon in South Africa she’s planning to run in June. 

“It’s in my blood now, and in my spirit,” Weiss said. “I’m so motivated. This is meant to be.”

Australian sprinter Steven Solomon advances to 400-meter finals

Australian sprinter Steven Solomon qualified for the Olympics 400 meters final with a second consecutive personal best time.

Solomon, 19, who only took up professional sprinting in 2009, finished third in his semifinal heat on Sunday in London, but his time of 44.97 was good enough to advance to Monday’s final. He was seventh among the eight qualifiers

With the top two qualifying automatically for the final, the former Maccabi soccer star had an agonizing wait to see if his time was good enough to make the final.

“I’m absolutely stoked,”  Solomon told the media after the race. “I came into the race really nervous. I really wanted to make the final. I really believed in myself and when I crossed the line, I saw that I had broken the 45 [second] barrier.

“Two personal bests in two days. I am just really looking forward to the final and giving it absolutely everything I have for myself and my country.”

Solomon’s coach, Ukranian immigrant Fira Dvoskina, was elated as she watched the race live in Sydney.

“We talked yesterday on Skype and I told him what mistakes he made when he ran the heat and he said he’ll fix it,” she told JTA. “He ran 44.97—I cannot believe it.”

Dvoskina said his goal is to run 44.80 in the final, but she is not sure that’ll be good enough to win a medal.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Australia has not had a male 400 meters runner in the Olympic final for a very long time. He is one of the top eight runners in the world.”

Harry Procel, a Maccabi Australia veteran who is in London at the Olympic Stadium with the Solomon family, told JTA that Solomon “did brilliantly to win his heat.”

“He ran a beautifully controlled race and handled the pressure with aplomb,” Procel said.

A day earlier Solomon, in his Olympics debut, won his heat to reach the semifinals in a time of 45.18, also a personal best. He defeated the defending Olympic champion Lashawn Merritt, who pulled up with a hamstring injury, and finished eighth fastest in the seven heats.

His previous best of 45.52 had come three weeks ago at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona. Based on the performance, Athletics Australia had selected Solomon, the captain of the junior soccer team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games, ahead of veteran John Steffensen, a black sprinter of South African descent who alleged racial discrimination. It sparked a bitter race row in which Solomon was unwittingly in the middle.

With Obama and Bibi both running, is 2012 a replay of 1988 or 1992?

If Israel goes to elections as expected this summer, will it be a replay of 1988 or 1992?

Both Israeli election years also were American presidential election years, as 2012 is.

In 1988, the Dukakis-Bush race had no discernible effect on a race that saw Yitzhak Shamir edge Shimon Peres for Israel’s premiership.

Four years later, however, Shamir’s contentious relationship with President George H. W. Bush is believed to have helped cost the Israeli prime minister the election.

So far, 2012 is looking more like ‘88 than ‘92, according to Aaron David Miller, a former longtime State Department Middle East negotiator who worked for the Bush administration.

“An Israeli prime minister is judged first and foremost by whether he can avoid catastrophic political decisions, then on the capacity to give Israelis a sense of security, then on the capacity to manage the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” said Miller, now a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested this week that he would call elections as early as August, although his term isn’t up until the fall of 2013. His formal announcement was held up by the death of his father, Benzion.

Netanyahu, despite having a relationship with President Obama that at times has been difficult, scores well on all three criteria, Miller said. Nothing catastrophic occurred under his watch, he is credited for rallying international support for Iran’s isolation and the issue that has dogged his relationship with Obama—peace talks with the Palestinians—is all but moribund.

“I don’t see Israelis out in the streets protesting the prime minister’s policies on the peace process,” Miller said.

The conditions of a nascent peace process were seen as being in place in 1992. Arab countries that for decades had gone out of their way to snub Israel were ready to meet with Israel’s leaders in Madrid, however stilted the encounters. Israelis saw Shamir as balking at advancing talks in any meaningful way.

“Shamir was perceived to have misplayed his hand even though you could argue that Jim Baker and Bush were more hostile than Obama,” Miller said, referring to the U.S. secretary of state and president at the time.

Another factor distinguishing this year from 1992 is that Shamir faced a formidable opponent, Yitzhak Rabin, who had a history of strong relationships with American leaders, said Peter Medding, a professor of political science at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Rabin was starting from a much better position,” Medding said.

Netanyahu, by contrast, faces not one but an array of possible opposition leaders, including newly elected Kadima Party leader Shaul Mofaz, Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor and TV personality Yair Lapid. None has the heft of the late Rabin, who by ‘92 already had served as prime minister and military chief of staff. And he also was a war hero.

In the absence of a viable peace process and with Obama unpopular among Israeli voters, Medding said, tensions with Obama “may make more voters vote for Netanyahu.”

In Israel as in the United States, voters are likelier to focus on domestic issues than on Iran, the peace process and foreign policy, he said. Netanyahu may face a resurgence of the social protest movement that erupted last summer, and he must address conflicts over military conscription of haredi Orthodox men within his own governing coalition.

The one possible disruptor—as it happens, for both American and Israeli elections—would be a heightening of tensions with Iran. Netanyahu has hinted that Israel may strike Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program this year, whereas Obama wants Israel to allow diplomacy and sanctions play out.

“A direct confrontation between the Obama and Netanyahu over Iran—if, say, the Israeli air force is on the tarmac and preparing for takeoff and Obama is seen as preventing Israel from doing what is regarded as right and necessary—could influence how American Jews and Israelis vote at election time,” he said. “But I don’t see such a scenario eventuating.”

Miller agreed. Speaking of the chances of a military attack on Iran, he said, “Unless the Iranians give someone a pretext for doing it, it’s not going to happen.”

Ethiopian immigrant is top Jewish finisher in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon

Ashrat “Assaf” Mamo is such a common sight when he pounds the pavement in Jerusalem that he’s on a first-name basis with city bus drivers who, he said, always “ask me about the marathon and encourage me.”

On Friday, Mamo, a 27-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, became the first Israeli to cross the finish line in this year’s Jerusalem Marathon, coming in 11th with a time of 2:33:12. David Cherono Toniok, of Kenya, won the race in 2:19:52, breaking the course record. Ethiopian Mihiret Anamo Antonios was the female winner, with a time of 2:48:38, and Moran Shabtai, with 3:38:35, was the first Israeli female finisher.

In an interview at the finish line in Sacher Park, Mamo told JTA he had expected to do better after completing a personal best time two months ago, with 2:22:32, in the Tiberias Marathon in northern Israel. But Mamo, wrapped in warming foil, appeared happy to have been Israel’s top finisher even though the country’s best marathoners did not participate.

“Jerusalem is the holy city,” Mamo said. “It is my home court.”

More than 14,000 runners from 52 countries competed in the event, which was launched just last year. The route takes runners through the walled Old City, past the president’s residence and up to the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and a 77-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hanoch Shahar, participated in shorter versions of the race’s 26-mile course.

In the lead-up to the race, runners had spoken about the capital’s notorious hills as the most likely impediment to posting good times. But weather conditions for the race—rain and hail fell through the morning and the the sun only periodically poked through thick clouds—heaped on additional challenges.

Mamo, for whom this marathon was his eighth, said he blocked out the distractions of familiar neighborhoods and the kaleidoscopic lures of the Old City during the course’s brief foray there, staying focused on his running and continually checking the pace on his running wrist watch.

Mamo left the northern Ethiopian city of Tigry for Israel in late 2000 along with his father, who has since passed away. He lives in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood and is unmarried.

The slight Israeli with silver braces and a winning smile works as a contractor repairing car windshields. He described himself as a traditional Jew who attends synagogue only on High Holy Days.

Toniok said he was thrilled that, as a religious Catholic, his first ever marathon win came in Jerusalem. He expressed mild disappointment that the event did not start in the Old City, but said that he hoped to visit the following day before returning to Kenya on Saturday night. He lives in Eldoret, which is where the country’s legendary long-distance runners also reside and with whom he trains.

“I’m very happy because most Christian people [back home] learn about Israel but don’t have the chance to visit,” Toniok said. “I know about King David. I am King David of Israel because I won the Jerusalem Marathon.”

Run to change a life

Registration for Chai Lifeline’s charity marathon-running training program, Teen Lifeline, has opened, and a group is training in Los Angeles for the first time since the program started in 2006.

Every participating runner must raise $3,600, with all the proceeds benefitting Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special, Chai Lifeline’s medically supervised summer camps in New York for children with life-threatening illnesses.

“This is a local training team, so California people can get together, have camaraderie and prepare for the race together,” said Moshe Turk, national race director for Team Lifeline. “There have always been participants from L.A., but never before a structured” group that trains together.

Those who join Team Lifeline can choose to run in either the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas marathon and half marathon, taking place this December, or the ING Miami marathon or half marathon in January 2012.

Chai Lifeline pays for each runner’s round-trip airfare to either Miami or Las Vegas, three nights in a hotel, transportation to and from the marathons, optional Shabbat dinners and lunches, and pre-race pasta parties (provided he or she has met the minimum fundraising requirement).

Turk said that Team Lifeline raised $1.6 million last year, with almost 400 participants from 26 cities. Proceeds from Team Lifeline help Chai Lifeline keep the summer camps free to families with children suffering from pediatric diseases, including cancer, blood disorders and other chronic illnesses.

Local Team Lifeline runners, in addition to having the benefit of a group to run and train with, will receive a detailed training schedule that says exactly how much they should be running each week and online coaching.

“The majority [of runners] have no running experience,” Turk said. This is for everyone — “from the couch potato to the marathoner.”

Three Kenyans take Jerusalem marathon

Three Kenyans won first, second and third place in Jerusalem’s first marathon.

Raymond Kipkoechh, 34, was first to cross the finish line Friday with a time of 2:26:44.

Second place was taken by Mutai Kopkorir, 24 with a time of 2:26:55 and third was Kiman Njorage, 33 at 2:27:19.

The first three women were: Oda Worknesh, 26 of Ethiopa with a time of 2:50:05; Rosaline David, 35 of Kenya at 2:50:06; and Wioletta Kryza, 42, of Poland at 2:51:21.

More than 10,000 runners—over a thousand from 40 countries, the rest local—ran a hilly, challenging race that included the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the promenade overlooking the Holy Basin and the Knesset.

Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, ran in the marathon and said it was a triumph over the terrorists who planted a bomb Wednesday at Jerusalem’s central bus station that killed one woman and wounded dozens.

“Just two days ago our city was targeted once again by a deadly terrorist attack, but our people and our city are strong—and the terrorists will not prevent us from running on this important day,” Barkat said.

The run was sponsored by the city, its development authority and Israel’s tourism ministry.

A number of teams raised money for a variety of charities.

Running to save souls

Runners in the 26th annual Los Angeles Marathon on March 20 will include residents of Beit T’Shuvah, a residential treatment center for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.

Beit T’Shuvah is the only official Jewish charity participating in the L.A. marathon and hopes to raise $125,000 for their Run to Save a Soul campaign.

With a full-service synagogue and a wide variety of programs, including arts classes, job counseling and fitness workshops, residency at the recovery center can cost $5,000 each month, so the funds raised will help those who can’t afford to pay, according to Nina Haller, major gifts director at Beit T’Shuvah. Between 70 to 80 percent of the current 120 residents at Beit T’Shuvah receive some form of financial assistance. 

As of Monday, March 14, the team had raised nearly $110,000 with the help of corporate sponsors, including Conroy Commercial Real Estate, Westfield LLC and the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Aside from providing an opportunity to raise needed funds, training for the marathon helps stimulate the physical and mental recovery of those suffering from addiction, said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, senior rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah.

They’re running “to and for something, rather than against and away from something,” Borovitz said. “I think [running is] an amazing tool.”

“It really shows the ability of people who thought so negatively of themselves to replace those behaviors with positive activities,” Haller said.

To date, 31 people have joined Beit T’Shuvah’s marathon team, a mix of residents, alumni, staff and supporters.

At a recent practice, Nancy Taubman, 32, a resident at Beit T’Shuvah and recovering drug addict, stopped for a brief rest after running eight miles.

“This is one aspect of my recovery,” Taubman said, between gulps of Gatorade. “This helps my focus; for me it’s [about] getting control of my life.”

Though not a resident at Beit T’Shuvah and not in recovery, Anne Richards, a 54-year-old real estate investor and resident of West L.A., nevertheless decided to run with the Beit T’Shuvah team. A previous marathon runner, Richards wanted to run this year with a Jewish charity that serves people of all backgrounds, not only Jews.

“I know that I am [an outsider] in one way, but I feel like I have been very welcomed by everybody,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like I’m just another person who is sharing this project.”

The L.A. Marathon starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier. One of 65 charities participating in the race, Beit T’Shuvah plans to hold a block party on the course.

Nicole Wainstein, a three-month resident of the facility and recovering alcoholic who found Beit T’Shuvah on Google, stood at the 8-mile checkpoint at a recent practice and provided snacks.

“I kind of just want to be a part of it and enjoy the energy,” Wainstein said. “I think it’s amazing what they’re doing for Beit T’Shuvah.”

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #5–Jew vs. Wild

VideoJew Jay Firestone goes native in this episode of VideoJew’s VideoGuide to Los Angeles

Elephant in the Valley

Used to be that every once in a blue moon, a rare Republican, who happened to be Jewish, would decide to run for office in the heavily Democratic San Fernando Valley, only to be soundly defeated at the polls.

This year, Jewish Republicans hope to change all that with three candidates: Robert M. Levy, who is running against Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Connie Friedman, who is up against Jewish Democrat Lloyd Levine for former Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg’s old seat in the 40th District, which covers most of the San Fernando Valley, and newcomer Michael J. Wissot, who will compete against Assemblywoman Fran Pavley in the heavily Democratic 41st District, which is located partially in Ventura County.

Pavley originally won the seat in 2000 in a race against another Jewish Republican, Jayne Shapiro. What was interesting about Shapiro was that she was progressive on social issues and once said she would be a Democrat, but for the fact that she was a fiscal conservative. The new crop of Republicans is decidedly more traditional in their outlook, citing the interference of big government in people’s personal lives as the main reason behind their party affiliation.

"I believe where government is small and doesn’t interfere with people, then people are more free to practice their religion as they see fit," said Levy, 49, an attorney in private practice in West Hills. "As a Jew, it is important for me to see to it that I have the freedom to practice my religion as I want, without undue government interference."

Friedman, 60, a consultant who runs a human resources outsourcing business, voiced similar views.

"If you look at the values of Judaism and those of the Republican Party, they are very much in line," she said. "Republicans are very devoted to family issues; they think people should take personal responsibility for their actions, which is also a part of Judaism."

Friedman said she believes that more Jews would be Republican if there was more emphasis on concrete areas of government and less on controversial topics such as abortion and gay rights.

"I don’t think choosing to be a Democrat or a Republican should be based on social issues," she said. "Whether someone has an abortion or is in a homosexual relationship is a personal issue. To me, the issues that should be political are the economy, education and the things that make up our state’s infrastructure, like roads and electricity. If everyone can choose to have an abortion but our roads are bad and our educational system sucks, what difference will it make? Social issues should be personal, not political."

Levy attributes the continuing association of the vast majority of American Jews with the Democratic Party as a leftover tradition steeped in the patriotic fervor of World War II.

"It was a good idea to vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but Franklin Roosevelt isn’t around anymore," he joked. "The needs of America are different now, and I think most of the feelings and values of the Jewish people can be found, oddly enough, in both parties. Nowadays whether people are registered Republican or Democrat, they vote for the people, not the party."

He said one significant reason he has been a longtime member of the Republican Party is its ongoing support for Israel.

"The various Republican presidents and the Republican leadership have been much more friendly to the cause of Israel and to the need for Israel to exist than has the Democrat leadership," said Levy. "As disgraced as a president he was, Richard Nixon helped save the state of Israel during the latter part of his presidency by supporting Golda Meir. And look at President Bush and what he is doing for Israel. President Bush basically believes Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are terrorists and that Israel has the right to retaliate against terrorism."

For Wissot, 27, creator and managing general partner of dentistry.com, an online referral service for dentists nationwide, choosing the Republican Party was a natural outgrowth of what he was taught at his family’s shul, Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

"I grew up understanding the Torah as talking about being grateful but never being satisfied," he said. "That was something that had a profound effect on me throughout my Jewish education, and I strived to always be grateful for having a wonderful family and all these opportunities around me, but not to be satisfied with the status quo, to find ways to give back to the community. What I found in the Republican Party is that we should be thankful for where we have arrived, but we should not forget the future, we should not forget about giving back and tikkun olam. This is the party that is preparing for the future."

Although skepticism remains alive and a Republican’s chance of winning a Valley seat are slim, supporters contend there’s never been a better time to run.

"Until recently, Jewish Republicans were not taken very seriously," said Richard Sherman, a clinical psychologist who serves on the endorsements committee for the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles (RJCLA). "But there’s a reason why our organization has grown so quickly. To me, Jewish Republicans are more tolerant and more open-minded than Jewish Democrats. You come to our meetings and we’re talking about issues and questioning things. The Jewish Democrats are rank and file; they don’t even think, they just follow."

The RJCLA has endorsed Levy, Wissot and Friedman, who serves on the organization’s national governing board, as well as that of RJCLA.

"I really admire these people for having the courage to run," Sherman said. "The Valley used to be seen as Democrat, but I don’t know if it’s so Democrat-leaning anymore. A lot can happen between now and November. I’m struck by the idea that even a few months ago, people talking about the Valley becoming a separate city said there was no way it could happen, but now it is looking like more of a reality. So you never know."

In the Running

Skylar Lenox, 14, hasn’t recently visited the cemetery where her father, John, is buried. "It’s just a plot," said Lenox, an award-winning platform diver and president of Adat Ari El’s United Synagogue Youth chapter.

The home-schooled ninth-grader finds more meaning in lighting a yahrtzeit candle in memory of her father and in a Los Angeles Marathon relay to benefit Our House — a nonprofit organization whose grief support groups have helped Skylar and her mother, Marsha, to heal.

On Sunday, Lenox will be one of some 32 Our House children, ages 5 to 14, who will each undertake one mile in memory of a loved one — the only relay race allowed in the 26.2-mile marathon. Skylar, who has participated in two other marathons since John unexpectedly died in 1996, will run the last mile of the course with two other girls and an adult chaperone. "It will be a real milestone for me," said Lenox, now a teen facilitator at Our House. "It will show how far I’ve come since the night my father died, and the difference I’ve made in my life and in the lives of other people."

It will also be an opportunity to remember her father, a tall, blond, strapping producer ("Splash," "Lucy and Desi") who spent a lot of time with his only child. Skylar grew up visiting him on the set of his television movies, where he always found her work as an extra. At home, she accompanied him on long bike rides and listened to him play Chopin or Bach on the family’s Steinway grand piano. Every Saturday night during the summer, the family attended the Hollywood Bowl.

Then, one morning when Skylar was 5, John, a Texas-born non-Jew, felt a tightness in his chest. After he was rushed to the hospital, the family learned that he had suffered a mild heart attack. But Skylar wasn’t worried. The doctors said his prognosis was good.

Five years later, however, the unfathomable occurred. Marsha, who is Jewish, awakened at 3:45 a.m. on July 23, 1996 — John’s 50th birthday — to find her husband absent from bed. She found him in the game room. "He was lying on the floor, and he was cold," Marsha recalled. "I checked his breathing and his pulse, but his fingertips and his face were already black. I was in shock."

Marsha awakened Skylar to break the news. "I knew intuitively what had happened, even before my mom said anything" Skylar recalled. Some time later, the 9-year-old stood in a daze in the front yard. "I remember the paramedics not wanting to talk to me," she said. "They wouldn’t look me in the eye."

At John’s funeral at Forest Lawn, Skylar played with her friends; his death wouldn’t sink in for 10 months. While Marsha intensely grieved ("There were days I couldn’t get out of bed," she said.) Skylar resisted therapy and seemed to be living on automatic pilot.

The dam broke around June of the following year. "I started to become really emotional, but I didn’t know why," Skylar recalled. "Every little thing would trigger me to cry or to behave erratically. I was really confused." Marsha’s private therapist had prepared her for Skylar’s delayed breakdown: "It’s not uncommon for children to wait to see that their remaining parent will be OK before they let themselves grieve," said Marsha, a 45-year-old writer.

Mother and daughter turned to Our House, founded in 1993 by grief specialist Jo-Ann Lautman, who previously ran support groups at Stephen S.Wise Temple. Not long after Skylar’s intake appointment, she attended her first group session, where she sat in a circle of beanbag chairs and passed the "talking stick" with six other children and two adult group leaders. Over the next year and a half, the children talked about their feelings, drew pictures of their loved ones, wrote down memories, played word games and discussed relationships with peers. "It was a safe haven," Skylar recalled. "It was a place to talk about things that your friends don’t understand or may not want to hear. It helped me to realize that what I was going through was normal, that it wasn’t bad, that it was part of a process."

"Most kids our age don’t have the sense that something terrible can happen," she said. "They feel fearless. But we at Our House really know that life doesn’t go on forever."

After attending her support group for 18 months, Skylar decided she wanted to give something back to Our House. Last year, she became a teen facilitator for the organization, helping two adults lead a support group for 8- and 9-year-olds. "The children can look at me and see that things do get better," Skylar said. "It means a lot to me when they say, ‘Thank you for being there.’"

Recently, Skylar and her mother moved back into the Van Nuys home they had left the night John died. Still difficult is the depression that descends upon Skylar every June, the month before the anniversary of John’s death. "I’ve learned not to create obstacles for it," she said. "I just let it come."

Running in the marathon has helped. "It’s a way for me to honor my father," Skylar said. "And it’s a way to raise money for Our House, so other children like me don’t have to feel alone."

For information about Our House, call (310) 475-0299. Our House representatives Lauren Schneider and Fredda Wasserman will be panelists Wed., March 7, at 7:45 at a Bureau of Jewish Education talk by Rabbi Naomi Levy. Call (323) 761-8605 for information.

From Worst to First

Junior varsity runner Joey Small.

After the Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles crosscountry team won the Westside League finals on Nov. 6, a competitorwas puzzled. “You guys were so bad last year,” the rival asked RaphyHulkower, 15. “What happened?”

What happened, besides talent and hard work, was that the Orthodoxrunners were under an unusual amount of pressure.

Recently, YULA officials battled with the CaliforniaInterscholastic Federation to switch one heat of the areapreliminaries from Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, to Thursday, Nov.13. At first, CIF leaders refused, insisting that they could notaccommodate the special needs of every group. But when other schoolssupported YULA, the team won its appeal.

“So we know we have to make an impression,” says Hulkower, a wiryteen-ager wearing a school uniform and a black kippah. “We can’texpect CIF to change a 20-year tradition for a mediocre team.”

The YULA squad, however, is anything but mediocre. It has come along way since the 1996 season, when “we were the worst in theleague,” coach Jason Ablin says.

At the time, cross country was regarded mostly as conditioningpractice for members of the school’s league championship basketballteam. Enter Ablin and his new assistant coach, Tom Fitzgerald, whoonce trained for the Olympic trials in cross country. The duo began arigorous, methodical training program for the seven varsity and some10 junior varsity runners.

For two hours after each 10-hour school day, the teens ran in thedark over hill and dale, over dirt and sand, from Temescal Canyon toMalibu beach. They did speed work at a track in Beverly Hills.

Before long, the top boys were running a mile in just over 5minutes — and sustaining that for three miles.

“I was surprised by how good I was,” says Joshua Hess, 16, whoruns the team’s top mile.

The work paid off this season, as YULA won three Westside meetsand then the league finals. After the Nov. 6 race, the runnersdavened mincha not far from the finish line.

As The Journal went to press, they were preparing for a gruelingheat of the area preliminaries on Nov. 13 (tune in next week for theoutcome).

But regardless of how well they do, YULA’s runners will not beable to go on to the Southern California finals on Nov. 22. That’sbecause YULA officials couldn’t convince the CIF to move the Saturdayrace to a Thursday.

Hess finds this “frustrating and disappointing,” but he’sdetermined to run his best.

“We’ll take things race by race,” says Moshe Adler, a teamcaptain. “If we do well, we’ll have a good argument that CIF shouldaccommodate us next year.”