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April 12, 2010April 12, 2010  5 comments  Uncategorized

Since he was elected to office, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has been intent on promoting the city’s image in a positive light as a tourist destination where he hopes to see 10 million visitors annually within the next couple of years.

Now the mayor is aiming to bring in a new set of tourists -- runners. At Jerusalem’s 18th annual half marathon in March, the mayor took the opportunity to announce that next year’s race will double. Yes, a Holy City marathon.

“Participants will experience Jerusalem and the Old City in the most magnificent way. I invite people of all faiths to come and run with me,” Barkat told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land.

Jerusalem is referred to in scripture as “a city on a hill.” Runners in the Israeli capital know that to be true and no doubt a marathon in Jerusalem will be memorable for its hilly challenge as well as the historic sites that will mark the route.

“The Jerusalem International Marathon in March 2011 will be a spectacular event for the entire family,” the mayor said.

Barkat has run a few marathons himself including the New York Marathon last year in a time of 4:42:26. Jerusalem has hosted an annual half-marathon for 18 years. Now, it will join other Israeli cities such as Tiberias, which has held full marathons for 33 years, and Tel Aviv, which reinstituted its marathon last year after a 15-year hiatus in order to celebrate the city’s centennial.

The municipality is working with race production experts abroad to ensure that Jerusalem’s marathon, set for March 25, 2011, will meet international standards.

Races in Israel usually attract anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 runners, mostly Israelis. 

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy  Land.

April 25, 2010April 25, 2010  0 comments  Uncategorized

It was a rare sight as Palestinian, Israeli and Italian runners crossed the Bethlehem checkpoint near Rachel’s tomb hand in hand on Sunday morning proving that, at least on the sports level, achieving peace was not a problem.

The 400 strong contingent running for peace was in sharp contrast to demonstrations in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that occurred at the same time.

bethlehem, peace, sports“Unlike provocative political initiatives such as we have seen in Silwan this morning, the unique sporting events that took place at the same time in Jerusalem contribute to coexistence and constitute a fascinating encounter between Italian Catholics, Israelis and Palestinians which is designed to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land, peace and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov.


(Photo: Sasson Tiram)


The seventh annual Pope John Paul II Games were significant in many other ways this year: it drew the most participants ever - 500 Italian pilgrims - and, for the first time, Israelis were able to start the Peace Run in Bethlehem with the rest of the runners, Palestinian and Italian.

Organizers point to that last fact alone as proof that these games are finally having an effect to bring around peace. Some 400 runners participated in the opening event of the games sponsored by the Italian organization, Opera Romano Pellegrinaggi. About 300 Italians made up the bulk of the running contingent, along with almost 100 Palestinians and 30 Israeli runners. Six Israeli runners started the race in Bethlehem, while some met up with the group at the checkpoint. At the checkpoint, the Italian National Junior Women's Volleyball team was joined by Palestinian and Israeli players for a few quick matches before the runners continued the run and finished adjacent to the Western Wall. 

Yaron Ruchin was one of the six Israeli runners who started in Bethlehem. He had been to Bethlehem before it was closed to Israelis, but he hasn’t visited since Israeli has prohibited its citizens from entering Palestinian territories.

“It saw things I recognize like the shops and the cafes, where I used to drink coffee, but they were all closed because it was too early on Sunday morning,” he told Travelujah, the only Christian social  network focused on travel to the Holy Land. “It hasn’t changed much, its the Bethlehem we all knew. Now we were there as guests.”

It took great effort from the Tourism Ministry in coordination with the Civil Administration to allow Israeli citizens in for the event and ensure their safety.

Lilian Jaar, a Palestinian from Bethlehem, has participated in the run for four years now. She believes that even a small thing such as this run will do its part to achieve peace and noted the fact that Israelis were able to begin the runbethlehem, peace, sports at Manger Square this year as a sign that these efforts were beginning to pay off.

“I was so happy to be running with Jews at the beginning of the race, not just from the middle,” she told Travelujah. “You feel this is the beginning of something and we are already seeing the results now.”

Italians who participated, from tourists to professional athletes, experienced the Holy Land on a new level, and some for the first time.

“Its impossible to describe,” said Carlo Bausi, in Israel for his first time with plans already to return. “It is necessary to come here another time, two times, three times because it is such a special place. There are so many things to see and to study.”

Father Cesare Atuire of Opera Romano Pellegrinaggi in Rome, told Travelujah that the greater participation this year and the fact that Israeli citizens actually started in Manger Square speaks to the success of the event.

“Deeper relationships have been built, Italians and the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians,” Atuire told us. “It is becoming easier to dialogue. Some come back and stay with families here. Peace is not gonna drop from the sky, we are going to have to build it through better human relations.”

This year the organization raised money for needy communities. The Italian delegation donated 12 bicycles to the Falasha community and raised money for a sports center in Gaza, Atuire said.

The Italian Olympic Federation was involved in the Holy Land games this year and brought the national junior women’s volleyball team, the cycling team and the swim team all came to Israel this year to take part in some of the games.

Mishezhnikov said that the large Italian group this year showed that, “Pilgrimage has in fact become a bridge for peace.”

Deputy Director General of Israel’s Tourism Ministry Rafi Ben Hur said during a news conference on Sunday that the goal for next year is to allow Palestinians from Gaza to also participate. But getting Israelis into Bethlehem was “one step further than the politics and the politicians in the Middle East have gone.”

“Where politics can’t go, the universal language of sports can,” Gianni Petrucci, president of the Italian Olympics Committee, said at the news conference.

On arrival at Rachel's Crossing, hundreds of participants signed a joint proclamation calling for the faithful around the world to visit the Holy Land and work for peace and coexistence.

Tomorrow, the Italian, Israeli, Palestinian contingent will mark the official opening of the Gospel Trail, a 40-km path between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The bike ride will be 25 km. Following the event, Italian pilgrims will celebrate mass in boats anchored in the Sea of Galilee.

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy  Land.

March 26, 2011March 26, 2011  0 comments  Uncategorized

As we rounded the bend around the perimeter of Hebrew University somewhere between kilometers 33 and 34, we came smack into a view that panned east over the Judean desert with clear skies that revealed a rolling landscape all the way to the mountains of Jordan.

“This is my Gu!” (energy gel)

Yelling and pointing to the stunning vista, my newly found friend and running partner, Anna Yevzelman, referred to the energy gels that had gotten us to this point in a grueling, but breathtaking marathon course.

It was scenes like this, so frequently appearing along our route, that renewed our vigor and determination as we took part in the first ever Jerusalem Marathon on March 25, 2011.

Anna, from New York, was - along with me - running her first marathon. This was her second time in Israel, her first in more than a decade. I live here and see many of these views every day (the course even went by my apartment!), but Anna’s unfettered enthusiasm helped me to see these dazzling landscapes as if for the first time. The streets were swept clear of the traffic that marks modern Israel and laid bare the ancient stones that are always there, but easy to miss in the daily bustle of the city.

The setting of Jerusalem distinguished this race apart from every other in the world. While Jerusalem is arguably the most difficult city marathons worldwide, it is also probably one of the most beautiful courses and definitely the most unique.

We spanned 5,000 years of history over this 42-kilometer course. From the Knesset, the seat of Israel’s modern government, to Mount Zion, the seat of Israel’s ancient government, to the United Nations headquarters, and promenades from both southern and northern vantage points, we had an unparalleled tour of the city, its mountains, valleys and the residents that came out to cheer us along.

During the course we heard snippets of several languages - Italian, French, German, Portuguese and Polish, to name a few. A South African team ran together. Elite runners, most of them from Kenya and Ethiopia, led the pack. Long-time Jerusalem runners likened the city’s first marathon to going to their daughter’s wedding - the excitement was that high and the preparations that intense leading up to the big day.

Many multi-marathon runners ascended to the city for this race (there were 10,000 participants total in three races: the full 42 kilometers, the half marathon and a 10-km race), and many of them were shocked at how difficult the course proved to be.

Two Italian runners circling Hebrew University with Anna and me told us that this was by far the most difficult city marathon they had run due to Jerusalem’s hills, but the stunning views made it worth it, they said.

Another pair of runners, brothers from the U.S. who have run the New York City Marathon multiple times, agreed that the Jerusalem race was an emotional and spiritual experience, virtually connecting them to the land.

“Running in the Old City? You just can’t beat this,” Marc Dwek told Travelujah. “This was my best marathon ever, not time wise, but the whole experience, the whole package.”

The Dwek brothers (along with Anna and I and about 70 others) were running to raise money for Shalva, an organization in Israel that helps children with special needs. Another Shalva runner, Jerusalem resident Efrat Benn, ran the 10K and expressed my sentiments exactly:

“It was an opportunity to fall in love with Jerusalem all over again, a way to see the landmarks and scenery through new eyes,” she said. “It is Jerusalem at its finest.”

Besides training, I had prepared for this course by finding some inspirational quotes to spur me along. And naturally the most apt words were from the Bible, written in this very land.

“With my God I can scale a wall.” Psalm 18:29 - to help me deal with the infamous “wall” that plagues marathon runners usually at the 20th mile.

Then there was this gem (my paraphrase): “Who do you think you are O mighty mountain? Before (me) you shall become flat ground!” Zechariah 4:7 - my retort to the hundreds of inclines, hills and outright mountains we encountered.

Of course two from Isaiah, ever so fitting for this international event:

Isaiah 2:3 “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
And lastly, Hebrews 12:1 - “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Despite a bombing in Jerusalem that killed one woman just two days before the race and right across from the city’s sports festival, the race took place as scheduled. Mayor Nir Barkat told reporters that his goal is to “put Jerusalem on the international marathon map.”

He may have succeeded. The race was a hit among many of the runners with whom I spoke. Barkat, a multi-marathoner himself, ran the half marathon this year, but hopes to run the full next year, already on the calendar for March 16, 2012.

Anna and I didn’t run to set any records, but we were running soul mates from the outset with the same pace and same goals: to survive, to beat five hours and to thoroughly enjoy ourselves while doing so.

And in the end, 42 kilometers later, all goals achieved, we finished the race with huge smiles on our faces, smiles that miraculously never waned during (and despite) 42 kilometers. The city never let us down.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.

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