A Running Pilgrimage To The Jerusalem Marathon

Jerusalem Marathon

Runners pass the Tower of David at Jerusalem Marathon (Photo: Kobi Gideon/Flash90-IsrealTourism/Flickr)

In its fourth year, the Jerusalem Marathon has grown to become a large international event. In 2013, 20,000 runners from 54 countries competed at the Jerusalem Marathon weekend; 1,730 of them came from abroad. This year, I’ll be one of them.

I’m going to the Jerusalem Marathon on March 21 as part of a press trip sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with El Al Airlines. The event includes marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K and 800-meter races. I’ll be running the half-marathon.

Jerusalem Marathon

The 2012 Jerusalem Marathon (Photo: Uri Lenz/FLASH90 – IsraelTourism/Flickr)

The courses were designed, the race website says, to trace Jerusalem’s history, taking runners through the Old City and past the Tower of David to more modern locales like the Knesset and Hebrew University.

But the course itself has been an issue of political debate. The Palestine Liberation Organization asked runners and sponsors to boycott the 2013 Jerusalem Marathon because it traveled through East Jerusalem.

Both Israel and Palestine lay claim to Jerusalem as capital, with international bodies like the United Nations proposing the city instead have international status. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem occupied territory. Much of the world agrees. It’s been a key road block to resolving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, most countries and international organizations, including the U.S. and the U.N., do not recognize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital, and instead maintain embassies in Tel Aviv.

The Golden Tempe

At the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh temple in Amritsar, India.

Political? Certainly.

But for me, the trip is like two worlds colliding. I was a religion major at Amherst College and set out to be a religion reporter while earning my master’s degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. While there, the Religion Newswriters Association named me one of 10 national finalists for Student Writer of the Year and I received reporting grants from the Carnegie and Knight Foundations to cover religion in America and the Scripps Howard Foundation to report on religion in India.

I reported stories about Hindu saints, female imams and Hispanic priests. Here’s one of them.

I was raised Catholic, but in college, Hinduism and Islam had been my major concentrations because I loved viewing the world from different perspectives. I also studied Judaism and Buddhism among many other religions. I’m fascinated by what we believe, why we believe it and what we’re willing to do in its name.

Hindu Star

Hexagrams like this at the Chhatarpur Temple in Delhi, India are common to many religions including Judaism and Hinduism. (Photo: Karla Bruning)

But even more than that, I’m fascinated by the common threads that tie us all together. As much as Jerusalem has torn the region apart, it’s because it means so much to so many people. It is a common thread that has been tied into a knot.

My career eventually lead me to write about running, but old passions never die. So traveling to Jerusalem, which three of the world’s major religions claim as sacred ground, is a dream come true for me. I get to course the streets of the ancient city, running through history. I’m breathless just thinking about it.

I’ve written a few times about running as a spiritual experience. It is very much so for me. So politics aside, I’ll travel to Jerusalem as a reporter, as a runner, but, most importantly, as a pilgrim. Shalom, salaam, shlama, shanti. In a word: peace.

All photos of the Jerusalem Marathon are © Flash 90 from IsraelTourism on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license: Photo 1, Photo 2.


01 2014