Four years ago I ran the New York City marathon. I was one of 37,000 people running a distance of over 26 miles in a little more than five hours.
Yesterday, I experienced a different kind of marathon; I was one of sixteen people whose journey didn't take them along the streets of New York but instead covered the physical space of several square feet of one lovely apartment on the Upper West side but whose spiritual distance was an unending path leading to the greater depth of Jewish spirituality. We didn't use our bodies but our minds, hearts and souls. It was an all-day marathon in Hebrew Literacy, a run towards the ability to read the prayers of the Jewish people in the language of our Torah, Siddur and religious writings.
We began, as I did before the NYC marathon with the blessing of "Shehecheyanu," thanking God for the privilege of engaging in this journey.
For me, the day was one of utter gratefulness . The reasons are many; we were hosted by a most loving and generous individual whose wonderful apartment pulsated with loving energy that enhanced our capacity to move forward the entire day; we were blessed with the constant presence and open-hearted availability of our facilitator who willingly and good-naturedly ran around making sure that we had sufficient copies of our text and delicious food for our lunch and did so always with a smile; in spite of 9 hours of rote-like review of alien letters and words which demanded the gruelling exercise of memorization and an inexhaustible source of patience and support, never for a moment did any one of us experience impatience, hostility or complaints from any of the participants;rather, the room radiated with an an uninterrupted flow of support, genuine caring and concern, and an awful lot of laughter, humor and refreshing fun. Unlike the end of the running marathon at which point I felt completely exhausted and depleted, somehow I was able to maintain an unusually high level of buoyancy and energy until the very last words of our Hebrew review.Perhaps our greatest joy arrived when for the first time in our lives we were able to correctly read a full Hebrew word. As adults who missed such opportunities of learning for so many different reasons, the past, with its discomfort and feelings of alienation was washed away by the gentle and nurturing waters of recognition and awareness in the community of loving companions.Finally ,the treasure of Jewish worship and prayer could be touched with more understanding and open hearted familiarity.
Four years ago, when I crossed the finish line , I recited the traditional blessing -"Hatov v'Hameyteev" - I thank You,Source of the Good, for allowing us to share in Your goodness and beneficence.
Yesterday, at five o'clock in the afternoon, at the end of this extraordinary day of gratefulness,the words of this blessing echoed through the hearts of all my fellow runners. We made it. Halleluyah.
PS When we came to the Hebrew word -ROMMEMU-and read it successfully, we all exploded into an ear-splitting response of applause, shouting and laughter.