What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Israel? Jaffa oranges? Beaches on the Mediterranean Sea? Google’s Research & Development offices? The new “Silicon Wadi” in Beer Sheva? For the sixth year, Israel has also hosted the Jerusalem Marathon in its capitol city. A record number of 30,000 runners, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, ran the full marathon (42.2 KM or 26.2 mi.) or half marathon (21.1 KM), or joined the 10 KM or 5 KM races.
Known for its steep hills, the challenging race course starts atop a hill where the Israeli Knesset (parliament building) is located and passes the Israel Museum, the largest and most significant museum in Israel and the tenth largest museum in the world. Through the trendy Nachla’ot neighborhood via Bezalel Street, near the Machane Yehuda shuk, runners pass the Gerard Behar Performing Arts Center in the Beit Ha’Am building, site of the “People’s Courthouse” where the Eichmann trial was held. Marathoners head up to Ammunition Hill, defended by the IDF during the Six-Day War and the current culmination of the IDF’s grueling sixty-mile training marches with loaded packs for new IDF soldiers. Circling around Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, taking in the view from the heights, runners can take it easy on the way downhill past the upscale Mamilla Mall & Hotel complex, built on what was once “no man’s land” occupied by Jordan, over the ancient cobblestone streets, past narrow alleys and buildings faced with iconic, white Jerusalem stone, through Jaffa Gate and into the walled Old City.
Footsteps echo against the Tower of David, built in the second century BCE to protect Jerusalem, as runners pass through the Old City’s Armenian Quarter adjacent to the Via Dolorosa, and alongside the Jewish Quarter, providing views of the Kotel (Western Wall), a remnant of the Jewish Second Temple, the focal point of Jewish prayer, and the holiest site for Jews around the world. Exiting the Old City walls through David’s Gate (also known as Zion Gate), runners circle around Sultan’s Pool, a water reservoir built in a steep valley over 500 years ago, now a landscaped venue for performing arts festivals.
Routes diverge for the marathoners, half marathoners, and those tackling the 10 KM or 5 KM races. Distance runners pass through Jerusalem neighborhoods of Talbia (past the President’s residence) and Emek Refaim (full of shops and restaurants), to Jerusalem’s First Station (a new cultural center), former site of Israel’s first train which brought travelers from Jerusalem to Jaffa. Now in the southeastern section of the city, runners enjoy spectacular views of Jerusalem from the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, then down ‘Aza through the Valley of the Cross near an ancient Greek monastery, and down the home stretch along Ben Zvi Boulevard, alongside the Botanical Gardens, to Gan Sacher park and the finish line!
Contributed by: Aviva Adler, Librarian, Touro College Israel