Reflections from my morning run.

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This morning my husband and I went for an absolutely beautiful early morning run. I decided to not listen to anything through my earphones, and even though we did have a bit of conversation here and there, the hour and a half out there did leave plenty of time for thoughts and reflections too.

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I thought of the Torah Portion we are learning this week, where God told Abraham to leave his country and go. The main thing in the beginning of Genesis 12 seems to be the leaving, the going, the obedience, – and then God took him to the Land that he had promised him.

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I cannot tell you how privileged I feel who gets to live my life here in the Land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants. I get to be a part of the building of this modern miracle that is taking place here in our days!

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And then, – who lets their thoughts wonder this week, and they don’t touch on the US election?! Well, here is what I thought: All of your Jewish people over there who are freaked out about the result of this election, – maybe it is time you come home??

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I am telling you, – I am so thankful for the leaders we have over here! I trust them and I am proud of them! (And as recent history has shown, if they don’t behave they are kept accountable for it!)

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So, friends, – consider it, pray about it! We could use you over here! The nation is small enough, the state is young enough, – each one really counts! Come help us build! Come influence and make a difference! Come set your footprint over here during this life that we are given here on earth!

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Blessed greetings

Yesterday I got a chance to take a walk on the beach in Ashkelon after a work-related trip to that coastal city about an hour away from Jerusalem. I miss the sea, so I totally loved the air, the sight, the feel, the smell, – everything about that little visit to the beach.

As I was leaving, I noticed this sign:

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The literal translation of the Hebrew would be something like: “May you go out to peace”. Not quite like “See you again”, huh? But it is cultural! If you were to say in English “May you go out to peace” or “Leave in peace” or something like that, you would think that you were leaving some type of religious institution and not the beach!?!

This is part of what I love about living in Israel, – the way we greet each other. You know, whenever you say “Welcome” in Hebrew, you are actually saying “Blessed are those who come”. Blessing each other is part of the culture and the way the language is built up.

And at this time of the year, in addition to wishing each other a happy and sweet new year, we wish each other “Gmar chatima tova”, basically meaning “May you have your name written in the book of life”. Now, – where else in the world does one go around saying that type of thing to parents at the school, supermarket clerks, neighbors, – anyone?! Only in Israel.

I love the blessings of Israel.

Rosh Hashanah Prayer

We have just celebrated yet another Rosh Hashanah, and as we have just entered a new year, I thought I would take the opportunity to start blogging again! :-) I had some of those high and inspired moments during the prayer in the synagogue on the mornings of Rosh Hashanah, and I remember thinking afterwards that I should share this on my blog, – so here we go!

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Our Rosh Hashanah table this year

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Jewish fall high holidays, and it comes after a month of spiritual preparation, where we as a people and as individuals draw closer to God. We hear the Shofar-blows as wake-up-calls to remember why we are here, who we belong to, where we came from and where we are headed.

Then we get to Rosh Hashanah, to the feast of Trumpets. This is a two day holiday which is largely spent in prayer at the synagogues. And there is something so special about liturgical prayers, – it links us all together in such an amazing way! The depth of these prayers, these scriptures and songs, fills my heart and gets me to feel so excited about being alive and being a part of THIS!

At our synagogue we had several services going on simultaneously. Such a large part of Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, come out for this, that we need to expand. So as we came in, some people who had started earlier, were praying downstairs, and we heard their shofar-blows and singing. Later, those of us upstairs split up into two groups, and we went downstairs to continue with the second half of the service there, but we could still hear the prayer going on upstairs.

And then to think of the fact that all over Jerusalem, all over Israel, people are praying these same prayers at this holy, set apart time! And in different time zones in different locations, Jews all over the world are praying these exact same prayers, in the same language on this special holiday! Wow! I am thankful to be alive, and to get to spend my life taking part in these types of experiences!

Just listen to some of these prayers:

Remember us for life, O King who desires life, and write us in the book of life – for your sake, o God of life! King, Helper, Savior, Shield: Blessed are You, LORD, Shield of Abraham!

And so may Your name be sanctified, LORD our God, through Israel Your nation and Jerusalem Your city, and Zion, the dwelling place of Your honor…

In the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity, and good decrees, salvations and consolations may we and all Your people the house of Israel be remembered and written before You for a good life, and for peace. Blessed are You, LORD, who blesses His people Israel with peace.

AND YOU ARE KING -THE LIVING, EVERLASTING GOD!

Oh, how our voices went upwards together as we cried out:

This day, may You strengthen us…

This day, may You bless us…

To join ones voices together with the ones in the same room, hearing the people above, below, the people in the neighboring synagogue, hearing Shofar-blows all over Jerusalem, – it is a quite heavenly experience! When all these houses of prayer are filled to the brim, with hardly any standing room left even! What a privilege to get to take part in it! To actually have a seat in the midst of it!

And then we prayed together:

As is written: I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall have them rejoice in My house of prayer; their offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted, desired on My altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all peoples…

How exciting it is to be alive! And the year we have just entered is 5777. So many sevens! A number symbolizing perfection. And the letter for the number 5 in Hebrew, is Hey, which is often used for HaShem, the God of Israel. He is Perfect, – over and over again! Always! May that be proclaimed wide and far this year!

I find myself having high expectations for this year. May we all faithfully take our parts in the great things that are happening in our time!

 

 

Sanctified time

Have you thought of the fact that God may have intended for there to be different kinds of time? The longer I am blessed to live, the more I believe this is the case. I believe God in His deep wisdom knew that we would need different kinds of times, so He blessed us with “Set apart times” – “Appointed times”. These are the Holy Days that He gave us through Moshe on Har Sinai, and each week there is Shabbat.

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Just like God sanctified certain people and certain places in special ways, I believe He sanctified certain times.

And I think it is a blessing for us to take advantage of these blessed, set apart and sanctified times! On the last two Shabbats I have noticed that the conversations in our home have gone to a depth that almost surprised me. But then again, – it is only natural for these deep conversations to take place during such special hours of the week. The connection between us human beings and with God above comes more easily during this set apart time, I think.

Then again, – you cannot really plan for this type of connection to happen, you just have to be ready and open for it.

We have quite traditional Shabbats. Everything is prepared ahead of time, the house is clean, the clothes are ready, the food is cooked, the guests are invited. And then we just enjoy the blessing that Shabbat is, for all the 25 hours that it lasts. The deep prayers at the synagogue, the beautiful songs, the meals, the blessings, the time together, the wonderful restfulness of it all.

More and more I love being at the synagogue on Shabbat morning and joining in the singing of these familiar prayers in these beautiful familiar melodies. It really feels like you get a bit of a taste of the heavenly Jerusalem. I feel a strong connection with God above, and it is a reminder of who we are and what we are here for.

For the Shabbat a week ago, both of our children had sleep-over-guests who of course stayed for the entire Shabbat. There were lively meals and lots of games. And then on Shabbat afternoon, when we just sat around on the couches, all of a sudden our son and his friend came with all these deep questions and thoughts that they were dealing with at this early teenage stage of their lives. Nobody planned for it, it was just there, – this depth, this connection. A similar thing happened on the afternoon of this last Shabbat. It must be that we are all calmed down and peaceful enough to deal with the real issues in life at that time!

Oh, I cannot express in words how thankful I am for Shabbat! This foretaste of Gan Eden! No wonder it is the highlight of my week, – and then again of my life, I guess! Because as we know, – The way we live our days, is the way we live our lives!

 

 

Holocaust Memorial Day

It is hard to even begin to describe Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. As someone who has joint on to the Jewish people myself, I do not have the same family history with this tragedy, but I feel that whoever I spoke with the last few days, all had a story connected to the holocaust; – Yes, both my parents were holocaust survivors. My mother was in Auschwitz and my father escaped and was able to get false identification papers. Or, – my grandmother was in Auschwitz. Or, – my father was the only survivor of his family. Or, – I was named after my father’s mother, who was killed in the holocaust. There are SO many stories! This gets SO real here! And of course, it WAS way too real for way too many people.

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At the children’s school, each of the children were given the name of a person murdered in the holocaust. They searched and found out some information about the person, and then on Holocaust Memorial Day they lit a candle in memory of this person. Each candle had the name of a person written on it. This was done at very many schools in Israel this year. Sadly there are plenty of names to go around, – 6000000 of them…

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One of the candles at the school had the name our daughter’s friend’s father. We know him and everything, and it was kind of strange to see his name on a memorial candle. The explanation is that he is named after his uncle whom he never met. His father survived alone, after losing his father, mother and brother in the holocaust. He himself came very close to dying, but survived and made it to Israel, where he married and had three children whom he named after his brother, father and mother. What a way to keep on living, to choose life!

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The horrors we are remembering on a day like today are so awful, there are no words to fully describe them. Being at the ceremony at the school this morning, I looked out at the crowd of children, and felt my heart aching that they have to learn about this reality already. Our children are big, 10 and 12 years old, and I still feel bad for them, but here were first graders, – six year olds! It wasn’t like people were telling all the worst stories, but even in the traditional “remembering-prayer” there are enough horrific details to make me sick (maybe especially the “being buried alive”-part…).

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Our 12 year old son is a very sensitive boy, and he takes days like these very heavily. Couple the sensitivity with curiosity, and you have someone who is looking up details of the holocaust, and afterwards loosing his appetite and just feeling deeply sad that something like that ever happened for real.

And it leaves me feeling sad that he has to already be marred by this tragic part of our history. Yet again, – it is part of who we are. People had to live through it (or die through it…), the least we can do is learn about it and remember them and what they had to go through.

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All of the holocaust ceremonies end in the same way. We stand and sing the “Tikvah”. And how fitting it is! We have hope! We are living that hope! Hope of being a free people in the Land of Zion and in Jerusalem!

 

 

 

Enjoying the ride of the marathon

As I started running my 8th marathon, the third one in Jerusalem, I felt in my whole body how much I LOVE marathons! I love the sounds and the sights and the feeling of it! The music, the crowds and the celebration of long distance running! And this year we were also blessed with absolutely ideal weather conditions for the Jerusalem marathon. It was not too hot, not too cold, no rain and hardly any wind.

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About a minute before the start of the race. Me excited, he somewhat worried. And of course, he always does WAY better than me in the actual race!

During the first kilometers I talked with many interesting people. One runner was from New York, another one from Sweden, both of them visiting Israel for the first time to run the Jerusalem marathon. I warned them of the hills coming up, at the same time as I encouraged them to take in all the beautiful views and enjoy running through the streets of Jerusalem. I also talked with different Israelis having come up to Jerusalem to run here as part of their training for an ultra marathon (a longer distance race than a marathon), and I think that says something about the challenging level of this particular marathon.

Running down Jabotinsky, we met the half marathoners who were climbing that same hill nearing their finish line. I encouraged them to the best of my abilities, and told them to keep going strong till the end, – to think of the medal that is waiting for them! At the bottom of the hill, I noticed a journalist friend with her team, and we said a quick hi to each other.

I totally loved the first hour of running, and the second hour went well too. Running down Jaffa road is a joy! Seeing all the runners ahead of you, being part of that river running through the streets of our beloved city, hearing our feet pound the pavement. I was enjoying it with all of my senses!

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(Photo from Facebook.)

We climbed the hills to Mt. Scopus, and met the elite runners on their way down. We all encouraged them, and I kept on yelling encouragement to all the runners we met. They really were doing great, so it was not hard to do so with enthusiasm, and it helps keep my mind off my own efforts climbing the hill. As I started the last hill before the Hebrew University, I met my sporty husband on his way back down. We yelled some encouraging words to each other and threw kisses through the air. I was happy to note that he seemed to be ahead of where he had been at that time in earlier years, so he was probably going to get a better time. The truth is that several times during this marathon, I thought of his finishing time and of the finishing time of our son who was really hoping for a PR in his 10K race. They are more concerned about their actual finishing time, while I am mostly focused on having a good time WHILE running the marathon. And I was enjoying myself, so, – so far, so good!🙂

The marathon route goes around and behind the Hebrew University, just to include some more heavy hills, and some more stunning views! The view of Jerusalem below us was amazing, as the sun was giving it a golden shine. Several runners stopped to take pictures, but I knew from experience that I am not able to capture its real beauty that way, so I kept my phone in my fueling belt and kept running. In a heavy climb behind the University, the Swede that I had met early on in the race, asked me if this was the hardest part of the marathon. I answered that yes, this was a rough part, but there are several smaller hills waiting for us downtown too.

There was a lot of security along the whole route, and especially at remote places like this one behind the University. I made a point to thank the border police who were out there keeping us safe. I also thanked the crowds of spectators along the course, who were out cheering for us. They really do take a very big part in making this such a special event.

I had planned on utilizing the downhill from Mt. Scopus to the Old City in a good way, but unfortunately I struggled with an old fashioned side cramp at that time, so I didn’t push myself. After all, – I am out there enjoying myself, remember?! In the middle of that downhill, there is one uphill (you may not notice it normally, but believe me, when you are running, you notice it!), and right now that uphill came in useful, as it took away my side cramp!🙂

The next challenge was running through an almost kilometer long tunnel, at about the half way mark, just before getting to the Old City. The tunnel was added to the route last year, and I really did not like it then. But this year, I was prepared for it, and was able to handle it better, even if the smell of sweaty runners was pretty bad in there…

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I ran with these guys for part of the race. (Photo from Facebook.)

Having come more than half way through the marathon, I felt quite happy. I was enjoying myself, and remember thinking that two and a half more hours of this, would be just fine, – I love marathons!

Climbing the short hill to Jaffa Gate, I remembered the photographer that normally gets good pictures at that location, so I smiled and lifted my arms (which I did to all the photographers I noticed along the course). Running through the Old City was really beautiful. This experience never gets old. Lifting my feet and moving forward on these old stones, thinking of the history and the dreams that are part of this place, seeing these old and special walls next to me! I had lots of beautiful Jerusalem songs going through my heart and head! Love!

Coming out of Zion gate, more beautiful views meet us as we run down a hill before starting the climb to Mt.Zion hotel. I saw a friend there, which is always fun, and part of the blessing of running in the city you live in. At the top of this hill, we make a turn, and I met my sporty husband again there! He looked like he was doing great! We then come around and climb another little hill by the Bell Garden before heading towards our climb of Jabotinsky. All along this area, there were lots of spectators, which I found really encouraging. Little kids were out there giving you high fives, whole families had come out to join in the festivities, – it was a true celebration to run through it all!

One of my challenges in all of my marathons, is that I always manage to run way further than 42.2 kilometers. In other words, I am horrible at cutting corners, or taking the turns the right way, – and it is not like I am not trying! Not long after seeing the 23rd kilometer mark, I heard this message through my headphones: “Distance: 24 kilomers”. And at the same time as I saw the 27th kilometer mark, I heard: “Distance: 28 kilometers”… Ok, I thought, I will make one PR today, – the longest distance I have ever ran…

In the midst of this, I decided it was time to turn on the playlist I had prepared specifically for this race. And wow, – it was epic, – having this great running music in my ears and running down Emek Refaim which was filled with encouraging spectators! I felt myself choking on tears, that’s how moving this whole experience was! I almost felt like lifting my arms even though no camera was in sight!! Ha!

This elevating experience, however, made me pick up my speed a little too much, and my side cramp came back. Not good. Coming up the familiar bike path that is part of most of my training runs, I enjoyed my great music, but still struggled with the side cramp. This was still the case as I ran Hebron road, and I promised to let myself walk up the next hill, to try to get rid of the side cramp.

A nice song with this text came up on my playlist: “If it’s fast or slow, all I really know, is I’m gonna enjoy the ride.”, and I felt that being the theme of my marathon this time. I was out there enjoying the ride, feeling happy and privileged to take part in it.

At the bottom of the hill at around the 31st kilometer mark, I met a friend who was out there with an encouraging sign with my name on it! How fun!! She walked the hill with me, and it was a nice and welcome break.

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Next up was running by the Jerusalem promenade with another stunning view of our beautiful city. Afterwards we even ran into our neighborhood a bit, and there, as I passed the 34th kilometer sign, I heard this message in my ears: “Distance: 34 kilometers”. What?! I started wondering whether I was cheating or hallucinating… Where did my extra kilometer go?! But really, I had followed the route, and turned at the right places… I concluded that it must have been the ones placing the marks that had done so with somewhat uneven intervals. Confusing when you are out there quite focused on these markings. But, of course, it is nice to realize that you don’t have to run an extra kilometer at this point.

I saw some more friends and people I know in this area, and my friend with the sign showed up two more times. Really nice! I also saw someone who I know has ran several marathons in the past, who encouraged me, and encouragement coming from that type of person, is taken to heart in a special way. She knows what she is talking about!

I really appreciated all the encouragement in this part of the marathon, because, even if the side cramps had gone away, they had been replaced with another challenge. I was feeling really, really nauseous. So much so, that I ended up having to take many walk breaks, which is something I have had limited understanding for when I have seen others do in this part of the marathon in the past.

So, while I had had so many happy thoughts of loving marathons earlier on, this last hour of the marathon, was a reminder of that this is the actual marathon. A marathon is not like running four 10Ks and then a little more at the end. I love 10K training runs, but four of those do not make up a marathon, because you do not do them straight after each other… The way you cope with keeping on running after having already ran for more than 3 hours, that is the real marathon-experience. And let me tell you, – it is challenging.

I felt that I really had to work on balancing my stomach… It was annoying, because when I had 5Ks left, I understood that I could actually beat my own time from my last marathon in Tiberias. But I was not going to throw up, as that is not part of “enjoying the race” as I see it…

I walked up the steepest part of Kovshei Katamon, a cruel hill around the 39th kilometer mark, but somehow handling my stomach was harder than handling the hill this time around.

This time, I was the runner who walked across the marking on the road that said 41,5 kilometers. Whenever I have seen others doing that in the past, I have been thinking to myself: “What is with you?! You have less than ten minutes left, -just keep on running till the end!” Now I all of a sudden gained an understanding of why some people are walking this part. This time I was one of those taking quite frequent walk breaks, while doing my best to just make it to the end. The song on my playlist was quite fitting with this text: “Wake me up when it is over…”. Yes, please.

I had been running for a bit when I saw the 42K mark, and tried to pick up my speed a little bit. There was the finishing gate within sight, my eyes fill with happy tears as I raise my arms in joy and hear my name over the loudspeaker, – and I am DONE! I made it! Oh, joy and relief,- I don’t have to keep on running any more! My finishing time was 4:34:59 and the total distance I ran was 42,4 km. By far not my fastest, but also not my slowest marathon.

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Done! Made it! Oh, joy and relief, – I don’t have to keep on running any more!

I got my golden cape and my medal, and I found my husband and son there, – who had both gotten great new personal records on the course that day, by the way! So happy for them and proud of them! We got our pictures taken in various cool spots in Sacher Park which was all one big celebration. It had been another good marathon experience, which I feel privileged to have the health and strength and ability to take part in.

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And, isn’t it funny, after crossing that finish line, it is not the last hard hour that is fresh in your memory, but the whole wonderful experience of the celebration of long distance running! It is the feeling of completing a challenge, being able to push your own limits, and the joy of having made it past the finish line!

 

Moments of connection

I really like to feel connected. Connected to God, to the people around me, to nature, to my loved ones. I love when you all of a sudden can just feel a moment of real connection. You don’t know that it is coming, and you cannot plan for it, – all of a sudden it is just there!

It can happen when you read the Bible. Not every time, but all of a sudden, you can just feel how you are moved with excitement over a truth that so stands out to you, or something you had never quite understood before that now becomes very clear, – and you feel so connected to it, and to God who is behind it all!

I remember moments of dancing at the Kotel, singing together with people I don’t even know, looking up at the Wall which really is a connection point both with God and with generations past, – and all of a sudden just feel so connected to the Jewish people, those who are here now, and those who have gone before, and possibly also to those who are coming after us. Those moments also feel like connection points between heaven and earth. They are real highlights in my life.

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The same thing can happen at Shabbat and the holidays. After major preparations, you find yourself around the holiday table, looking at the faces of loved ones, family and friends, in the light of the candles, saying traditional blessings. And all of a sudden you feel the connection with them and others around similar tables at that very time, and with those who have done so in ages past. It is a wonderful thing, experiencing this connection.

Growing up on an island, loving boat life, I can get this feeling when I am out on the water too. Smelling the fresh saltiness of the sea, hearing the wonderful sound of the waves, feeling the wind in my face, seeing the sun’s diamond-like reflection on the water. Oh, the connection with nature, and with generations past who have also travelled those same waters, between those same islands.

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Also, when preparing food in traditional ways, I can get a feeling of connection with those who have done this in ages past. Small and big moments, but I still find it exciting to feel part of something greater, part of a chain, so to speak.

The last couple of days I have noticed moments of sweet connection with my children. People talk about quality time versus quantity time. I like the idea that you spend quantity time with your children, and all of a sudden, you notice that it turns into quality time, – without even planning for it! Like the other day, when my son and I stood by the kitchen counter preparing coffee together. He was grinding the flavored decaf coffee beans, and I was getting the milk ready for frothing. I could feel how happy he was at that moment, and in spite of the simple everyday-life-ness of the whole thing, I felt the deep connection that I knew was part of strengthening our relationship.

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Another sweet coffee moment with this one

Yesterday my daughter and I were rearranging her room. And again, all of a sudden, it was there, – we were just cleaning off dust from some doll beds we had brought in from the treehouse, – but we shared the same satisfaction in the moment and I felt the connection that builds and strengthens the bond between us.

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I believe the feeling of connectedness has a lot to do with being present in the moment. Be where you are right now. Live now. I remember as a teenager loving the saying: – The one who never lives now, never lives.  So, I guess, when I get into these trains of thoughts, I feel a connection with myself too, the younger version of myself, who I guess is still who I am to some extent.

May you LIVE every day of your life! And may you be blessed with moments of connection!