Beit Shemesh is gearing up for the chagim, both physically and spiritually. Every year, Beit Shemesh hosts a race that is open to men, women, and children. It’s a major local event with lots of fanfare. But some women are not comfortable running together with men. To accommodate these women and enable them to address the issue of health in a way that is comfortable for them, last week the municipality of Beit Shemesh hosted its first all-women’s race. I went to the gathering to check out the event.
Over 600 women signed up to race along Nahar Dan, a new four-lane road that passes near various communities of Beit Shemesh. Women from outside Beit Shemesh participated, as well. I recognized an old acquaintance who lives up north in the crowd. Miri Forst, a trainer who runs all-women’s running groups all over the country to help her participants progress from zero to 10 km in 24 weeks, brought many of her groups to the race.
Beatie Deutsch, the Israeli national champion in the marathon and half marathon, and mother of five, personally endorsed and ran in the race. In a promotional video that she prepared together with Aliza Bloch, the mayor of Beit Shemesh, she encouraged women to participate and explained that, in the end, all participants will be the winners because the race will benefit their bodies and souls. The women were able to choose to run 2 km, 5 km, or 10 km. There was an option for those who preferred to walk.
In order to make everyone feel comfortable, the women were given the choice of short or long-sleeved T-shirts. An exercise trainer led the women in warm-up exercises before the race. Mayor Aliza Bloch, sporting the race T-shirt, spoke with enthusiasm about this new initiative, which will hopefully have a positive impact on the health of women. Positive energy and excitement permeated the air.
Last week, in addition to running the race, Beatie gave an inspiring lecture for women relating to Chodesh Elul, which I attended. Beatie shared the many lessons that she learned during her meteoric rise on the track, as well as through the many ups and downs she’s experienced since, and offered them as a model for growth in all areas of life, particularly now during the month of Elul.
Beatie gave us the background of how she reached the point of being a marathon champion. Six years ago, she wasn’t running at all and was terribly out of shape. She couldn’t even run a hundred meters without gasping for breath. As someone who had always been athletic and had enjoyed participating in a variety of sports, she realized she had to make a change. A big one. She didn’t make a plan to run for an hour a few times a week and gradually work her way up to more. Not Beatie. In order to force herself to exercise, she signed up for the Tel Aviv 2016 marathon, which was only four months away. Beatie trained four days a week for four months and placed sixth in the marathon. Most people talk about taking on small achievable goals. Beatie agrees with that approach but encourages having a vision of a much larger goal while taking small incremental steps along the way. Every single achievement, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is a cause for celebration. Since that first marathon, Beatie has run a remarkable nine marathons and is now training for the Olympics.
Three years ago, Beatie was given the opportunity to become a professional athlete and represent Israel. As this would be taking her running to a totally different level, Beatie was unsure of what to do. She consulted with a rav who told her that every person is a one-time phenomenon, created with his/her own special tafkid (mission), which only they can fulfill in their own unique way. Beatie feels that it’s her role to bring Hashem’s light into the world through her running. When people see a woman participating in a competitive sport without compromising on her religious beliefs, it makes an impression. Beatie stands out on the track because of her sports attire. How often does one see a woman runner who covers her hair, collarbone, elbows, and knees as she races to the finish line?
When Beatie runs, she feels its positive influence on her physical health, her mood, and her patience. She finds that having contact with her mentors and fellow like-minded members of her running group keeps her focused on her mission and propels her along her journey. She stresses the importance of these supports for anyone trying to achieve a goal. The power of being part of a community invested in growth cannot be overestimated.
While Beatie finished many races in record time, including a race when she was seven months pregnant and another one only a few months after giving birth, not everything has always gone smoothly for her. Hashem has thrown challenges her way as He does to all of us. Beatie got choked up when she spoke about a race she ran in Berlin, Germany. The race ended at the Brandenburg Gate, where Hitler y”sh made his infamous speech. She had anticipated the sweet taste of revenge, as she would proudly run toward the gate representing the State of Israel, wearing her Israeli flag. But Beatie did not feel well during this race. Yet, she would not allow herself to give up, and she pushed herself until she collapsed as she crossed the finish line. It turned out that, unbeknownst to her, she was running a fever due to COVID.
Beatie quoted the Ramban, who states that Hashem sends challenges in order to actualize latent potential, “l’havi mei’ha’koach el ha’poal.” When faced with challenges, people suddenly discover strengths in themselves that they never even knew existed. The greatest growth of all takes place when people move out of their comfort zone. In the case of the Berlin race, Beatie moved out of her comfort zone in which she typically tries to control everything in her environment, and she surrendered to Hashem’s will. We must realize that despite the fact that we often like to think otherwise, we are not in control. Everything is from Hashem.
Beatie believes that the lessons she has learned through her running can be applied to every area of life and growth. She encouraged us to shoot for the stars, to celebrate every tiny success, to surround ourselves with others similarly striving to grow, and not to be afraid of failure, which is part and parcel of the journey. Hashem doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He just wants us to do our best b’simchah.
Beatie encouraged us to think about what we would like to accomplish this coming year with the strengths and talents that Hashem gave us. She stressed that we all have more strengths than we realize. Then, on Rosh HaShanah, we can tell Hashem that we want to use what He gave us to bring His presence into the world. We are needed here on earth to fulfill our special mission.
B’ezras Hashem, we should all have a meaningful Yom Tov and a year full of physical and spiritual growth.