Avi Davidson and Dr. Stuart Ditchek

It is a rare opportunity to be down here in Miami Beach, Florida, with something vital and important on the agenda other than the matter of where to make dinner reservations. We did that too, of course, but busy people have a capacity to incorporate a number of things into what can only be categorized as a busy day.

Last Sunday was the annual Miami Marathon, a run of about 13 miles — that’s a half-marathon — with the participation of a collection of chesed organizations such as Chai Lifeline and Kids of Courage.

By Larry Gordon

It is one thing to stand on the sidelines of a race and cheer on the runners or wait near the finish line to witness the wide grins that accompany successfully completing a run like this. It is an entirely different matter and experience to join the group the evening prior to the run, to interface with the staff and the race participants, and observe them preparing, which, by the way, does not seem that complex.

The Kids of Courage group was gathered at the Confidante hotel on Collins Avenue over Shabbos. To those familiar with Miami history, this was known as the Crown Hotel once upon a time. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, ask your parents or just forget about it. The Chai Lifeline group was gathered nearby at the Eden Roc, a neighbor to the famous Fontainebleau, and as far back as I can recall it was always known as the Eden Roc.

Howard Kafka

The founders and volunteer directors of KOC, Dr. Stuart Ditchek and Howie Kafka, are down here too, with about 100 runners and a number of KOC campers who will also be participating in the marathon.

The objective is to raise much-needed funds to finance the organization’s programs and extensive trips that involve hundreds of volunteers and campers, many whose mobility is limited to wheelchairs.

Avi Davidson, a spokesman for Kids of Courage, will be wheeled through the race course by Dr. Ditchek. They tell me that they have been doing so for about ten years now. Avi was in an accident as a 16-year-old near his home in Tampa. Bracing himself from a fall, he says, he grabbed onto an electrical wire that sent a surge through his body. The accident resulted in his losing his left arm and being partially paralyzed.

He says that he and Dr. Ditchek will begin running at about 6 a.m. — it’s still dark here then — and finish the 13 or so miles before 10 a.m. The four hours include a brief stop for breakfast that they eat while they are moving. I asked Avi what kind of breakfast is best to consume while running in a marathon, and he quickly responds, “Pancakes.”

As the day progressed, we ran into others who were in South Florida ostensibly to participate in and help generate revenue for one charitable group or another. That was the order of the day: warm sunny weather and a great display of chesed and altruism.

At Ma’ariv on Sunday at The Shul in Surfside I ran into Dan Rubinoff of Teaneck, New Jersey, who ran in the marathon earlier in the day with his daughter. They were running for the benefit of Penina’s Helping Hand, a division of Chai Lifeline that takes kids who suffered the loss of a parent or sibling on trips to places like Disney World. It’s a combination of distracting them and communicating to them that despite the emotional trauma they have suffered, things can be good and even fun again. It’s a tough and difficult mountain to scale, but it has to be done and it can be done.

Also down here were runners and walkers for Chabad’s Friendship Circle, a beautiful and meaningful project that works most often with developmentally challenged young people. The program is a feature of most Chabad Houses around the world. The common thread of all these groups is that they reach deep into people’s lives, make a difference, and vastly improve them. All these groups are a chapter out of a book that could be called, “Who Is Like This People, Israel?”

The newspapers were focused on one of the runners from Israel, 30-year-old Beatie Deutsch. Deutsch is a frum woman from Israel who has captured the attention of the marathon world over the last few years. She finished first in the Jerusalem Marathon in 2018 and placed in the top five in numerous races in various Israeli cities and around the world. Last May she finished first in a half-marathon in Riga, Latvia.

Beatie, also known as Bracha and Speedy Beatie, lives in Israel, has five children, ran in a Tel Aviv marathon when she was seven months pregnant, and was down here in Miami last weekend to run for the benefit of Beit Daniella, a rehabilitation facility for adolescents with psychiatric disorders.

While most runners are here to raise awareness and money, the top finishers have an eye on qualifying for participation in the upcoming Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo. The 30-year-old Deutsch, who is less than five feet tall, hopes to qualify and represent Israel.

Back to the night before — let’s call it a preparation event or eat-fest prior to the race. As is customary with marathons in general, the conventional wisdom is to load up on pasta and similar foods the night before as these foods will give the runners the burst of energy they need throughout the race. I’ve heard about these types of get-togethers prior to the New York Marathon, where as many as 50,000 people run every year. But I always pictured this loading up on carbohydrates as a mundane and boring — though necessary — exercise in order to have the energy to run anywhere from 5 to 26 miles, the length of a full marathon course.

There has to be a Jewish culinary twist to all this, and I wonder if it’s practiced by the rest of the running world. I always imagined that these “pasta parties” featured just plain white, almost flavorless, spaghetti or macaroni that is filling, loads you up, and does the job. If I was going to dine or snack with the runners last Saturday night, I was hoping for some ketchup and salt, if nothing else.

What I walked into at the Confidante could have been a smorgasbord at an upscale dinner, bar mitzvah, or even a wedding. First there were salads galore, specialty pizzas made on demand, hot dishes of all kinds, including seasoned pastas, eggplant Parmesan, and baked ziti. It was a tasty delight with good company and great giving people.

In case you’re wondering, the marathon produces several million dollars combined for all the participating organizations. No one here was running on empty. Instead they were running for the money. 

Contact Larry Gordon at editor@5tjt.com. Follow 5TJT.com on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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