The 49th New York City Marathon, on Sunday, November 3, included 53,000 runners from 120 different countries, 97% of whom reached the finish line. It has become the premier event of its kind in the world.
One of the many features that makes this event so unique is the International Minyan for New York City Marathoners, which bills itself as the longest established religious service of any kind, at any major sporting event, anywhere in the world. Over the past 36 years, thousands of Jewish runners, from across the United States and six continents, have participated in Shachrit services held at the Fort Wadsworth staging area on Staten Island, near the Verrazano Bridge starting line.
This year about 200 runners visited the Minyan’s 600-square-foot tent, provided by race organizer New York Roadrunners. They came from 12 states around the US (as far away as Hawaii) and 10 foreign countries (spanning all four hemispheres). To accommodate the runners assigned to the various “waves” starting between 9 and 11 a.m., the first of the “rolling minyans” began at 6:20 a.m. Among the Jewish-related charity teams in attendance this year were The Blue Card, Friendship Circle International, OHEL Children’s Home, Team Sharsheret and American Committee for Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Tefillin, tallit and siddurim were provided by Minyan organizers, who included Bill Greenbaum of Manhattan; Yanki Vorchheimer, Chanan Feldman, Mendy Rosenfeld and Yisroel and Chana Davidsohn of Brooklyn; Mendy and Joseph Katzman of Staten Island; Peter and Dolores Berkowsky of New Jersey; and Moshe Turk of Israel. Healthful pre-race refreshments were offered in memory of Mendel Brickman, z”l, of Crown Heights, and the tzedakah raised at this year’s Minyan went to Chai Lifeline Camp Simcha.
Begun in 1983, the pre-race service was the brainchild of Peter Berkowsky and Rabbi Jim Michaels, and received enthusiastic support from the late Fred Lebow, z”l, the “father” of the New York City Marathon. It is now held under the auspices of JRunners, a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to promoting physical health among Jewish men and women through athletic competition.
Lebow, NYRR’s first president, staged the inaugural NYC Marathon in 1970 (then four loops around Central Park), and six years later designed and introduced the five borough extravaganza that now brings in billions of dollars in revenue to the City of New York. In 1986, at the request of the Minyan organizers, Lebow permanently changed the date of the NYC Marathon from its traditional late October start to the first Sunday in November, in order to avoid a possible conflict with Simchat Torah.
A Holocaust refugee, Lebow was a frequent race-day visitor to the Minyan’s venue. This year’s marathon was run on the day after his 25th yahrzeit. Lebow’s bio and pictures were on display in the tent, and mishnayot were recited in his memory.