Posts on the topic of "Baal Teshuva"
The second annual Jerusalem Marathon is set for March 16, with 15,000 participants from 50 countries – each with his own motivation, challenge, and goal to reach.
One of these is 26-year-old David Haft, originally of Los Angeles, now living in Jerusalem. David shared with me his story:
"I grew up as the fat kid. I got picked on for being slow and fat, and was always chosen last in sports. I ate fast food almost every day and spent hours in front of the TV – a terrible combination for physical and mental well being."
Now weighing in at a healthy 160 pounds, David has been training the past four months for the grueling 26-mile run up and down the hills of Jerusalem. A daily routine of stretching, weight-training and distance runs, coupled with a healthy eating regime, has gotten him into great physical and mental shape needed to take on this challenge of a lifetime.
David’s turnaround came when he began getting more interested in his Jewish roots. “My mother is Israeli and the last time I visited I was six years old,” David says. “I thought Israel was an undeveloped, dirty place. But then I went on a birthright trip and that really opened my eyes.”
David returned to Israel to pursue his Jewish education at the Aish Yeshiva, where today he continues to study full-time. David says:
“I learned that the only way to achieve my purpose and potential is to have a strong and healthy body, which can lead to a more positive state of mind. Maimonides writes (Deyos 4:1) that the body is the vehicle for the soul – the stronger the body, the more we can achieve our purpose in the world. Our body is a gift and we have a duty to look after it."
The Jerusalem Marathon is also a forum for philanthropy. Many participants are using the run in order to raise money for good causes. David found one that really spoke to him.
"Self Discovery is an organization which inspires people to think big, get focused, reach their potential, and then positively influence others around them. They run seminars that help young people identify their personal strengths and goals, and eliminate obstacles standing in the way. It's a great cause which is making a huge difference in many people's lives. In fact it helped motivate me to run the marathon in the first place."
David is hoping to be an inspiration for other kids who grew up not feeling great about themselves. He wants to show that with focus and discipline, everyone can achieve great things.
It is poetic justice that David is making the Jerusalem Marathon a focus of his mind-body transformation. Jerusalem, the Holy City, is also well-known for its beauty and challenging terrain. The March 16 event will take runners through important historical sites including the Old City, Sultan's Pool, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, the Knesset, Mount Scopus and many more.
The Jerusalem Marathon offers five options for runners: the full marathon (42 km), half-marathon (21 km), 10 km race, 4.2 km race, and a “community jog” of 400 meters.
Last year, Aish.com posted an article about Geoff & Jenny Isaacs who – through the magic of Internet and some diligent genealogical research, was able to reunite the branches of a family that had lost contact for more than 100 years.
Geoff, a researcher living in New Zealand. had discovered (at age 63!) that he had been adopted. He found out that his paternal grandfather was Jewish, and may have descended from Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
But "finding family" was only the first part of this amazing story. The second part was Geoff's reconnecting with his Jewish heritage. Here’s how it happened:
Geoff and his wife, Jenny, who had no Jewish roots, began to read voraciously about Judaism and Israel. In August 2009, they visited Israel and reunited with their cousins. When they returned to New Zealand, they began to look for ways to connect with the local Jewish community – not an easy task, since their metropolitan area had zero Jews. But they did make contact with a synagogue in Auckland, changed back to the original family name, and were encouraged by the rabbi to study.
Throughout the year, they moved further toward Jewish observance – cleaning their house for Passover, and plunging into the online courses offered on JewishPathways.com.
They rolled full steam ahead, and in February 2011, they stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion airport as new immigrants. Geoff & Jenny settled in the northern mystical town of Tzfat, jumped into Hebrew ulpan, and continued their Jewish studies. They were determined to convert to Judaism.
On January 30, 2012, Geoff & Jenny Isaacs dunked in the mikveh, returning to the heritage of Geoff's father.
That wasn't quite the end though. Geoff & Jenny then needed to have a Jewish wedding ceremony. The rabbi who had overseen their conversion was so moved that he contacted Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, which sent a reporter and photographer to cover the event. The Israeli cousins came to celebrate, along with other relatives from Europe and the U.S.
This story is truly incredible. Geoff & Jenny didn't wait for spirituality to strike them through osmosis, nor did they assume that events would spiritually uplift them. Granted, God had performed a miracle by reconnecting Geoff with his long-lost cousins. But then they took that spark and turned it into something transformational.
In a world where so many people are searching for spirituality, that's a powerful lesson. Each of us can grow if we just read the signs the Almighty is sending us, and take the step.
with thanks to Laurie Rappeport