Jogging for a good, hard 35 minutes around my neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem is no different than dropping acid except for the lack of hallucinations, flashbacks and induced schizophrenia. Running simplifies life as it clarifies thought, dousing everyday trivialities in strong, bright colors whose pleasing afterglow continues for hours.
There’s not much more to jogging than putting one foot after the other, heel-toe, heel-toe. But these steps, run in a pair of worn-out L.A. Gear sneakers, create the mental callouses I need to weather life’s little tempests.
When I begin my run, on the corner of Derech Hevron and David Remez near the Jerusalem Cinematheque, fatherhood feels like boot camp for the soul. Being a patient, supportive, understanding husband and father requires me to access emotional reserves that I don’t come by naturally.
But Jerusalem is a city built on a plateau in the Judean Mountains. I run up five different hills of varying elevations. As I traverse these inclines, my sharper edges are slowly rounded off, enabling me to bare life’s burdens more gracefully while I become less burdensome to my wife and kids. As Beitar Street becomes Leib Yaffe, the latest outbreak of laziness by the chronically absent lady who runs my twin sons’ nursery flows off me like water off a duck’s behind. My wife’s ailing leg, a growing concern for everyone in the family, no longer seems mysterious, but solvable. Our four children’s frenetic energy becomes a source of amusement, even pride, instead of fatigue tinged with frustration.
As spring time in Jerusalem nudges up to summer, the temperature and humidity rises. And I’m in high cotton. Exhaust fumes, blaring horns, irritated pedestrians and double-parked cars bounce off me as effortlessly as a mountain gazelle gallops through the Ramot Forest. Frayed nerves are magically strengthened as I round the bend and attack the short but sharp Yanovsky Street incline. For a few fleeting minutes, I’m footloose and fancy free. Home life’s many splendored madness has evaporated, freeing up my mind’s eye to focus on a great issue or two, depending on how much longer my legs can keep pumping.
Jogging frees soul, mind from parenting, world burdens
Netanyahu … what’s his deal? As I’m about to drift off into a SWOT analysis of the French Law, checks and balances, inherent weaknesses of the parliamentary system, term limits and electoral thresholds, a man with a thin mustache and thick bathrobe wanders into my path. Homeboy is chasing down a poodle right as I’m veering left on Ein Gedi Street. I hop over the runt canine with uncommon elan as the owner shoots daggers at me. By the time I regain my bearings, the strengths, vices and possible fate of Israel’s premier have fallen to the street, to be trounced on by a runaway poodle and its gasping owner.
Hezbollah in London. I’m ruminating on the story of the day when the Beatles playlist I’m using for this run’s soundtrack is suddenly interrupted by an Israeli commercial for an Israeli insurance company. The actor’s loud staccato delivery and nonstop punning drill a small hole in my head. I try and use my thumb to find and tap the “Skip This Ad” button, to no avail. I endure the entire commercial with true grit. But when it’s over, I’m not rerouted back to my carefully chosen playlist. Pumping my arms up and down somehow diverts me from Classic Rock (or ‘Daddy Rock’) to an interview with George Will about his new book.
Books. This will turn out to be the final subject tackled during today’s jogging. I’m on a serious reading losing streak. The last four books I’ve read have been godawful. What gives? Am I trying too hard to expand my reading horizons? Should I stop trying to be an intellectual dilettante and return to the safe and cozy confines of history and biography? Why can’t I grasp even basic concepts in astrophysics? Linguistics? Economics? Why is it that the only information I can retain are song lyrics? Hey, there’s that guy with the mustache again. What happened to the poodle?
As I take off on a final sprint passed St. Claire’s monastery, a final thought: Why is it that after I congratulated a colleague today about the birth of his daughter, he refused to tell me how many children he has.
Me: “Mazal Tov!’
Him: “Thanks, G.”
Me: “How many is that?”
Him: “We don’t count them that way.”
Me: “All righty then!”
And here we are: home.
Another day not merely endured, but lived!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem, where he and his wife are raising their four children to speak fluent English – with an Israeli accent. Ben-Zvi’s work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Algemeiner, American Thinker and Jewish Journal.