Boston Jews ready for first post-attack marathon
From ‘Israel Runs with Boston’ T-shirts to MADA volunteers, the Jewish community puts on its Beantown pride
BOSTON — One year after terrorists set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, the city’s Jewish community is preparing for Monday’s long-anticipated first post-attack Marathon.
Last year’s April 15 bombings left three people dead, and up to 270 people injured. Later that week, Boston experienced an unprecedented lock-down as law enforcement officials hunted for the second of two brothers accused in the attack.
From race participants to finish line volunteers and medics, Boston-area Jews will play a variety of roles on Monday. Because of the Marathon’s convergence with the seventh day of Passover, however, some observant Jews will be unable to volunteer or run with this year’s 36,000 official entrants.
“I think it’s important to be involved and to show pride in Boston,” said Rachel Glazer, a four-time Marathon competitor and one of this year’s ten finish line announcers.
One year ago, Glazer was volunteering near the finish line when two pressure cooker bombs exploded seconds apart from each other, just two blocks away. Despite the trauma of witnessing the attack, Glazer will join more than 9,000 of last year’s Marathon volunteers who are returning to serve on Monday. A record one million spectators are expected along the 26.2-mile route.
“I’m honored to be volunteering, especially since thousands of people were turned away from volunteering this year,” said Glazer. “This is a chance for the whole city to come together after a difficult year,” she said.
In addition to at least seventeen Israelis who ran the 2013 Marathon, more than a handful of first responders had received emergency medical training in Israel, including 22-year old Yedidya Ben-Avie.
“I was the lowest level of foot soldier that day,” said Ben-Avie of his role helping to clear people from the so-called “hot zone” after the attack.
“Looking back, we can only view the response as a huge success. We managed to clear everyone from the hot zone in just sixteen minutes,” said the Brandeis University junior.
In 2011, Ben-Avie completed a Magen David Adom (MDA) training program for emergency medics in northern Israel. During the course, Ben-Avie learned the best practices of crisis response in Israel, including how protocols differ from those he studied in the US.
“We don’t have military action in America itself,” said Ben-Avie. “We go to other places for that to happen. In Israel, it’s the complete opposite, as they have to deal with suicide bombers and rocket attacks all the time,” he said.
Like most of last year’s finish line medics, Ben-Avie will return to Boylston Street on Monday. As a “zone lieutenant” in charge of a fixed area after the finish line, he will help identify runners in need of medical attention.
While Ben-Avie tends to post-race competitors, as many as 200 Boston-area college students will educate marathon onlookers about Israel’s role helping Boston recover after the attacks.
In addition to providing technology that helped identify the bombers, dozens of Israeli experts in reconstructive surgery and post-attack trauma visited Boston following the bombings. This year, the Israel Defense Forces provided “trauma kits” – including tourniquets, sterile dressings and compressor dressings – for use by race medics, according to marathon officials.
Working with the Jerusalem-based NU Campaign, Massachusetts-based college students initiated an “Israel Runs with Boston” project to highlight these and other connections between Boston and Israel.
According to student organizers, participants will gather in Kenmore Square, each wearing a custom-made T-shirt blending the maps of Massachusetts and Israel. Throughout the marathon, students will hand out fact sheets about partnerships between Boston and Israel, as well as (kosher for Passover) Israeli snack foods.
“Twenty-three of us volunteered in Israel last month on an Alternative Spring Break,” said Robin Levanthal, an Emerson College sophomore who is organizing the month-long campaign.
“We learned about how Israel and Boston have partnered in diverse areas, including crisis response, and we wanted to bring these positive messages back with us to the marathon,” said Levanthal, who also created a website for the project.
Not all Jewish students commemorating the attack did so in traditional ways. Across the Charles River in Cambridge, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) remembered patrol officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed by the suspected terrorists three days after the marathon bombing.
To raise funds for a scholarship set up in Collier’s memory, members of MIT’s Kappa Sigma fraternity – including one-dozen Jewish students – stripped to their underwear for the annual “Nearly Naked Nearly Mile” charity event and ran across campus on Saturday.
“It is symbolically important that we are not afraid to run, even semi-clad,” said MIT junior and fraternity member Sam Cannon.
“Several brothers knew Sean [Collier] personally, and they only had the best things to say about him. I am very glad we can support his memory by partnering with the MIT Police and bringing as many people from the community out for the run,” said Cannon.
On Tuesday, a city-wide memorial service included remarks from attack survivors and Vice President Joe Biden. Falling as it did on the first day of Passover, the tribute did not include official representation from Boston’s Jewish community. Monday’s marathon also falls on a sacred day of Passover, leaving some observant Jews in a participation quagmire.
“One way or another, like so many in our Jewish community, I will be navigating this space of being Jewish and being part of one Boston in the same breath this week,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Burton – who did not attend Tuesday’s memorial service – will attend the marathon in an unofficial capacity.
“I’ll be cheering on my many friends – Jewish and otherwise – who are making the choice to run for charity,” he said.
According to Burton, the attack brought out the best of Boston’s diverse religious communities, with faith leaders immediately coming together to promote healing and prevent a backlash against local Muslims.
“The Muslim community was bracing itself for a backlash that didn’t really come,” said Jenna Russell, co-author of “Long Mile Home,” a new book about Boston’s post-bombing recovery.
“There wasn’t as much looking to place blame in part because 9/11 advanced all of our cultural understanding,” said Russell, who reported on the attacks and their aftermath for The Boston Globe.
“The interfaith relationships have continued, providing a foundation to avoid misunderstanding if something unexpected happens,” the author told the Times of Israel.
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