April 18, 2024
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250 Join ‘Most Successful’ NYC Marathon Minyan in Its History

(Courtesy of Intl Minyan for Marathoners) The International Minyan for NYC Marathoners, on November 5, was, by any metrics, the most successful in its history. Over the past 39 years, thousands of Jewish runners from six continents and virtually every state in the Union have availed themselves of an opportunity to daven Shacharit near the starting line of this world famous road race, in the shadows of the Staten Island end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

An estimated 250 people participated in the services held at the Fort Wadsworth staging area this year. The numbers were somewhat surprising in light of the predictably low number of Israeli runners. But support for the State of Israel was clearly a motivating factor in the increased attendance overall.

The minyan was begun in 1983 by Peter Berkowsky of Livingston and Rabbi Jim Michaels, then of Whitestone, Queens, presumably for runners who needed to say Kaddish but who would have to travel too early to daven in order to arrive at Fort Wadsworth at the proper check-in time. Over the years, the organizers have observed that very few are saying Kaddish. These are simply runners who want to daven in a minyan before setting out on the world’s most spectacular long-distance race.

The project is now co-directed by Berkowsky and Yisroel Davidsohn of Brooklyn, ably assisted by a staff of ten volunteers, including wives Chana Davidsohn and Dolores Berkowsky, Daniel Berkowsky of Riverdale, Rabbi Menachem and Joseph Katzman of Staten Island, Chanan Feldman and Jacob Vorchheimer of Brooklyn, William Greenbaum of Manhattan, Chaim Backman of Bay Harbor Islands, Florida and Moshe Turk of Modi’in, Israel.

In its early years, the minyan was conducted in the open, on what was once the parade ground at Fort Wadsworth. Since 2002, New York Roadrunners, the Marathon organizer, has provided the minyan with its own tent. The enclosure is now 600 square feet, furnished with long tables, chairs and central lighting. The tent is decorated each year by the minyan staff with American and Israeli flags, posters and historical photos from prior years. This year the minyan debuted its new website, nycmarathonminyan.com.

Represented at this year’s minyan were runners from 10 states from coast to coast, and 10 foreign countries as far away as South Africa and Australia. “Rolling minyanim are held to accommodate those assigned to the several wave starts for the 50,000 entrants in the five-borough extravaganza. The first service began this year at 6:30 a.m.

The minyan tent provides a safe and comfortable environment for davening and just “hanging out” until each runner’s wave is called. Tefillin, tallesim and siddurim were provided this year by Chabad of Staten Island, Chabad of JFK Airport, Rabbi Levi Baumgarten of Chabad Mitzvah Tank NYC, Rabbi Gad Sebag of Crown Heights, and Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston. Among other conveniences provided were pins, tape, phone chargers, water, a welcome stand outside our tent provided by the shluchim office in Crown Heights and kosher snacks furnished anonymously this year in memory of Shmuel Menachem Mendel ben Kalman, z”l, Ruchama Seila bas Hachaver Binyamin, z”l, Mendel Brickman of Crown Heights, z”l and Sandy Bedenheimer, z”l.

Also added this year were 200 cloth 4×5 inch pin-on Israeli flags (courtesy of Celine Leeds at Jewish National Fund), and large stickers bearing the likeness of individual hostages still being held in Gaza. Minyan organizers are grateful for the extra security provided this year by NYRR and NYPD. The tzedaka raised at the services this year, amounting to $250, will go to American Friends of Magen David Adom and Friends of United Hatzalah.

When this project was begun in 1983, the New York City Marathon was in its 14th year. The minyan is now three-quarters as old as the Marathon itself – an institution and one of the features that makes the NYC Marathon unique. It is the longest established religious service of any kind, at any major sporting event, anywhere in the world. Minyan organizers even claim to be responsible for the date of the Marathon, which used to be run on the last Sunday in October. In 1985, still in its infancy, minyan organizers convinced the late Fred Lebow and NYRR to put the 1986 race off until November, to avoid a conflict with the late-falling Simchat Torah that year; and that’s where it has stayed ever since, on a date that can never conflict with a Jewish holiday.

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