Testing muscles and minds
Rabbi Peretz Chein organizes the Chabad Marathon Team
Peretz Chein seems like a traditional Chabad rabbi-except for the fact that he reads Maimonides teachings from his BlackBerry and runs marathons in his spare time.On Oct. 25, Rabbi Peretz Chein, the rabbi and director of Chabad at Brandeis, ran the Cape Cod Marathon with the Chabad Brandeis Marathon Team. Five of the team's members are current Brandeis students: Yoni Cohen '10, Josh Jick '12, Meir Krinsky '11, Dan Litwok '10 and Justin Meltzer '11. Two alumni, Michael Kann '81 and Aaron Voldman '09, also ran with the team.
Chein, a young rabbi who sports a distinct beard, explained his motivation for running the marathon: "Three years ago, I was taking a walk with my family in New York City, and we bumped into the New York Marathon. And I thought to myself, 'I think I can do this.'" Despite his wife's laughter and his friends' disbelief, Chein was determined to "undertake something that [he] had never even considered doing." After months of training-"after a lot, a lot, a lot of hard work"-he completed his first marathon.
Chein was determined to get others involved. Litwok says, "Peretz sent out a weekly e-mail chain to the Chabad community asking if people were interested in running the marathon." After a little coaxing, the team soon started up in the spring of 2009, and with it, a unique mentality emerged.
The Hebrew word ufaratzta, or "break out," became the team motto.
"Peretz explained the concept of ufaratzta as breaking free," says Cohen. "That is very much how I saw it. Running a marathon was very much out of the ordinary for me. It was so far off my radar-never something that I would have even considered."
Meltzer viewed ufaratzta in a similar light: "I was motivated to test my limits. I wanted to see just how far I could push myself before I broke."
The Chabad Brandeis Marathon Team tested its limits long before running the actual marathon. "Training for the marathon felt like a part-time job," says Jick, who started training in May.
Chein took a different approach, running at least two or three times per week until he couldn't run any longer.
But the training was more than physical. "You need to train mentally for it; you learn to get into the mindset" says Cohen. The runners became extremely familiar with the concept of ufaratzta, pushing their boundaries farther and farther with each run.
On Oct. 25, months of training boiled down to hours. The strenuousness of the marathon was undeniable. Chein recounts, "The first 19 miles were fun. But it then turned gruesome. At one point I even told myself, 'I'm never doing [another marathon] again.'"
By the end of the marathon, Kann felt "exhilarated and exhausted simultaneously."
Litwok says, "I was probably in shock more than anything else. I don't really remember finishing it."
Each runner remembers unique moments from the experience. The beginning of the marathon is deeply engrained within Cohen's mind: "I enjoyed starting the marathon more than anything. There were hundreds of people all cramped in a smaller area. And then the cannon blasted, and the mass of people slowly moved forward from a walk to a jog. The mass unpacked, and soon you were running abreast of 10 people." He also remembers eating six packets of Craisins after crossing the finishing line-a source of quick energy-and then almost collapsing.
The marathon also left runners with a new kind of self-confidence. Meltzer describes the experience as "intimate, painful, exhilarating, even cruel on a certain level. The experience is very personal and creates a lot of self-doubt and questioning." The runners pushed not only their physical limitations but also their mental ones.
Chein could not overemphasize the central role that ufaratzta played in the marathon. "It is a fundamental belief of mine that everyone possesses the ability of ufaratzta-the ability to break out of limitations and inhibitions," he says. "It is just a matter of taking what you have and bringing it to the fore."
Chein did not just run the marathon to experience ufaratzta-he also ran it to observe others undergoing it. "It was more exciting to see everyone else finish than to finish myself," Chein says. While the runners completed the marathon as individuals, the team experience was valued by all.
Says Jick, "when you run by yourself, it is not nearly as enjoyable. Running with a team makes the whole process a thousand times easier." For Kann, "it was very inspiring to run with a group 26 years younger than me with whom I share a common bond." For the runners, completing the marathon with others allowed them to achieve something larger than themselves-something that they could not accomplish alone.
There was a mixed sentiment about running the marathon next year. For Cohen, "the accomplishment is amazing once." But Chein hopes to make the marathon an annual tradition. He told me, "I invite you to join us.