Thursday April 24, 2014
There are many people who run marathons, and raise funds doing so. But there aren’t many runners who take on two marathons in the span of just three weeks. And even fewer would choose to run two marathons in two neighboring nations locked in conflict, but that is exactly what Aaron Voldman of South Burlington decided to do.
Voldman, 26, is currently living in Israel studying and volunteering on a Dorot Fellowship. He was raised in South Burlington, attended SB schools and graduated from the Vermont Commons School in 2005. He attended Brandeis University in Massachussetts, where he co-founded the Student Peace Alliance to spotlight both American and global issues, following a 2007 trip to Israel.
Here, in Aaron’s blog postings, which also recount his experience at last year’s Boston Marathon, are his story and motivation for taking on this challenging and inspirational goal:
An entry from before the marathons where he has been raising funds to support two organizations for peace...
I am running two full marathons in three weeks, one in Israel (Jerusalem on March 21) and the other in the Palestinian West Bank (Bethlehem on April 11), to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. I am fundraising for two organizations (Encounter and Holy Land Trust), one Jewish and the other Palestinian, that do vital work in building the trust and understanding necessary to advance a secure, just peace in the Holy Land.
At the Boston Marathon, nearly one year ago, I was across the street and between the two bombs that exploded at the finish area. When the bombs exploded I was watching the finishers, awaiting my cousin who had just finished the race. By chance, and the recommendation of a Boston local to turn right out of the Boston T stop instead of left, I was not across the street and right next to one of the bombs. Unlike the three killed and 264 injured—many with amputations—I walked away, shaken to my core, but not physically injured.What was an inspiring, joy-filled day, turned within seconds into one of America’s darkest. The horror and trauma of the experience shook me to feel the enormity of the toll of terror in the lives of bereaved families, terror attack survivors, and nations who have weathered wave after wave of attacks. The experience was a few months after I had spent a half-year in Israel, and a few months prior to when I would return for the year. After what happened in Boston, I returned to Israel with a deeper sense of the extent to which Israel wrestles with trauma in the aftermath of the second intifada and decades of war. The experience instilled in me a strong sense of urgency to counter terrorism by working to advance security and alternatives to violence here in Israel.
For months I had trained for only one marathon—the marathon in Jerusalem where I have lived throughout this year. But when I learned about the April 11th Bethlehem Marathon I decided to go out on a limb and try to run both races, three weeks apart, as a way to both mark the one year anniversary of the Boston bombing (April 15), and as a way to help build bridges here.
Voldman completed the second marathon two weeks ago:
I finished the Bethlehem marathon today! Kids lined up in throngs along the course. A group of four with the sweetest of smiles, at one point ran onto the course. Two of them held my hand as the five of us ran part of the last leg together. Over and over we greeted each other, those cheering me on, and me to them. It was a deeply moving and emotional experience - as Jews interacting with the hundreds of Palestinians rooting us on -and with the supportive runners as well. There were painful parts to witness as well—a few swastika graffitis on refugee camp walls, and other graffiti that encouraged armed struggle.
The graffiti stood in stark contrast to the extent of the overwhelming warmth I received today. But I recalled what my Palestinian hosts shared last night -- each nation has those who are good, which is most, and some who are not. Israelis and Palestinians, by and large, are two beautiful peoples. Some day things will change here in a big way for the better, and both peoples will learn to live well together. Both sides have too much to offer each other to stay enemies forever.